asian girl with personal instructor using laptop in ballet studio

Advancing Early Years Leadership through Digitally Mediated Professional Learning 

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the research aims to build our understanding of how Digitally Mediated Professional Learning can be used to extend and enhance leadership development in the English EY sector. 

Objective 1 

The research will systematically review research published in the last ten years (2011-2021) focusing on two intersecting bodies of literature: 1) leadership development programmes in EY and 2) DMPL in EY. The review will build on more general explorations of professional learning in EY around the world (e.g. Rogers et al., 2017; Jensen & Iannone, 2018) by focusing specifically on programmes and outcomes of leadership development and the use of DMPL. It will highlight promising avenues for the advancement of leadership development via DMPL. 

Objective 2 

The research will investigate innovations and advancements of DMPL for leadership development in the English EY sector that emerged due to the COVID19 crisis. It will investigate leadership development initiatives offered by diverse training providers and how these were able to progress via DMPL despite social distancing regulations. Insights into the shifts and their implications for professional learning will be achieved by gathering diverse accounts of those delivering the programmes as well as those participating in such programmes. 

Objective 3 

Through collaborative reflection among sector leaders, based on the research outcomes for the two previous objectives, the research will develop recommendations for the advancement of DMPL for leadership development in the English EY sector. Drawing on the shared understanding of the urgent need for improvements in both the quality and quantity of leadership development in the sector, a design thinking workshop with stakeholders will identify concrete ways for sector organisations and the DfE to enhance what they can offer in terms of leadership development and how DMPL can be effectively used in order to make this practically possible.

four toddler forms circle photo

Ethnicity and the Early Years Workforce 

This research aims to find out a) how ethnicity in the early years workforce intersects with leadership responsibilities and professional qualifications and b) how the ethnicity of early years professionals compares with the ethnicity of children and families accessing early years education locally. The research takes place in Maintained Nursery Schools across the UK.

Dr Mona Sakr (Middlesex University, London) leads the research, which is funded by the British Education Research Association (BERA).

For more information please visit –

Baby Rooms – Inspiring Leaders 

We are a group of Baby Room Leaders, Nursery Managers and Researchers working together to develop and improve Baby Room Leadership across the UK.

We believe that:

  • The experiences that children have between the ages of 0-2 years are vital for their learning and wellbeing in childhood and into adulthood.
  • It is essential that we get the nursery environments for 0-2 year olds (the ‘baby room’) right. This depends on the leadership of Baby Room Leaders.

We recognise that:

  • Baby Room Leaders often receive less support in their leadership development than others within the nursery.
  • There is an urgent need to step up the leadership development available to Baby Room Leaders across the UK.

In this project, we will:

  • Respond to this gap by collaboratively creating an open access online training course for new Baby Room Leaders to develop their leadership skills.

Baby Rooms – Inspiring Leaders (BRIL) is funded by the British Education Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS).

For more information please visit –

The Dlala Project

The Dlala Project is funded by the GCRF. It is focused on bringing together an international network of childhood experts to investigate ways to decolonise play through the digital in Sub-Saharan Africa. Professor Jayne Osgood is the International Partner working with colleagues in South Africa, Namibia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi…

Find out more here –

How do we tell the story of early years? The shortest survey you’ll ever complete.

We’re researching the best way to communicate the importance of early years education to the rest of society. We need to know more about the best way to get the word out that early years education really does matter! 

So what do you think the message should be? You’re about to complete the shortest survey you’ll probably ever do. All you  need to do is look at the messages below – each made up of an image and a tagline – and choose your favourite. Which one do you think is the most effective in communicating the contribution of early years education to society?

This research has been approved by the Middlesex University Ethics Committee. Your response will be anonymous, and your completion of the survey counts as consent to use the data generated.

To create these messages, we have borrowed concepts and slogans from publicity campaigns that have been managed by the San Francisco Children’s Council Campaign and by the California Alternative Payment Programme Association (CAPPA). 

Look at the three options below and then there’ll be a chance to say which is your favourite at the bottom!

Option A

Option B

Option C

Playful Triangulation

Dr Jacqueline Harding has been working with Fisher Price to explore the benefits of play for children and adult carers.

Bio-behavioural synchrony is key to the wellbeing of parents/carers and young children. In simple terms, it’s achieved through being in positive close proximity and maintaining eye to eye contact – that way they share neurobiological and physiological responses. In other words, their emotional states mirror each other. Despite well established research that confirms the notion of play for young children as fundamental to their development and acknowledged as a source of potential opportunity for playful interaction between parent/carer and child, little is known of the benefits afforded to parents/carers. Specifically, the paper draws upon international research concerning the possible impact of playful interactions between parents/carers and their young children, particularly when play objects are involved. Furthermore, it explores the potential benefits to parent/carers (and older adults) in terms of stress reduction and general wellbeing whilst acknowledging the more established benefits to children. As very few studies have given direct attention to the affordances of play to the parents/carers whilst they play with their under three year olds, this paper is a summary of significant findings predominantly from the last two decades that draws upon a variety of related disciplines. A themed approach was adopted.The paper discusses interpersonal neurobiology and the oxytocinergic system; the notion of synchrony and reciprocal responsiveness; the bio-behavioural feedback loop; higher triadic synchrony and proximity seeking, and the exploration of the use of ‘common ground’ associated with objects/toys. Finally, the emerging work of intergenerational initiatives and gerotranscendence is explored. The review demonstrates a consistency in results regarding chemical production and brain states involved in parent/carer – child bonding and highlights exciting links to studies in related fields that indicate an evolving understanding of mutual benefits for parent/carer and child whilst engaged in play. The work concludes with recommendations for future research within this important area of wellbeing.

A book on the topic has been commissioned by Bloomsbury.

To find out more, read about the report ‘Playtime with Children Can Reduce Stress in Adults’.

The research is generating plenty of media interest including this piece for preschool news ‘Fisher Price looks for positive effects of play in new study’.

Social Leadership in Early Years

Social Leadership in Early Years (SLEY) is a research project jointly led by Dr Mona Sakr at Middlesex University and June O’Sullivan MBE, CEO of the London Early Years Foundation. We are working together with international partners to explore:

  1. the nature of social leadership in early years practice: what it looks and feels like
  2. the impact that social leadership can have on the everyday work of nurseries
  3. the training and experiences early years staff need in order to become strong social leaders

In November 2021, we’ll release the book ‘Social Leadership in Early Childhood Education’, based on research with global leaders of early childhood education.

If you want to know more, contact Mona:

Theory and Practice of Child-Initiated Pedagogies

Led by Dr Leena Robertson

This international project examines the current early childhood education policies and pedagogical practices in four different countries, Finland, Estonia, England and the United States and constructs a theoretical framework of Democratically Appropriate Practices (DeAP) for child-initiated practices. In spite of differences in history, culture and economic situation in each country, there is a shared and urgent need to develop child-initiated pedagogies in early years settings.

The project involves a network of early years practitioners – 64 practitioners in four countries – who are researching their own practice and exploring their everyday child-initiated pedagogies. The network of practitioners collaborate with researchers from four universities, University of Turku (Finland), University of Tallinn (Estonia), James Maddison University (USA) and Middlesex University (UK).

Please see the references below if you are interested in finding out more about this project:

  • Kinos, J., Robertson, L., Barbour, N. and Pukk, M. (2016 in press) The Need For Child Initiated Pedagogy In The Context Of Participatory Democracy In Finland, Estonia, England and The USA. Childhood Education.
  • Robertson, L., Kinos, J., Barbour, N., Pukk, M. and Rosqvist, L.  (2015) Child-initiated pedagogies in Finland, Estonia and England: exploring young children’s views on decisions. Early Child Development and Care. Special Issue: Early Childhood Pedagogy.Vol.185:11-12, pp1815-1827

Anxiety in Children


Principal investigator: Rebecca Lerman

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common disorders in childhood and are associated with significant distress and impairment. Research conducted in the United Kingdom has shown that teachers report difficulty identifying anxiety in children and distinguishing it from other types of mental health problems (Rothì et al., 2006). This is concerning given that teachers are the most commonly sought source of support by parents of children with an emotional disorder, with nearly half (47%) reporting that teachers were their primary contact when seeking help and advice (Green et al., 2005). These findings highlight the need for training promoting teacher understanding of anxiety, as well as their ability to communicate and work with parents and other professionals involved in the child’s care.

The objective of this research is to develop and evaluate a professional online training course aimed at improving teacher confidence, knowledge and skills in identifying and managing child anxiety, thereby reducing anxiety and associated impairment in the school setting. This research will also examine whether these outcomes are influenced by teacher characteristics (gender, years teaching experience, position) and child gender, as these factors have previously been linked to teacher recognition and responses to child anxiety (Lerman, 2013; Loades & Mastroyannopoulou, 2010).