Teacher's hand extracting early years book from shelf

Early years education research

Explore our early years education work as part of 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, 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
  • 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), University of Oulu (Finland), University of Cape Town (South Africa), and University of South-Eastern Norway.

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.

Recent publications

Project highlights

  • The Early Childhood Education and Care sectors perspective on the Early Childhood Studies graduate and the Graduate Practitioner Competencies

    This research project explored the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector’s perception of students on placement, graduates in the workforce. The research aims were: to explore the ECEC sector’s perspectives of which kind of skills ECS graduates need to have; and to ascertain how to embed these skills in the ECS degrees.

  • Family Stories in Schools & Settings

    This project investigated how schools respond to and cope with the needs of families experiencing a range of complex issues.

Discover our areas of expertise

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

Further education

We're exploring all aspects of further education, from adult education to transitions from military service, leadership and management to further education student experience.

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Higher education

We're researching into issues in higher education, and finding solutions to them. Explore our higher education research.

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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Youth, development and social practices

Our work provides a platform that showcases research, innovation and wider activities being developed in collaboration with young people, community members and practitioner and academic colleagues.

Women dancing
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Interested in a PhD in Education?

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