Nursery World Awards 2023 – Early Childhood Graduate of the Year

Sunday, October 1, 2023

WINNER – Helen Haygarth, University of Sunderland

You can download the awards book here

Having the Childhood Studies with Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies embedded has opened doors and roles to Helen Haygarth that she had not previously considered, such as her current role as family hub and engagement participation lead at Durham County Council. Her journey began in the early years and has been the foundation to all of Helen’s practice.

She has always advocated for the rights of children in her care and held the view that they should have quality opportunities to play and develop at their own pace in a nurturing environment.

Helen has used her undergraduate dissertation as a way to improve practice in relation to the use of music in early years settings to support children’s wellbeing, learning and development. Her research directly impacted practice with practitioner questionnaires and interviews highlighting areas to reflect upon, which became a focus for setting improvement.

Gaining a degree has enabled Helen to explore and research the theory behind her beliefs and drives her professional work, which involves facilitating a panel of parents and carers to have a voice across the Family Hubs provision in Durham. Her role relies on her excellent ability to build relationships, be inclusive and truly listen and act uponthe views and opinions of the panel.

During her studies, Helen would often discuss how her ethos was thwarted by data-driven approaches or unrealistic educational expectations for school readiness and has continued to use her degree to reflect. Her developing knowledge around stages of development and schemas of play helped her to feel empowered to refuse a request for two-year-olds to be taught formalised phonics. She was able to put forward her belief that quality provision that supports listening and attention skills would be more beneficial in creating the foundation skills needed.

Helen demonstrates how strong connections between theory and practice pushes her to think beyond what is presented to her. She had observed a lot of tokenistic practice and felt that this was something that needed to change. She has recently explored the use of creative tools to gather the wishes and feelings of children within Early Help services to create an experience where they feel mattered and valued, rather than just being defined by the behaviours they display.


Laura Hale University of Northampton

Laura, who is pre-school manager at Cropredy Pre-school in Oxfordshire, initially undertook a Foundation Degree in Early Years and continued her studies to a BA (Hons) Early Childhood degree to enhance her knowledge of early childhood and develop practice within her team.

She was always an active participant in lectures and seminars at university and is held in high regard by her peers for her passion, compassion and knowledge for and about the early years.

She has applied learning from her degree to creatively look at how to equip children to thrive once they leave pre-school and achieve their best possible outcomes.


• Louisa Johnson – University of Chichester


Open to any Early Childhood Studies degree graduate (or equivalent course that is mapped to the Qaa SBS 2022) who has demonstrated exemplary practice in their field, providing the best possible service for families.

Nursery World Print & Website

  • Latest print issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Free monthly activity poster
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month


Nursery World Digital Membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month


© MA Education 2024. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved