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Case Study

Helen Haygarth

Peterlee, UK

BA (Hons) Education and Curriculum Studies


Nursery nurse Helen Haygarth knew that, without a degree, she wouldn’t be able to fully realise her career ambitions. After studying a Foundation Degree in Education and Care at her local college, she decided to apply for the BA (Hons) Education and Curriculum Studies Top-Up here at the University of Sunderland.

I have always been aware that Sunderland had a good reputation and when I discovered that Foundation Degree Education and Care was being offered at my local college, via the University of Sunderland, I knew it was a good option for me. The application process was straightforward and everybody I spoke to was knowledgeable, realistic and extremely helpful. On completion of the foundation degree, I knew I wanted to remain with Sunderland and ‘top it up’ to a full degree. The thought of graduating excited me and made me strive even harder to achieve my goal. I couldn’t wait to get to wear the cap and gown as a full graduate!

The standards and processes on the foundation degree convinced me that I would be well-supported on the top up, and that it would be a high-quality course. I was already aware of the University campus and library as we accessed both at various times during the foundation degree.

When I attended an Open Day, the Education and Curriculum Studies Programme Leader was there to explain the course to me, and current students spoke to us and answered any questions we had. This made it easy to make an informed decision. My mother was a mature student many years ago, so I was familiar with the level of support for mature and part-time students, and it just felt right.

I’ve spent my entire career working in the early years sector as a level 3 practitioner/nursery nurse, in a variety of different settings, while also supporting my family. I had looked into further study for many years but always held back as my three children were small and life got in the way. I knew it would need to be fairly straightforward and easy to balance family life, work and study, so I began to investigate various options. However, the time just never felt right and I lacked the confidence to truly go for it.

As a nursery nurse, I had fallen into a leadership role in a primary school which offered provision for two-year-olds. The role challenged me to realise my potential, and was also the point I realised that my qualifications could potentially restrict further career progression. I needed a degree. I had looked at distance learning courses but it became clear that the part-time route offered by Sunderland was the perfect way to manage study, work and home life; I finally felt able to commit 100%.

On the course, the relevancy to the sector I work in was fantastic, which made it easy to apply practice and then reflect, learn, and for me personally, to improve my practice. The tutors were highly experienced and knowledgeable. They were always supportive and made themselves available if needed. They had a good understanding of how real life can and does affect learners. I had my fair share of crises during my time, but I was honest and communicated with my tutors and they supported me through them all.

Expectations were high and as such cemented a strong work ethic in me, particularly with regard to study and the desire to do well in individual modules. This became evident on hearing the news I had received the Ede and Ravenscroft prize. It was such a privilege to be nominated and humbling to receive.

My favourite module was, without doubt, the work-based research module. The support I received was phenomenal. My supervisor was unfailing in her faith in me and supported and nurtured me over the course of the module. Research is definitely something I would like to pursue in time.

I would advise potential students to go along to Open Days and events and speak to the staff. Ask questions, engage in discussion. The team I have been fortunate enough to work with are all very human and willing to share their thoughts, experiences and opinions. Embrace being a student; even as a part-time student, I loved being on campus and spending time in the library.

I have grown in confidence so much, not just in my work but in myself. I’m about to start a new role, following a successful interview, in the post of family support worker. My studies definitely contributed to my desire to help vulnerable people transform their lives. This is something different for me and is pulling me out of my comfort zone, but I sincerely hope I can make a difference. I also hope to stay with Sunderland for postgraduate study, undertaking either an MA or PCET.

On my first day, our programme leader said that a degree will always kick doors open. The whole process since then has proven that to be the case. I’ve learned that if a door doesn’t open itself, then it’s your responsibility to kick it open. My daughter is now in her second year here, studying History, making it three generations in our family to have gone to university.  

My experience at the University of Sunderland has been enlightening, challenging and fulfilling!"

Published 10 December 2019

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