2021 finalists

We are proud to present the outstanding organisations and professionals who have been named finalists in the 2021 HESTA Early Childhood Education and Care Awards.



advancing pedagogy and practice




KU Isobel Pulsford Memorial Preschool Team

KU Children’s Services
Epping NSW

The KU Isobel Pulsford Memorial Preschool Team is recognised for embracing a culture of inquiry and creating a space for the community to thrive.

The preschool has taken on a revitalised view of pedagogical practice, which sees young children as capable, resourceful thinkers and producers of knowledge. This new way of thinking has also enabled parents to re-examine their assumptions and engage with their children in new and exciting ways.

As a result, many families are now embracing a more inquisitive approach to early learning. The child is celebrated as co-researcher, co-constructor and a key companion in the learning and teaching experience.

The KU Isobel Pulsford Memorial Preschool Team hopes for success in the Awards so they can support professional learning and create a framework to support colleagues reimagining their work practices.



KU West Pymble Preschool

KU Children’s Services
West Pymble NSW

KU West Pymble Preschool is recognised for their efforts to incorporate sustainability into their pedagogy and practice, contributing to their vision for a better, healthier world. 

Their approach has inspired children to think about living responsibly and caring for the environment. In consultation with families, the children have initiated actions regarding recycling, waste, water and power management, as well as identifying practices to be adopted in the home.

This work has also highlighted the children’s capacity for civic participation. After the preschool implemented a program to develop understanding of the local bush, the children noticed the local creek had turned orange. They took water samples and worked with local council to help monitor the water quality.

This culture of learning has inspired the entire community. It has positioned KU West Pymble Preschool and the children as leaders in sustainable practices and has helped the children develop empathy, resilience, and respect. 

KU West Pymble Preschool plans to facilitate tailored professional learning, specialised mentoring, and access to academic expertise if they are an Award winner.



Lilyfield Early Learning Centre

Lilyfield NSW

Lilyfield Early Learning Centre is recognised for their community focused learning approach that empowers children to have a voice and choice, particularly through an innovative junior Parliament. 

With collaboration and critical thinking development at its heart, educators at the centre have pioneered a program that has seen children discuss social issues and be involved in decision-making through the centre’s parliamentary process. The children also celebrate their achievements through a pop-up museum, and work with the centre’s Resident Artist on a ‘Creativity and the Curriculum’ project.

Responding to the effects of COVID on the mental health of children, staff and parents, the centre also developed a ‘Mindful Moments’ program for children that includes guided meditations, yoga, and dreamtime stories.

If successful in the Awards, Lilyfield Early Learning Centre would like their staff to receive professional training in yoga and mindfulness for children, and work with academics on a research project advocating for children’s rights. 



individual leadership



Jackie Staudinger

KU Children’s Services
Macquarie Fields NSW

Jackie is recognised for the astute and dedicated leadership of her team at KU Macquarie Fields Preschool, supporting educators to create a thriving learning community.

As director of the preschool, Jackie guides the team in research and evidence-based practice, re-imagining new ways of teaching and delivering programs that are valued by the local community.

Within the preschool’s Healthy Eating Project, Jackie has established partnerships to help communicate information on nutrition and healthy eating. She has partnered with the NSW Government’s Munch and Move health initiative, community health services and ‘Chef Charlotte’, who has provided cooking experiences for children and parents.

Jackie hopes to be successful in the Awards so she can attend a study tour in the Northern Territory, where she will work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to build a deeper knowledge of culture, connection to Country, and authentic pedagogy.


Karen Roberts

City of Canterbury Bankstown
Canterbury-Bankstown NSW

Karen Roberts is recognised for her outstanding contribution to early childhood education, continually going above and beyond to be a champion of children. 

Karen has worked tirelessly to uphold children’s rights, promote inclusive education, and lead with empathy and enthusiasm. She is a strong advocate for the inclusivity and protection of all children in the sector, frequently going beyond her scope of work to ensure all children have access to early childhood education. 

In 2019, Karen designed an initiative with the Sydney Alliance Group, enabling parents from asylum seeker backgrounds – who are ineligible for childcare subsidies – to realise their work or study dreams by having their children placed in reduced or no-cost childcare centres. She is also working on a comprehensive intergenerational program, where children and seniors can interact and learn together. 

It is Karen’s dream to influence urban planning policies to develop shared spaces where both generations can come together to share knowledge.


Michelle Gujer

Gowrie Victoria
Broadmeadows VIC

Michelle is recognised for her work over the past 30 years to develop early childhood educators through supportive leadership, mentoring, and shared decision-making to lead change and enrich team development.

For Michelle, building community partnerships and engaging families as children’s first educators is key to better education and care outcomes.

She strives to reach the most disadvantaged cohorts within the community, applying a multidisciplinary approach through her strong community partnerships to support children and family needs. Michelle’s commitment has seen community uptake of the service growing from approximately 30% utilisation to nearly 100%.

Michelle has also led the team to participate in research, partner with the local primary school to support effective student transition and collaborate with child protection and other agencies to support the safety and wellbeing of children.

Michelle plans to use the prize money to increase her knowledge of trauma-informed practice and attend the International Childhood Trauma Conference later this year.


Natalie Cordukes

Paddington Children’s Centre (Uniting)
Paddington NSW

Natalie is recognised for her strong leadership on reconciliation at Paddington Children’s Centre. This resulted in a new culturally safe learning environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

After developing a Reconciliation Action Plan, Natalie formed relationships with local Aboriginal community members and organisations to enhance learning environments for families and the community. One aspect of this work was to create a culturally safe space. Natalie oversaw the restoration of a four-storey terrace for the Aboriginal Children’s Service (ACS), bringing together a team of volunteers and donations from 55 businesses. The building now hosts an Aboriginal playgroup, run by Aboriginal educators.

If she is successful in the Awards, Natalie plans to engage local Aboriginal artists and elders in sharing cultural knowledge with the community, and children and families at the centre. She also wants to support the creation of cultural events, resources, and cultural connections to help children have a positive identity and sense of self.



outstanding organisation



Forbes Preschool

Forbes NSW

Forbes Preschool is recognised for their commitment to ensuring all three to five-year-olds in the community can access quality, affordable early childhood education.

Ten years ago, children from Aboriginal families and families experiencing disadvantage in Forbes were highly unlikely to participate in early childhood education due to a lack of affordability and not feeling welcome.

By increasing the number of Aboriginal educators, reducing fees, building strong community partnerships, and implementing support programs, children can attend the preschool and access a judgement-free, equitable learning space. The educators also assist with a pop-up preschool service, which appears in disadvantaged areas of the community to help people access local services. 

Now, 50% of enrolments are children from families experiencing disadvantage. The preschool runs an Aboriginal Language and Culture program, a Healthy Beginnings breakfast program, and the Girinya Program for children with developmental vulnerabilities who were not receiving therapy.

Forbes Preschool plans to use the prize money to further test, document, and share their unique delivery model through qualitative and quantitative data research. 


Advance Rehab Centre

Jumbunna Community Preschool and Early Intervention Centre

Casino NSW

Jumbunna Community Preschool and Early Intervention Centre is recognised for their incredible dedication to supporting children with disability and special learning needs in their local community in rural New South Wales.

Many families in the local area rely on the centre. They are hours away from a major city and often struggle to access services due to financial concerns and a lack of confidence. 

Jumbunna addresses this need by bringing support to families. With more than 40 staff, including early childhood and special education teachers, speech and occupational therapists, Jumbunna builds a team around the child to create a holistic education experience and better outcomes for the child and their families. 

If they are successful in the Awards, Jumbunna Community Preschool and Early Intervention Centre would like to train staff in the Hanen language programs, which focus on facilitating early childhood language and literacy development, and attend the National Early Childhood Intervention Conference. 


Winanga-Li Aboriginal Child and Family Centre

Gunnedah NSW

Winanga-Li Aboriginal Child and Family Centre is recognised for their dedication to meeting the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and families experiencing disadvantage across the Gunnedah region.

The centre provides a range of programs, including out-of-home care, a Gamilaraay language program, and the Learning for Life speech program so, no matter what stage of the early learning journey children and families are on, they are well-supported. More than 300 children have participated in the service since it started in 2013 and 80% of the children identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

The name Winanga-Li in the local Gamilaraay language means “to hear, to listen, to know, to remember” and this ethos is implemented by the educators each day.

Winanga-Li Aboriginal Child and Family Centre hopes for success in the Awards so they can provide their educators with culturally appropriate workshops, which will strengthen their ability to incorporate language and culture into their education programs, and the broader early childhood education community. 




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Learn more about the HESTA Early Childhood Education and Care Awards