Early Years - promoting gender equality

Policy Piece

The below content sets out some of the actions currently underway on tackling gender bias in Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) and promoting gender equality.

Wider context: ELC Expansion

The Scottish Government recognises that the earliest years of life are crucial to a child’s development and have a lasting impact on outcomes and opportunities later in life. We are committed to reducing inequalities from the earliest years and this is why we have made an unprecedented level of investment in the early years – through universal measures such as the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare (ELC), nearly doubling the entitlement from 600 to 1140 hours per year for all 3 and 4 year olds and all eligible 2 year olds from August 2020.

The quality of early learning and childcare is already high in Scotland. Our aim is use the opportunity of the expansion to continually improve the quality of ELC in Scotland. The key mechanism for this is the National Standard, a clear set of quality criteria that any provider offering the funded entitlement will have to meet from August 2020.Gender stereotyping in ELC

Academic research highlights the negative impact on all children of gender stereotyping and the important role that ELC can have in positively promoting gender equality.

We recognise the importance of addressing gender imbalances in the Early Years. A recent literature review by Education Scotland on Improving Gender Balance found that there are no inherent differences between genders which should limit a young person’s interests, capabilities or ambitions. It also highlighted that gender stereotypes and unconscious bias have an impact on children’s outcomes in ELC. Practitioners may have differing expectations of boys and girls, and it can be boys or girls who can be disadvantaged by this. Identifying and addressing gender stereotyping in ELC settings can help reduce a range of gender imbalances.

Scottish Government and its partners are committed to addressing gender stereotyping in Early Years settings and beyond. This is reflected in a diverse range of actions which aspire to promote gender equality in Early Years settings and reduce harmful gender stereotyping. We recognise that focusing on a single approach will not result in a sustained change in attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviours around gender stereotyping. The range of actions we are taking are detailed below:


Guidance has been produced the Care Inspectorate and Scottish government to support practitioners in the ELC sector to promote gender equality and tackle stereotyping.

  • The Care Inspectorate has worked with Zero Tolerance to publish a new resourceGender Equal Play, to promote gender equal play in early learning, in order to help practitioners enhance gender equality for children across ELC sector.
  • In 2017 we published ELC Quality Action Plan, which identifies 12 key drivers of quality, broadly grouped around workforce, environment, and curriculum/content – and 15 actions to improve quality.  As part of this plan, we recently published a National Induction Resource for early learning and childcare professionals who are new to the sector, which highlights the importance of gender neutral practice.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)

We recognise the need to address the gender imbalance in STEM from an early age and are taking action with our partners:

  • The Scottish Government STEM Strategy identifies tackling gender imbalances and other inequities, as one of the four key challenges for STEM education and training. The first annual report highlights the work that is already been carried out. These include publication of a suite of Improving Gender Balance Action Guides for teachers and ELC practitioners, An SCQF accredited module of professional learning for practitioners currently being trialled, a gender champion network and a gender kitemark are being established to grow and spread best practice.
  • A new team of Gender Balance and Equalities Officers has been appointed by Education Scotland to extend and embed the approaches of the successful Improving Gender Balance projects across all schools and ELC providers in Scotland.
  • We are supporting the ELC sector to promote positive engagement with STEM and tackle gender stereotypes through their parental and family engagement activities through gender resources, STEM conversation days and sharing existing good practice within the sector.
  • A further commitment in the Quality Action Plan is the development of an online national programme of continuous professional learning that is available to all early learning and childcare providers. As part of this, we have contracted the University of West of Scotland to develop a free STEM on-line learning module for all early learning and childcare (ELC) practitioners. This is to ensure practitioners have the appropriate skills, knowledge and confidence to deliver STEM learning in ELC sector. Tackling gender stereotyping in ELC will be a key theme within this. We are aiming to deliver the training by the end of 2019.

Increasing gender diversity in the ELC workforce

  • As part of the ELC Expansion by August 2020, there will be a significant expansion of the ELC workforce in Scotland. This provides us with an opportunity to increase the diversity of the workforce. Scottish Government and partners are using the scale of the expansion to deliberately reach out to groups under-represented in the current ELC workforce, with a focus in particular on attracting more males and other under-represented groups.
  • Increasing the diversity of the workforce is intended to benefit children by providing a richer learning environment with an increased range of role models and increased exposure to different cultures and backgrounds. The intention is that a more diverse workforce both benefits children’s outcomes now, and contributes to a more equal future society where, for example, occupational segregation by gender is less marked.
  • Scottish Government’s Action in Gender Equalities include; promoting gender equality within early learning and child care, schools, colleges, universities and within employment support and the social security system, to help with it’s commitment of reducing the gender pay gap by 2021.
  • The recent publication of the Funding Follows the Child and National Standard States that all employers of ELC staff should adhere to Fair Work Practices (criteria 8):
    • a fair and equal pay policy across their setting, (including a commitment to supporting the real Living Wage);
    • promoting equality of opportunity and developing a workforce which reflects the population of Scotland in terms of characteristics such as age, gender, religion or belief, race, sexual orientation and disability;
    • security of employment and hours of work, avoiding exploitative employment practices such as unfair zero hours contracts, or pregnancy and maternity discrimination;
    • consideration of patterns of working (including, for example, part-time working and/or term-time working) and support for family friendly working and wider work life balance

Wider benefits of the expansion for gender equality

We believe that the expansion will promote gender equality more widely:

Our Research on Parents’ Views and Use of ELC in Scotland found that of the parents surveyed, two thirds (66%) of parents using ELC for a 3 or 4-year-old mentioned working or looking for work. The expansion of funded ELC to 1140 hours is expected to remove a potential barrier for parents wishing to access work, training or study opportunities, especially those who need help with finding sustainable employment.

Women are still more likely to be the primary carers in the family therefore there is opportunity to enable more women to work, train or study, and help to close the gender related pay gap. The Scottish Government’s ‘A Fairer Scotland for Women: Gender Pay Gap Action Plan’ highlights that availability of high quality, affordable, and flexible childcare is key to enabling women to fully participate in the labour market.