By Jayne Weaver

Racism pervades every aspect of life in Scotland.

In 1989, on our own doorstep in Cowgate, racist youths attacked Somalian student Axmed Abuukar Sheekh and his Somalian friend.

“..screaming racist abuse, the thugs repeatedly punched, kicked and stabbed the two students on the head, arms and body.” [1]

Sheekh died of his stab wounds.

Almost 30 years later, in 2018, Shabaz Ali a Syrian refugee, was stabbed repeatedly in a racist attack in Upper Gilmore Place, Edinburgh.

“We ran away from war in Syria, I do not want to die here. This country is not safe for me.” Shabaz said.[2]

In 2014-15 there were 3,785 charges relating to racist hate crime in Scotland, the equivalent of 72 hate crimes per week.[3]

It is critical that we scrutinise our early years practice within this context.  Does our practice, as a nursery, reinforce and perpetuate racism? 

The Black Lives Matter campaign has forced us to focus on racism within the early years and to recognise that it is not enough to state that we are not racist. First, we must acknowledge and understand the many ways in which racism experienced by all people of colour affects our practice. Then, we must commit ourselves to developing, with children and our whole community – an environment, culture and practice which is pro-actively anti-racist.

To this end, we have embarked upon an ongoing process of learning and action primarily, but not exclusively, facilitated through a regular reading and discussion group.

Many questions have already been generated:

  • Why does our team of practitioners not include any person of colour? How can we become more accessible to practitioners of colour?
  • Why are most children who use our nursery white? How can we become more accessible to children of colour?
  • How do children and families of colour experience our nursery? What changes in our practice would ensure that their needs are more effectively met?
  • What policy changes do we need to make to effectively uphold the rights of children and families of colour?
  • Do our resources reflect and value the lives of children of colour?
  • Do children of colour feel ‘known’ by us? Do we understand their experiences and value their identity? Does our approach to documenting children’s lives within the setting reflect their needs?
  • How well do we understand and respond to the experiences of different children of colour? Are we, for example, sensitive to the different experiences of Black girls and Black boys? How does racism intersect with transphobia? What is it like to be a child of colour with a disability?
  • How can we apply our learning to support children experiencing other forms of discrimination based, for example, on nationality, gender, gender identity, (dis)ability?
  • How can we better recognise the cultural differences between white children and how would this support anti-racist practice?

This is not an academic exercise; the value of our learning lies in the extent to which it changes our practice. Recently we have taken some small, but we hope significant, actions:

  • Our children’s library is now overflowing with books that encourage conversations about race and racism, which reflect the realities and celebrate the lives of children of many races and colours.
  • We have established a partnership with two nurseries in Ghana, exploring the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This partnership has forced staff to look inwards at the culture of our community and the extent to which it perpetuates Eurocentric points of view, ‘whiteness’ and colonialism. Our children engage in weekly zoom sessions with our Ghanaian colleagues, have experienced virtual tours of their communities and exchanged messages and photos. As our partnership develops, we hope that staff and children in Ghana and Scotland will learn together about the beauty, reality, and challenges of life in our different nations. We hope that it will support us to find practical and meaningful ways of talking about race with our children, challenge negative perceptions and strengthen mutual care and respect.
  • We have made changes to our ‘welcome’ documentation, providing space for new families to share adverse experiences including exclusion based on race, gender, gender identity, disability, language, religion and how this might impact on their child’s needs.

This is the beginning of a profound conversation within our nursery, a conversation which will lead to further changes in practice.

We ask our community to engage in this conversation and to hold us accountable as we seek to answer the fundamental questions:

  • Is our nursery a place where children of colour are known, respected, and supported to flourish? What changes do we need to make to do better?
  • Does our practice reinforce and perpetuate racism? What changes must we make to be more effectively anti-racist?


Related blogs which may be of interest:

The Potential of Children’s Literature to Confront Issues of Injustice, by Julie McAdam

It is never too early to talk anti-racism with young people, by Kristina Konstantoni



[1]  Weir, Racist Violence: Advice and support services for Black students in Lothian Region Edinburgh 1990


[3] Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service 2019 ‘Hate Crime in Scotland’, 2018-19.


Since November 2019 I have worked as an Early Years Practitioner at Cowgate Centre for Under 5s, a Froebelian inspired early learning and childcare setting, and is situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s old town.  Previously I spent three years working as a practitioner at Holy Corner Community Playgroup during which time I also studied for the HNC in Childhood Practice.For 17 years I worked as a childminder, in England and Scotland, providing long term support to more than 25 families, many of whom remain close and valued friends.

Before embarking on my career in the early years I gained a degree in Sociology and a Masters degree in Social Research Methods and worked for 10 years in the field of evaluative research.

On a personal level, I have travelled extensively and spent seven years of my adult life living in Nepal (I was married in Kathmandu), Bolivia (I had a baby in Santa Cruz) and Israel. I have been in Edinburgh almost 8 years and never want to leave! My partner and I own a woodland in East Lothian which we are currently preparing for Cowgate Under 5s to use as a nature kindergarten. I have three daughters and a granddaughter, so plenty of direct experience of the joys and challenges of parenthood!