Log in to Gingerbread

You need to be logged in to save pages.

Forgotten your password?

Not registered yet?

Our community membership is open to all single parents in England and Wales and gives you access to local and online support, news and events.

Register now

Learning new skills

You can refresh your skills or develop new ones at any time in life. This can be especially useful when you’re starting a career, changing to a different type of job, or going back to work after looking after your children. 

This page will help you think about what types of learning might be right for you and the help you can get as a single parent with costs and childcare.

Choosing the right type of learning

Getting help with costs

Making time for learning

Choosing the right type of learning

It helps to have a clear idea of why you want to learn something new in the first place. Start from what you need and why – this will help you choose the right kind of course or training programme. 

Assess your skills

Think about what skills you currently have and where you want to improve. It can be useful to do this at any stage of your career. Which of your skills will be most  helpful in moving forward? Are there gaps you need to fill? 

The National Careers Service has some useful skills assessment tools. Their discovery tool will help you understand what you’re good at and like doing to focus in on a good career for you. 

And their skills health check is a series of tests to help you identify your personal and work-based skills. This will also help you think about your transferable skills – the things you’re good at that might be useful in a range of jobs. For example, being good at communicating, problem solving or working in a team.

Do you need to brush up on your core skills?

English, maths, and IT skills are critical for many jobs. There are lots of ways to improve these skills – see the improving English, maths and IT skills page on gov.uk. If you’ve left school and you’re over 16, you don’t usually have to pay to do GCSE-level English or maths, or for some information and communication technology (ICT) courses. And courses in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) are also normally free or discounted.

Do your research

If you’re looking for a new job, look at which skills are listed as required or desirable in the job descriptions for roles you find interesting.

You can also explore different careers using the National Careers Service.  This will help you find out what a job involves, the skills and knowledge it needs, and whether it’s right for you.

It can also be good to talk over your options with other people, especially ones with a professional insight into the career you’re in or thinking about.

  • You can call the National Careers Service for free on 0800 100 900 to talk to an advisor – or chat with them online or over email.
  • If you’re working, you could talk with a colleague about what type of training might be useful.
  • If you’re on Universal Credit, talk to your work coach about what training could help with your work search goals.
  • Think about finding a mentor – a trusted, experienced person who can guide you as you start or move up in your career.

Find a good place to study

The National Careers Service is an excellent place to start. It has tons of information on training opportunities in England. You can use their course finder to search for courses near you. And you can filter for ones that fit around your childcare responsibilities – like online courses or ones with flexible learning hours.

Is an apprenticeship right for you?

Apprenticeships combine practical on-the-job training with study. This can be a good way to get started with a new career. You’ll spend at least 20% of your time training and studying – and the rest doing the job. Apprenticeships last between 1 and 5 years, depending on what qualification you’re studying for.

One of the good things about apprenticeships is that you’re being paid while you learn. You’ll also be learning on a very practical level in your chosen field. They can sometimes be hard to balance with looking after children, so it’s important to check how much of your time an apprenticeship will take.

You can find out more about how apprenticeships work on gov.uk. And there’s lots of information about apprenticeships, including a search tool to help you find one, on the UCAS website.

If you’re between 16 and 24 and don’t think you’re ready for an apprenticeship, you might want to look for a traineeship. This is a training course with work experience that will help you prepare for a job or apprenticeship.

Getting help with costs

Not all learning and training costs money. The National Careers Service skills toolkit has lots of free courses on everything from practical maths to coding to personal wellbeing.

If you’re working, your employer might agree to pay for some or all of the costs if you can show how the learning will help them.

If you have to pay for things yourself, you might be able to get financial support. If you’re 19 or older, on a further education course and on a low income, you could get Learner Support to help pay for things like:

  • Travel costs
  • Course materials and equipment
  • Childcare

You apply for this through your training organisation or school, so if you’re eligible always ask about this before you start. 

If you’re under 20, you can apply for Care to Learn to help with your childcare costs while you’re studying.

See our pages on help with further education and help with higher education for more about financial support while studying.

Making time for learning

Finding the time for new things is never easy as a single parent. So if the idea of adding yet another thing to your schedule seems daunting, here are a few things that might help. 

Taking time off work

You might be able to take time off work to train or study. This time off is usually unpaid, unless your employer offers to pay it.

To ask for time off work for training or study:

  • You need to have been in your job for at least 26 weeks
  • There must be at least 250 people working in the organisation
  • You have to show how the learning will help you do your job better

Working fewer hours

You might be able to reduce or adjust your hours to fit around your learning. Find out more about flexible working.

If you’re on benefits, reducing your working hours might create problems and mean you get less support. Please talk to your work coach if you have one and talk to us for advice before you do this.

Getting help with childcare

One way of freeing up time to learn might be to increase your childcare. The government’s Learner Support and Care to Learn schemes include help with childcare costs, so this might give you more options. See our page on childcare to make sure you’re getting all the free childcare you can.

Date last updated: 18 May 2023

New Report