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 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 inquality and discrmination.

To be an inclusive provider early years settings have to be proactive at removing the factors which act as barrier to inclusion such as negativity, bias and stereotyping. This takes a whole group approach to develop positive attitudes, implement clear strategies and nurture collaborative approaches.

Effective inclusive practice provides all childen 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.

What is inequality?

Children have the right to be included and any adverse attitudes and behaviour towards them should be addressed. Adverse behaviours generally arise from a lack of understanding and fear by the offender. However, if this happens early on in life it can have a long-term impact on a child’s self-esteem, confidence and trust of others.

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

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 eg ethnicty, religion, disability, sex, socio economic factors etc
  • Low income and poverty
  • Parental mental and physical health difficulties
  • Inadequate diet
  • Housing issues
  • Ineffective home learning environment
  • Lack of quality early education
  • Insecure attachments
  • Parenting issues and 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. For more information on early intervention and the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and families see the Alliance publication The Right Start.

Which individuals are most affected by inequality?

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 nine defining elements called 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 said they had been a victim of ethnic or racial prejudice
  • 46% of lesbian, gay or bisexual people said they had experienced prejudice based on their sexual orientation
  • 44% of respondents 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.

How can settings be more equal and inclusive?

Settings need to be confident and competent in their ability to be inclusive.

This is more than meeting policy and legislative requirements set out in the EYFS (2017), Equality Act (2010) and other relevant legislation such as the Children and Families Act (2014) and goes far beyond a welcome poster and cultural artefacts.

This is about developing inclusive attitudes, a can-do approach to equality and modelling positive behaviour so that this practice is demonstrated to the children in the setting.

The Alliance has produced resources to support inclusive practice:

Other useful reading

Alliance blog: Equality in the early years

Click on the following link to read about the impact of Covid-19 on equality-and-human-rights



Browse the Equality and Inclusion area of our online shop


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