As 2022 was the final year of the three-year Strategic Plan (2020-2022) we reflect on meeting the extraordinary challenges that KU faced, along with the immense pride we have in our staff.

Before devastating bushfires, unprecedented flooding and the global pandemic, we gathered, as Boards and Executive teams do, to create a vision, purpose and a set of values that would set KU on the path to success from 2020 to 2022.

There isn’t anything that could have fully prepared us for how the last three years have unfolded. So, it’s nothing short of phenomenal that in the third year of living with COVID, in 2022 we met many of our goals and we’re able to report on so many successes and highlights.

We congratulated KU Macquarie Fields Preschool for achieving the highly regarded ACECQA Excellent Rating in September 2022.

All our services successfully met or exceeded the National Quality Standard in 2022 with 78% rated as Exceeding compared to a sector benchmark of 26%.

KU was recognised, for the seventh consecutive year, with an Australian Business Award for Employer of Choice. This accolade recognises KU as putting people at the heart of all we do, and the organisational-wide efforts made in delivering an integrated program that enables every employee to maximise their potential.

As a result, our staff reward us with their loyalty. In 2022 we retained 92% of our wonderful employees across KU and achieved an excellent staff engagement rate of 88%.

KU’s Employee Value Proposition grew with the introduction of KUPlus – an employee rewards program providing access to exclusive benefits including retail savings, cooking inspiration and wellbeing services offering physical and financial tips.

Our NDIS team successfully completed their first external NDIS audit. This was an extensive process carried out over several days that reviewed all aspects of our NDIS service delivery and supporting documentation including interviews with families using the service.

We opened the doors of two new services for children and families in Victoria; KU Maidstone as a long day care service, and KU Dianella Kindergarten.

Our Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) and Allied Health services in Liverpool surpassed their targets and now host 12 clinic groups and 30 clinic sessions per week for children diagnosed with autism.

While our overall financial results did not meet all targets, this was a result of challenges brought by the pandemic such as low utilisation in our long day care services due to changing family work patterns, the competition of no fees charged in community preschools and kindergartens, along with KU’s decision to support families forgoing income by approving fee waivers for families impacted by COVID.

KU’s financial position remained strong despite these challenges. The cash position and balance sheet strength reported at the end of the financial year continue to underpin KU’s business and long-term objectives.

Three years into the pandemic, staff fatigue and staff shortages were recognised as another major challenge. In 2022, we resumed our face-to-face learnings with the children as our services returned to pre-COVID levels and this contributed to increased levels of staff absenteeism due to sickness from COVID-19, as contact with the community increased.

Although it was a challenge to resource services so they could continue to deliver our high quality programs, our exceptional KU Permanent Relief team and strong cohort of KU Casuals filled gaps, ensuring familiar faces delivered continuity of care to children and families.

When staff are recognised by leading sector bodies, we take immense pride in their commitment to providing high quality early education for children and families. This year, as part of the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) National Conference held in October, KU had six successful submissions for workshop and poster presentations, demonstrating the sector-leading talent that is within KU.

2022 saw a new Commonwealth Government elected, with the introduction of new Cheaper Child Care legislation in 2023 to give more children access to critical early education and to give families affordable choices around their workforce participation.

We also welcomed the historical announcements made in June by the NSW and Victorian governments to fund every child in their year before school for five days per week for little or no cost for families within five years in Victoria and within ten years in NSW. These investments are the most significant investments in early education for decades and signify the importance of governments investing in the early years.

Strong governance is a key factor that distinguishes KU as a high quality provider of early education and care. Every year, our risk framework, management and register are externally assessed. As a result of this audit in 2022, KU achieved 99% compliance and was issued formal certification that it has management and control systems in place to international best standard practices.

Given changing workforce patterns, sadly we farewelled some of our work-based services this year. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia made the difficult decision to close Honeybee, one of three services in Sydney’s CBD, while Qantas closed Joey Club services in Brisbane and Melbourne. In addition, three of KU’s out of school hours services in North Sydney were closed – KU Dem School Kids Care, KU Bay Road Kids Care, and KU Grandstand Kids Care. Even though two services on campus at Newcastle University were consolidated into one with the closure of KU Wonnayba, we are pleased to be laying the groundwork for our partnership work in further developing the University’s Callaghan Campus early education and care precinct over the coming years.

KU’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group continued to provide cultural advice and guidance to KU on a range of issues as we developed a strategic plan to ensure KU’s Statement of Commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples lives beyond words on a page and is woven into the fabric of our organisation. You can read more about this in the article Advancing self-determination.

2022 was a big year for our KU Marcia Burgess Foundation in terms of extending programs for lasting social impact and creating back-end systems to enhance reporting and transparency. To support the Foundation, we saw a huge spike in community fundraising led by KU Board Members Janet Verden and Tamara Robinson along with Jane Robinson, KU General Manager, People Services and IT. You’ll find an article in this Annual Report highlighting the new programs and the difference they’ve made because of these and other generous donations.

Two events held towards the end of the year helped us celebrate the incredible achievements of KU as a collective.

Starting with our KU Annual Conference in September – the first we’ve been able to hold face-to-face since 2019. 370 KU staff attended to hear an insightful keynote address by Catharine Hydon. It challenged us to consider the ‘dead ideas’ (practices) we will leave behind as a result of COVID-19 and the new and old practices that we will take forward as we continue to live with COVID-19.

Our second event was the much-anticipated finale to our 125 years celebrations – the launch of five short films highlighting KU’s rich and diverse history of making a difference in the lives of children, families and communities through our high quality early education and care programs and social impact initiatives.

To sum up, the 2020-2022 Strategic Plan has been implemented over the last three years in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its impact on Australia as a whole cannot be underestimated. Children, families and KU staff have all been impacted in varying degrees and throughout this major challenge, we maintained the provision of our high quality programs, kept children and staff as safe as possible, and experienced lower staff turnover than other early education and care organisations.

Now, we look forward to co-creating the future of KU with our staff as we implement our new 2023-2025 Strategic Plan. One that was created with innovation, collaboration and a spirit of harmony in all we do.

We thank everyone who has been on this journey with us and all those who will be travelling with us as we move forward.