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Case Study

Helen Haygarth

Peterlee, UK

BA (Hons) Childhood and Society Studies (Top-Up)


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 to top-up her degree here at the University of Sunderland.

I’ve spent my entire career working in the early years sector 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 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. 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%.

When I discovered that a Foundation Degree in Education and Care was being offered at my local college via the University, I thought it would be a good option for me. When I completed the foundation degree I knew I wanted to stay on and top up to a full degree. I was already aware of the University's campus and facilities as we had visited them at various times during my foundation degree. I knew that I would be well-supported on the top up course, and that it would be a high-quality degree. 

The relevancy of the course to the sector I work in was fantastic, and made it easy to apply practice and then reflect, learn, and improve. The tutors were highly experienced and knowledgeable, and 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 studies but I was honest and communicated with my tutors and they supported me through it 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.

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 recently started a new role as a 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."

Published 7 October 2020

Read more about Helen becoming the very first graduate of her course. 

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