Early years and equality: an extra burden? (updated)

19 Nov

Update: October/November 2015: 

New EqualiTeach event: Creating Inclusive Settings, Thursday 19 November 2015, Leeds

“A small selection of the wall of good practice” from Leeds:






                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            22 April 2015:


Early years and equality: an extra burden?

By EqualiTeach

Whether nursery nurses, nannies, play leaders or out-of-school providers, teachers or volunteers, people working with young children are passionate about creating settings which allow children to flourish and develop in a nurturing and caring environment.

However, caring for young children is as exhausting as it is exhilarating! The pressures of successfully navigating each day can mean that engaging with equality issues can feel like an extra burden. We know that we care for each and every child, surely we can create inclusive settings if we just treat everyone the same? Children don’t even notice skin colour or religion, do they?

This resistance to equality work is commonplace, particularly if it is an area with which people have never previously engaged. Embarking on discussions about ethnicity and culture, about religion and belief, can seem daunting, particularly if we are unsure of even the correct language to use to start these conversations. The fear of saying the wrong thing and being accused of being racist can be enough to prevent engagement with training and development.

However, early years settings don’t exist in a bubble, they are part of a local community and neighbourhood, which is part of wider society – a wider society where racism and religious intolerance exists, which impacts on everyone’s lives and has implications for children and the world that they grow up in.

Young children are like sponges, and readily pick up on the attitudes and behaviour of those around them. Research has shown that even very young babies notice differences in skin colour, and that by three years old many children are using racial cues in order to categorise people.

If young children pick up prejudice, they may start to develop negative attitudes and behaviours, which limit their opportunities and impact on the well-being of others. Even relatively minor incidents can severely impact on children who are on the receiving end of prejudice or exclusion, who may receive regular similar negative experiences, which have a cumulative effect on their happiness and sense of self. 

Those working with young children are in a very powerful position to be a strong influence on their learning. Engaging with issues of equality is vital in order to support all children to grow up to be active citizens in an increasingly multicultural society. By actively engaging with equality work, we can help children to develop positive attitudes about themselves and about others who may be different to them.

Taking some time out to reflect on our practice and consider how welcoming and inclusive our setting is for all children will be extremely beneficial:

  • Considering our own expectations and assumptions.
  • Being aware of, and valuing, different practices – for example, around bedtimes and sleeping, eating and good manners.
  • Exploring identity – do children see themselves reflected in the resources available? Do we acknowledge multicultural, multi-faith Britain on a regular basis, not just at festival time?
  • Educating young people about the world around them – how can we talk to young children about difference?
  • What is the best terminology to use?
  • What should we do if young people express prejudicial attitudes?

Working with young children in this way is not about being politically correct, or labelling children as racist, it is about helping all children to grow up in an inclusive environment which values difference, inspires curiosity and nurtures understanding. 


EqualiTeach has received funding from the Big Lottery Awards for All programme and is working in partnership with Voice the Union to put on three free training events for those working with young children, which will help people to overcome concerns about engaging with issues of race and religious equality and assist people in the creation of inclusive settings where all children feel welcome, safe and happy.

  • Friday 26 June: Institute of Education, London
  • Monday 6 July: University of Manchester 
  • Thursday 16 July: University of Birmingham. 

The aims of the events are to support participants to:

  • recognise the barriers that can prevent people from successfully creating inclusive settings;
  • understand their equality duties as set out by The Equality Act 2010 and Ofsted;
  • have the opportunity to explore acceptable and unacceptable terminology when describing identity, and the reasons why some terms are unacceptable;
  • recognise the steps that need to be taken in order to create inclusive settings and discuss best practice approaches;
  • explore appropriate ways to begin discussions about diversity and inclusion with young children; and 
  • discuss best practice approaches to responding to prejudice using case study examples. 

These events will provide a safe space in which people are able to raise concerns. The facilitators adopt a non-judgemental, non-confrontational, open and honest approach to training and ensure that everybody feels able to contribute and knows that their opinion will be treated with respect.

Learning will take place through a series of interactive and engaging workshops, with lots of small group activities and whole group discussions. These will provide opportunities for people to learn from each other as well as from the facilitators.

We understand there will be different levels of expertise and experience in the room and recognise that people are experts in their settings and often have valuable expertise and experiences to share with others. 

All participants will leave with a pack of resources to help them to support them back in their settings.

Voice members can sign up for a free place at: www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/equaliteach-7929951796.

If you would like further information about these events, or any other aspect of EqualiTeach’s work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: sarah@equaliteach.co.uk or 01234 816914.


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