Teacher's hand extracting early years book from shelf

Early years education research

Explore our work in early years education, an area of expertise within our Education research

Our early years education research explores the experiences and opportunities that play a role in the development of young children (pre-birth to 8 years old) at all levels of life and society – from the accessibility and quality of early years education and care, to the parenting, family, and social issues that influence how a young child develops.

Our research is closely aligned with two of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – improving the quality of early years education, and tackling gender and other social inequalities. 

Our work is already making an impact. We're currently developing child-centred pedagogies and practices designed to meet children’s needs and encourage active learning and agency in children. Our findings are being put to practical use by local authorities, kindergartens and other early years providers in England and overseas.

We're challenging the perceptions and practices – around gender, culture, language, race, ethnicity, special educational needs, and family dynamics – that prevent children from achieving their potential.

Our research covers the following key topics

  • Pedagogy and practice
  • Sociology of (early) childhood
  • Comparative early childhood education
  • Special Education
  • Professionalism in the early years
  • Children’s rights
  • Child agency
  • Parenting


Through qualitative research methods – including interviews with children, practitioners, and other key stakeholders, classroom observations, narratives, and storylines – we're exploring children’s and adults’ perceptions and experiences of early years education.

And through creative and visual research methods such as pictorial conversations, photo diaries, mental maps and drawings, we're giving children a voice in our research.

Partnerships and publications

We collaborate with academic institutions around the world, such as Macquarie University and University of Queensland (Australia), Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education (Norway), Early Childhood Ireland, University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), and The Education University of Hong Kong (China).

Our work is frequently published in leading academic journals such as the European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, and Early Education and Development.

Project highlights

Child-centred Diversity in Quality Early Childhood Education and Care
Explores the competences required to work in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in diverse contexts, and aims to create professional development plans to support the ECEC workforce to achieve them 

Men's Career Trajectories in Early Childhood Education and Care
Our research on men’s career trajectories in early years education is informing national and international policies that seek to improve gender balance and increase number of male practitioners in early years workforce

A cross-cultural analysis of gender and practitioner-child interactions in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) settings in Scotland, Hong Kong, and Mainland China

Discover our areas of expertise

Early years education is one of our five areas of expertise in Education research – explore the others below.

Higher education

We're examining the factors underpinning issues such as inequality, under-representation of women, mental health and wellbeing in higher education.
Group of postgraduate students in a meeting room
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Gender, race and education

Our work is identifying, exploring and engaging with forms of discrimination across gender and race in the education system.
Female student in library looking over paperwork
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Mental health in childhood and education

Through our research, we're exploring the issue of mental health and mental illness in young people.
Young women painting glassware
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Youth and digital networking

Our research in this area of expertise is investigating how young people aged 13–19 use social media and digital technologies in their daily lives.
Young male student using his mobile phone
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Research groups

Global Education, Children And Outreach (GECO) Research Group
We're researching education and childhood, with a focus on social justice and the right of the child.

Mental Health In Childhood And Education (MICE) Hub
We're promoting research and projects in the field of mental health in childhood, from wellbeing in early years to bullying in schools.

Interested in a PhD in Education?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Education postgraduate research degrees page.