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Three of the nation’s best Early Childhood Educators and Carers were revealed as winners of the 2023 HESTA Early Childhood Education & Care Awards during a special celebration in Adelaide.

Balnarring Pre-School, located in Victoria, won the ‘Advancing Pedagogy and Practice’ award for its leadership in implementing a nature program involving learning in and with the natural environment.

Nazareth Early Childhood Centre from Findon, South Australia won the ‘Outstanding Service’ award for its focus on inclusion and breaking down barriers, helping enhance children’s development.

Rachael PhillipsDirector of Birrelee Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Service in New South Wales, won the ‘Individual Leadership’ award. Rachael was recognised for her leadership in advancing education for First Nations children and advocating for more culturally appropriate early childhood settings.

HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said the award winners and finalists were committed to creating inclusive and supportive learning outcomes for children.

“Congratulations to all our winners and finalists for their incredible contributions to early childhood education. We are so grateful for the impact early childhood professionals make on our communities,” said Ms Blakey.  

“In a world filled with challenges and uncertainties, the role of an early childhood educator is one of profound significance. I’m proud that the HESTA Awards can help recognise the important work of these incredible professionals,” she said.  

ME CEO Martine Jager also praised the winners and their ongoing dedication.

“ME is proud to congratulate the deserving winners of these awards. Their consistent display of leadership in early education and care goes well above the call of duty, and their dedication to giving children the best chance of reaching their full potential is an inspiration,” said Ms Jager.

Since 2010, the national awards have recognised the front-line educators and carers at the very heart of Australia’s early childhood education system. The three winners each received $10,000, courtesy of ME Bank, for professional development or to improve services or processes in the workplace.

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Introducing the 2023 HESTA Early Childhood Education & Care Award Winners:


Balnarring Pre-School

Balnarring, VIC

Balnarring Pre-School was recognised for implementing a nature program involving learning in and with the natural environment. They also worked with esteemed Elders N’Arwee’t Dr Carolyn Briggs and Fay Stewart-Muir to embed knowledge and cultures into the learnings and ensure First Nations Peoples’ teachings are a continued part of everyday practice.

Balnarring’s Educational Leader and Teacher, Karen Anderson, a teacher at the centre for 40 years, said the team were thrilled to win a HESTA Award.

“Being a HESTA award winner is an acknowledgment that the hard work and dedication of the teaching team, committee of management, children and families is valued beyond our pre-school. It’s also an opportunity to share the work that we so strongly believe in with our community, families, and the Early Childhood profession,” Ms Anderson said.

The team will allocate the prize money to different areas in the pre-school, including providing cultural awareness training for the committee of management and teaching team as part of the school’s commitment to reconciliation and creating a culturally safe environment.


Nazareth Early Childhood Centre

Findon, SA

Nazareth Early Childhood Centre was recognised for its focus on inclusion and breaking down barriers.

Nazareth’s Early Years Director, Natasha Walc, said she was proud of the team for the relentless effort and passion they bring to their work each day.

“Given the complexities our sector and community have faced in recent years, it’s humbling to be recognised as a HESTA award winner and have our programs and practices celebrated amongst a broad network. This achievement provides us with confidence in our capabilities and will act as a catalyst as we continue to strive for excellence,” Ms Walc said.

The team plans to use the prize money to support staff in an international study tour to explore exemplary early childhood systems and practices that align with the centre’s philosophy.


Rachael Phillips, Birrelee Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Service

Tamworth, NSW

Rachael, a proud Gomeroi woman, was recognised for her leadership in advancing education for First Nations children and advocating for more culturally appropriate early childhood settings. For the entirety of her career, Rachael has worked with and for the local Gomeroi community and attended Birrelee as a child.

For Rachael, being selected as a HESTA winner was a proud moment and presented an opportunity to continue to grow as a leader and teacher.

“Being a HESTA award winner is such a great achievement, especially in an industry where there are so many amazing leaders, including those I look up to and have admired my whole career. Although this award highlights my individual leadership, there are many people who have helped shape who I am as a person and as an Early Childhood Education professional. From my family, colleagues, community, and ancestors, I am thankful for every experience and opportunity I have received,” said Ms Phillips.

Rachael plans to use the prize money to visit and collaborate with remote communities and First Nations schools where cultural practices thrive.

“I have experienced and witnessed the importance of culturally strong and safe practices in the education setting and truly believe that cultural practices and values should be the core of Early Childhood Education,” she said.