Nursery World Awards 2013: Individuals - Lifetime Achievement

Liz Roberts
Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Winner: Professor Cathy Nutbrown, Professor of Education, University of Sheffield.

Professor Peter Clough says:

I owe my late interest in early years work directly to Cathy Nutbrown. We have worked in the same department for nearly 20 years, my own work being largely concerned with what goes wrong with schools and for children and their families, and with the profound issue of inclusion. It was only some ten years ago that I learnt from Cathy that long before trying to repair problems when they have become set and characteristic, our best efforts (and resources) should go into those early years when little minds and bodies - and their families, no less - can be wholly included from the start.

There will be no one who is unaware of the Nutbrown Review, in which Cathy recommended ways of improving quality for young children by improving training and professional development for their practitioners. But I want to remind you of some of the work that came before, and probably lay behind, Cathy's commissioning by the Coalition Government in 2011. An expression of this track record is seen in some 60-odd major publications, which include 11 books. But let me look a little closer at just four details of Cathy's lifetime commitment to early childhood education.

Cathy was herself, of course, a highly successful early years practitioner as a nursery teacher, working with young children and their families in some of the most deprived parts of her home city, Sheffield. Her first academic work - published in 1993 when she was still a nursery teacher - is resonant with her own vital experience as a practitioner. This was Threads of Thinking, now in its fourth Edition and still a key text for many courses and individual practitioners.

A no less important thread to Cathy's work is her concern with children's rights. She edited the first significant book on the implications of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for early childhood education nearly 20 years ago.

Cathy is an inspiring but always modest teacher (she was nominated by her university students as 'inspirational'), and one keen to 'bring on' the next generations of teachers, researchers and policy makers. Through the development of the Masters and Doctoral programmes at the University of Sheffield, she - and the team, as she would hasten to point out - have encouraged and enabled innumerable practitioners to become critical in their practice, and to bring research insights to their daily work. An emerging generation of researchers learned their publishing skills under Cathy's guidance - several of her students have gone on to publish their own books, and a growing number of teacher-educators and policy developers are similarly graduates of the Sheffield early childhood programme.

Finally, in May this year she was presented with the Economic and Social Research Council's first national award for research with outstanding social impact - this for her work with settings, practitioners and families on early literacy. Cathy is rightly proud of this award, but I suspect that she will be even more pleased to earn this Lifetime Achievement award: to be celebrated by the caring, teaching and learning family which, in her career journey from nursery teacher to internationally renowned professor of early education, she has never left.


Professor Cathy Nutbrown is Head of the School of Education at the University of Sheffield.

Cathy began her career as a teacher of young children and has since worked in a range of settings and roles. She established the University of Sheffield MA in Early Childhood Education in 1998 and a Doctoral Programme in Early Childhood Education in 2008. In 2010 she contributed to the Tickell Review of the EYFS. In June 2012 she reported on her review of early years and childcare qualifications (The Nutbrown Review). She is Editor-in-Chief of the SAGE Journal of Early Childhood Research.

Recent books

Early Childhood Education: history, philosophy and experience, Sage (2014, with Peter Clough)

Inclusion in the Early Years (2nd ed), Sage (2013, with Peter Clough)

Understanding Schemas from Birth to Three, Sage (2013, with Frances Atherton)

Threads of Thinking (4th ed), Sage (2010).

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