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Reports Part of series: Race & Education: BERA Small Grants Fund research reports

Ethnicity & the early years workforce: A census of staff in maintained nursery schools in England

This study, supported by BERA’s Small Grants Fund (SGF), surveyed ethnicity across staff working in maintained nursery schools (MNSs) in England. 

The project aimed to gather a robust quantitative dataset to address the following questions.

  • How does the ethnicity of those working in MNSs reflect (or not) children and families served by MNSs? 
  • How does staff ethnicity intersect with qualification levels? 
  • How does staff ethnicity intersect with job role and leadership responsibilities?

Datasets about race and ethnicity in the early years (EY) workforce have the potential to make realities about the EY workforce more visible, to stimulate dialogues on the experiences of ethnicity groups within the workforce and ultimately to shift policy to develop a more proactive approach to confronting systemic racism in the EY workforce. The report offers a fertile starting point, with the potential to lead to more detailed analyses of ethnicity and the EY workforce. 

Report summary

The project offers an initial step in the urgently needed examination of ethnicity in the context of the early years (EY) workforce by surveying ethnicity across staff working in England’s maintained nursery schools (MNSs). Based on responses from 490 staff members across 95 nursery schools, the analysis focuses on: the ethnic representation of staff in relation to the ethnicity of the children served by MNSs; and the intersections of staff ethnicity with qualification levels and leadership responsibilities. The findings demonstrate that the children served by the schools in the sample are notably more diverse than the staff in these settings. Diversity decreases as staff progress from a level 3 full and relevant EY qualification to level 4–6 qualifications and qualified teacher status (QTS). Finally, staff with teaching-only responsibilities and those in middle management are more diverse than those in senior management. The findings demonstrate issues of representation and inequality that are not made visible in the current reporting of workforce ethnicity via the Department for Education (DfE) annual survey of childcare providers. It is essential that we develop closer monitoring of ethnicity in the EY workforce, particularly in relation to the take-up of new qualifications such as the National Professional Qualification in Early Years Leadership (NPQEYL). In addition, there is a need for further research, both quantitative and qualitative, to probe ethnic representation and inequalities. This is required for the entire sector, not just the MNS segment. 


Profile picture of Mona Sakr
Mona Sakr, Dr

Senior Lecturer in Education at Middlesex University

Dr Mona Sakr is Senior Lecturer in Education and Early Childhood. As a researcher in Early Years (EY) provision, she has published extensively on creative, digital and playful pedagogies. Mona’s current research is an exploration of...

Profile picture of Magdalena Dujczynski
Magdalena Dujczynski, Mrs

Researcher at Middlesex University

Magdalena Dujczynski is a research assistant at Middlesex University and EYITT supervision tutor at IOE, UCL. Her research interests include multilingualism and culturally relevant leadership in the early years sector.

Profile picture of Celina Santos Pinto
Celina Santos Pinto

Postgraduate Student at Middlesex University

Celina Pinto is studying for an MA in Childhood and Education in Diverse Societies at Middlesex University. This interest stemmed from working in early years for over six years, which has transformed Celina’s thinking towards research about...