Committee round-up: Education and Children's Services 1.2.18

School bus operator contracts, teacher vacancies, ‘period poverty’ and visiting teacher specialists were among items discussed at the latest Education and Children’s Services Committee on February 1.

School bus operator contracts discussed  

The meeting began with a debate about contracts with school bus operators, after three buses serving routes to and from Meldrum Academy were found to be un-roadworthy following an unannounced inspection. The council decided to cancel contracts NS705I20 and NS705J20 with coach operators J&M Burns and Kineil Coaches. The bus companies have a right to appeal the decision and have done so. The contract operated by J&M Burns has been reinstated following the appeal. The appeal into the contract operated by Kineil Coaches is still being heard.
 
The committee sought to reassure parents that children’s safety was a priority by taking this action, and by having the discussion. They also agreed the recommendation outlined in the report.
 
Teacher vacancies considered
 
Committee members of all parties praised the work council officers had done in striving to fill a number of teacher vacancies. Cllr Martin Ford asked if more research could be done on finding out why teachers leave the profession, whilst Cllr Owen paid tribute to the DLITE (Distance Learning Initial Teacher Education) programme winning two national awards last year. Members agreed with the recommendations set out in the report.

‘Period poverty’ debated

During this discussion the Committee members considered three options for the provision of sanitary products in schools: continuing with current school-based arrangements for free provision of sanitary products in schools; ordering and paying for distribution of the products centrally for distribution in schools; or providing free to use sanitary dispensing units across all schools in Aberdeenshire.

Cllr Alison Evison, who had proposed the motion at the August committee meeting, argued that the council should provide free to use sanitary dispensing units across all schools in Aberdeenshire. She was supported in part by Cllr Victoria Harper, who was in favour of the first option in primary schools and the third option in secondary schools. However, Cllr Martin Ford requested more evidence in order to make a more informed decision.
 
Cllr Gillian Owen advocated the first option and was supported by a number of committee members. The committee was informed an MSP had put forward a Bill in the Scottish Parliament which would see the provision of sanitary products in schools across the country. This led Cllrs Evison and Harper to propose an amendment for the council proceeding with option three but also option one in primary schools until the Bill was passed.

Cllr Owen moved in favour of the recommendations and was seconded by Cllr Ron McKail. The Committee voted nine to five in favour of the motion, meaning that the council will continue to make free sanitary products available to pupils under the existing arrangements.

Visiting Teacher Specialists role raised
 
Members of the committee considered giving head teachers greater say on how Visiting Specialist Teachers (VSTs) are used in primary schools.

Cllr Charles Buchan asked for figures on the numbers of VSTs leaving and the reasons why. The council’s Director of Education, Maria Walker, emphasised the proposals would give head teachers greater say on how staff are used. Cllr Martin Ford asked if a couple of anonymised examples could be shared highlighting how effective VSTs have been. The committee agreed to note the recommendation set out in the report.

Other matters

• Committee members listened to a verbal update about Glow, a digital communication tool used within schools
• The committee agreed recommendations about the school roll forecast
• The committee considered and commented on the annual report of the Aberdeenshire Family Protection Committee
• Recommendations about secondary school admission limits and reserved spaces were agreed by the committee
• Committee members gave their views on Scottish Government proposals regarding educational governance
• The full public reports considered by the committee can be found via http://committees.aberdeenshire.gov.uk