We are delighted to bring you our first joint report as Chair and CEO following the retirement of the previous Chair, Laura Hartley, at the 2021 AGM. We thank Laura for nine years of service and commitment as a Director of KU and are pleased that she has accepted a Life Membership in honour of her contribution.
As we began 2021, we focused on Our Purpose in our ongoing management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Paramount was the continued health and wellbeing of children and staff and the implementation of our Strategic Plan. Our 2020 to 2022 Strategic Plan focuses on four areas; Educational Excellence, Thriving Workforce, Scalable Sustainability, and Social Impact and leverages KU’s existing strengths while driving the organisation into the future.
With lengthy lockdowns in Melbourne and Greater Sydney (110 and 107 days respectively) KU’s business continuity systems and crisis response processes once again were proven. These frameworks which have been developed and tested over several years enabled us to adapt and respond, ensuring the smooth running of business operations and safeguarding of the quality of our services.
While the evolving nature of the pandemic impacted all areas of operations, it also provided opportunities for positivity, resilience, excellence and innovation to shine.
Examples of this were accolades received as part of the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) National Conference in September. KU West Pymble and KU Isobel Pulsford were chosen as finalists for the HESTA Advancing Pedagogy Award. While Jackie Staudinger, Director at KU Macquarie Fields was named a finalist for the HESTA Educational Leader Award. Of the nine finalists in the HESTA Awards across Australia, we were incredibly proud that three recognised KU staff.
Another example was the opportunity to fast track the upgrade of KU’s Central Office at 129 York Street, Sydney while Central Office staff worked from home during the lockdowns. This was originally scheduled for completion across several years with improved utilities, and the creation of more functional and flexible working spaces, along with technology-enabled training facilities. The project was completed in March 2021, ahead of schedule and under budget.
Continual improvement and innovation have always been key elements of KU’s culture. By putting those characteristics to work throughout 2021, KU continued to exceed the expectations of families. This Annual Report showcases the proactive nature of our staff and just some of the ways they met challenges head-on with creative and in some cases, award winning solutions.
We are grateful that KU had access to a wide range of State and Commonwealth COVID-19 relief funding throughout the financial year. Our priority was, and remains, to ensure it was directed towards fees for families, particularly the most vulnerable, and retaining our valuable staff. In addition to Government support, we also invested $2.1 million to waive gap fees to enable families to maintain access to care or retain their place despite lockdowns in NSW and Victoria.
Over many years, KU has created a strong foundation of good governance. To maintain and improve our governance we frequently review systems and processes ensuring continued integrity. Despite our confidence in the robustness of our payroll systems, reports of Australian organisations incorrectly paying their employees in 2021 served as a reminder that we should always be diligent. We proactively commissioned an independent payroll audit and were pleased to have the accuracy of our systems reaffirmed.
KU was recognised with an Australian Business Award for Employer of Choice, making it the sixth consecutive year to do so. This is an unparalleled record within the early childhood education sector. With more than 2,000 employees across 130 services, KU retains our position as a leading employer.
Our staff are the heart of KU. We are proud of their commitment to provide high-quality early education to children and families. It is even more gratifying to us when their expertise and efforts are recognised. Two of our Centre Directors received national teaching awards in 2021 for their leadership in early childhood education amongst their primary school, high school and tertiary colleagues.
The sector-leading quality of our services continues to be reflected in KU’s National Quality Standard (NQS) results, with 100% of our services meeting or exceeding the Standard in 2021 against a sector average of 86%.
Sadly, 2021 saw us farewell Little Stars at Bourke Children’s Centre, the KU Marcia Burgess Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre in Liverpool and KU Laurel Tree House in Glebe following notice from our landlord.
KU takes organisational responsibility of our role in the revitalisation and advancement of the cultures, histories and beliefs of First Nations peoples of Australia as determined by them and guided by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group and our values. As part of this commitment 2021 saw us develop our Statement of Commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. This year, through a groundswell of support for the KU Marcia Burgess Foundation, a growing number of donors and partners joined us to increase the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Not only improving access to services for children but also supporting the development of career pathways in the sector.
As face-to-face restrictions extended, we agreed our 125-year celebrations couldn’t be postponed another year. A slew of initiatives was developed around the theme of “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” as services demonstrated their commitment to early education and social impact. Planting 125 seeds, collecting 125 cans of food for the homeless, recycling 125 bottles and creating storybooks were just some of the ways individual services used our special anniversary to support their local communities and include the voices of children.
The extraordinary year placed extraordinary pressure on KU staff, particularly those working in our services who remained committed to providing quality outcomes for our children attending services and those learning from home. As the early childhood sector as a whole witnessed qualified personnel leave in unprecedented numbers, KU focused on staff retention and engagement and as a result, we retained 92% of our wonderful employees across KU and achieved an outstanding staff engagement rate of 91.6%.
To emerge from this second year of a pandemic as a stronger organisation is testament to our resilience and ability to adapt. It gives us courage to respond to any future challenge that comes our way.
Our commitment to forging innovation in early childhood education is possible with thanks to our loyal staff, KU children, families, alumni, life members, executive leadership team and dedicated Board. All have contributed to our success over the past year.
We look forward to everything that 2022 brings knowing that it is the final year of our current strategic plan, which we are confident to deliver. The foundations have been laid for the future. Our strengths-based approach will be evident in the leadership, quality and continual improvement throughout KU.