Professor Karen Thorpe

Advance Awards Education Category Finalist

In her formative years as a young teacher, Karen Thorpe was struck by the stark inequities in children’s early learning opportunities. Connecting early childhood education and care as a mechanism for social equity, Karen’s vast research career has sought to tackle the problem of delivering equitable access to educational experiences in the first five years of life. These years are the most significant in human brain development and the most effective for family and educational interventions to redress disadvantage. Karen was a Foundation Psychologist on the WHO-initiated ALSPAC study that has tracked 14,000 British children from early pregnancy through to the current time. Such contributions have been recognised globally and have founded her large scale, policy-focused studies focused on Australian Early Education and Care. Most recently, through the Covid19 global pandemic, Karen has guided agencies and organisations to assist with early childcare and Indigenous education during the closure of facilities, and advocated for the childcare workforce.

Karen has authored 26 reports for Government and NGOs, served as a panellist on key government reviews of ECE and chairs the Australian ECE reference group. Her work has directly informed policy including: introduction of the Prep year, Queensland (2007) the National early years strategy (2009); Productivity Commission (2014), Workforce Action Plan (2016); Lifting our Game Report (2018);and  State of Early Learning in Australia (2019) In 2013, and again in 2019 Karen was named as among Australia’s 100 Women of Influence for translation of her work into public policy. Following her Masters (UCL) and PhD (Bristol), Karen worked at the Institutes for Child Health (Bristol) & Psychiatry (London) with Professors Jean Golding (OBE) and Professor Sir Michael Rutter (KBE) acquiring outstanding training in Epidemiology and Developmental Science and was awarded a European Science Foundation Fellowship.