Goodstart reports strong performance across key strategic goals in 2019 Annual Report

by Jason Roberts

November 11

Goodstart Early Learning, Australia’s largest provider of early learning and care services and a not for profit enterprise, has published its 2019 Annual Report in which it details strong performance across it’s key strategic goals of financial sustainability, high quality, great people, influence, inclusion and evidence. 

 

The robust performance came despite what was described by Chief Executive Officer Julia Davison as “an environment where unplanned development of new child care centres continues to outpace overall enrolment growth of children”, a sentiment also echoed by Chair Michael Trail.

 

Nevertheless, the Group, which operates 646 centres across Australia, recorded a solid year of gains as it works towards achieving its five year Strategic Plan targets

 

Robust occupancy supports financial sustainability as revenues and investment grow

 

Goodstart’s reported revenues from early learning centres exceeded the $1 billion mark for the first time in 2019 with an increase of 8.1 per cent with overall Group revenues, including Government grants and other income, also up 8.1 per cent to $1.099 billion.

 

The strong performance from the early learning centres was driven by substantial occupancy gains which, although not disclosed, comfortably exceeded 2018’s growth of 1.2 per cent and was in part supported by a step up in inclusion related initiatives and also fee increases thought to be in the 3 per cent range.  

 

“Fee increases have again been kept below sector average, quality ratings are significantly above the average, and child attendances at our centres have never been higher” noted Ms Davison. 

 

Of particular note in this year’s results was the impact that the Child Care Subsidy has had on the percentage of total fees paid by families, sometimes referred to as “gap” fees, which has fallen considerably from 2018 when the parents contribution was around 51 per cent of total fees compared to 2019 when it is now around 39 per cent. 

 

The stronger operating performance enabled Goodstart to increase its strategic investments in professional development, research and inclusion by 15 per cent to $33 million. 

 

With respect to the balance sheet as at FY year end there was $62 million cash on hand, $7 million of financial assets with borrowings steady at $13 million although Goodstart’s term loan facility has been increased by $25 million but remains undrawn, perhaps reflecting a new investment commitment not yet announced but planned for 2020. 

 

Quality moves higher again as investment in ECT’s, practice and resources pays off

 

Goodstart now has 93 per cent of it’s 646 centres rated as meeting or exceeding the National Quality Standard, up from 91 per cent in 2018, with 34 per cent of centres rated as exceeding.

 

The focus on embedding the Key Educator Relationship approach, which was launched in 2018,  continued as did implementing their Practice Guide, which encompasses the proprietary ‘ISTEP’ framework made up of: 

 

  • Interactions and relationship; 
  • Space, resources and materials; 
  • Time, routines and rituals; 
  • Experiences for learning; 
  • Planning, documentation and evaluation.

 

During 2019 Goodstart also added 300 additional early childhood teachers (ECTs), bringing the total number of ECTs at the Group to 1,380 – a real achievement given well flagged national shortages in this important role. 

 

“Our work to improve quality right across the network has been assisted by the appointment of highly respected international thought leader, Sue Robb OBE, who has joined us as the new general manager of pedagogy and practice.” Ms Davison said. 

 

In total $16.7 million was invested in professional development during 2019, up 12.8 per cent on last year. Upskilling across the organisation was extensive with more than 845 team members upgrading their qualifications, of which 185 did so through Goodstart’s own training college. 

 

Social inclusion commitments treble in 3 years to reach $12 million in 2019

 

Goodstart’s commitment to ensuring all children are able to access early learning saw overall investment in inclusion related activities increase 22 per cent in 2019 and is now more than 300 per cent higher than that recorded in 2016. 

 

This years increase has been driven by changes in the legislation brought about by the introduction of the Child Care Subsidy, and in particular the activity test, which left a portion of low income families with zero subsidy. In response, Goodstart have stood in to support them by offering two days of early learning essentially for free. 

 

This initiative has helped around 3,800 children who would have been excluded to access a quality early learning program, with the $3.4 million cost borne by Goodstart. 

 

In addition, programs have helped support the families of more than 3,300 children at risk as they navigate the additional child care subsidy application processes, with the Group also welcoming more than 4,000 children with additional needs to attend their centres.

 

“Our vital social inclusion work is bearing fruit, with early evaluations showing that we are making a big difference to the lives of children facing disadvantage.” Mr Trail said. 

 

A range of other initiatives continued to be deployed in the year including the Universal Family Connections program, and the Intensive Emotional Support Plans for children. In addition, grants and funding were provided from the Early Learning Fund collaboration between Goodstart, the Benevolent Society and Uniting (NSW/ACT), the Enhancing Child Outcomes (EChO program) and a series of GoodFuture inspired initiatives. 

 

Goodstart remained active on the advocacy and evidence building fronts 

 

With a general election in 2019, Goodstart was also an active participant in national policy debates whilst working with other sector partners to promote policies to key decision makers and legislators about the value of early learning. 

 

The key highlight from an advocacy perspective was the development and launch of the “Launch into Learning” campaign with the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia and its members in the lead up to the election which focussed on ensuring that all children have access to at least two years of quality early learning before school.  

 

More than 100 Goodstart centres participated in the campaign, hosting more than 95 visits from Federal MP’s, with the sector securing commitments to fund improved access to two years of preschool from the Victorian, Tasmanian and New South Wales governments, as well as the Federal Labor and Green parties, ahead of the election. 

 

With respect to initiatives that deepen the early childhood education and care (ECEC) evidence base Goodstart conducted a full census of children enrolled in their centres with a view to understanding more precisely how best to support their children and families, also working closely with C&K on an ECEC workforce study designed to deepen knowledge around why educators and teachers elect to stay or leave the sector. 

 

Attention turns to future as 2020 to 2025 Strategic Plan creation process begins

 

As the current five year strategic plan period of 2015 to 2020 approaches completion, the executive team are now turning their attention to the 2020 to 2025 period and thinking about where they would like to see the organisation in the future. 

 

“As a not-for-profit with a healthy balance sheet, we can continue to make the investments to lift the quality of practice by investing in our people’s capability and partnering more effectively with families and the community,” Ms Davison said.

 

Recent appointments such as Sue Robb and Tracey McFarland, who was appointed as the Group’s first chief experience officer, reflect steps being taken to build the foundations for the next five years of Goodstart’s growth. 

 

Commenting, Mr Traill noted “In our planning for the future, we have set ourselves even more challenging goals, developing a new strategy to take Goodstart from national best practice to world’s best practice. Our great teams are embracing that task and the next stage of Goodstart’s journey promises to be very exciting.”

 

To read Goodstart’s latest annual report please click here

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