Equality and inclusive practice


What is equality?

Equality means recognising and responding fairly to the individual needs and identities of all others. It provides everyone with an opportunity to reach their full potential and have an equal chance to live their life as they choose.

Equality also refers to the way we handle cases of prejudice and discrimination to ensure there is parity in the process and outcome.

What is inequality and which individuals are most affected?

Specific individuals and groups may encounter systematic, attitudinal and physical barriers to equality because of their personal circumstances and characteristics. There is some legal protection against this inequality called prohibited conduct, however, this is limited to defining elements related to protected characteristics. Despite this legal defence, some of these ‘protected’ individuals in the UK still face disadvantage and discrimination.

A report from the Equality Human Rights Commission found that prejudice is experienced across all protected characteristics, which included:

  • 54% of people from ethnic minorities reporting that they had been a victim of ethnic or racial prejudice
  • 46% of lesbian, gay or bisexual people reporting that they had experienced prejudice based on their sexual orientation
  • 44% of respondents stated that they were openly negative about Gypsy, Roma and Travellers
  • 29% of respondents stating that they felt strong discomfort with the idea of a connection to a family member with a mental health condition
  • 25% disabled people with a physical impairment reporting that they experienced prejudice because of their impairment.

What is early inequality?

Children have the right to be included and barriers denying this equality should be addressed. If children face inequality early in life this can have a long-term impact on their life chances and affect their self-esteem, confidence, trust of others.

Inequality is growing in the UK despite evidence showing that a fairer and more equal society benefits everyone and supports young children’s development, health, education and well-being.

Research shows us that early intervention protects the most vulnerable young children at risk of poorer outcomes because of

  • Intergenerational disadvantage
  • Intersectionality
  • Adverse early experiences
  • Social exclusion
  • Inequality and discrimination relating to religion, race, disability, sex and family background
  • Low income and poverty
  • Parental mental and physical health difficulties
  • Inadequate diet
  • Housing issues
  • Ineffective home learning environment
  • Lack of high quality early education
  • Insecure attachments
  • Parenting issues and associated lifestyle choices

Early years settings play a crucial part in offering support to the most vulnerable children and families within disadvantaged communities. This was evidenced by the Effective Provision for Pre-school education (EPPE) research by Sylva et al, in 2004. The research findings consistently found that early childhood experiences set the trajectory for a child’s life outcomes.

The Alliance provides a wide range of Children-and-family-services which offer support, advice and training within disadvantaged communities. 

What does inclusive early years practice mean?

Attending a high-quality inclusive setting can help support young children who are at risk of, or have faced inequality and discrimination.

Effective inclusive practice provides all children with access to opportunities and support during the earliest and most influential years of their learning and growing. It also helps enable children to be confident in who they are and what they aspire to in the future.

Early years settings are well placed to provide a safe environment where parents, staff and children can learn about each other’s differences and similarities and learn to empathise and value each other.

How can settings be more equal and inclusive?

To be an inclusive provider, early years settings should be proactive at addressing barriers to inclusion such as negativity, conscious and unconscious bias, and stereotyping. 

Settings need to be confident, committed, and competent in their ability to be equal and inclusive. This takes a whole group approach to help develop positive attitudes, implement clear strategies, and nurture collaborative approaches. This will require settings to adopt a can-do approach which reaches beyond statutory policy and legislative requirements to develop anti-discriminatory attitudes and positive practice.

Alliance resources to support inclusive practice in early years settings

These include:

Useful contacts












Other useful reading

Lifting Limit’s pilot report on challenging gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality

Gender Eye report and resources 

Alliance blog: Equality in the early years

The impact of Covid-19 on equality-and-human-rights

Where next?  



British Values

Browse the Equality and Inclusion area of our online shop


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