Education and Children's Services Committee round-up: 10.10.19

The rezoning of a housing estate at Blairs, a strategy about parental involvement and engagement and an analysis of attainment were among the matters discussed at the most recent Education and Children’s Services Committee.

Committee begins on a high note

The meeting began with a performance by the Aberdeenshire Music Centre Big Band, conducted by Jennifer Cook, which was well received by the committee members. 

Highlighting changes within the committee, Cllr Gillian Owen, the committee chair, welcomed Cllr Rosemary Bruce as the new committee vice-chair and thanked Cllr Mark Findlater for his service in the role.

Blairs rezoning consultation approved

The committee agreed for that pupils from a small housing development in Blairs which fell outside school catchment areas for Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City Councils should be rezoned to Mackie Academy.

Cllr Martin Ford expressed concern that neighbouring councils could unilaterally change zoning boundaries without consultation. 

Legal Services Manager Geraldine Fraser explained that whilst the decision is made by the local authority in control of the school, there had to be consultation and dialogue. 

Cllr Sarah Dickinson said she was worried about the impact Aberdeen City Council’s would have on sustainability given the journey time between the pupils’ homes and Mackie Academy. 

Craig Clement, Head of Resources and Performance, said the council provides transport for pupils whose journeys to and from school is in excess of three miles. 

Director of Education and Children’s Services Laurence Findlay added that the journey time was well below the 45-minute maximum suggested at national level. 

The committee agreed that recommendations set out in the report.

Parental involvement and engagement strategy considered

There was considerable discussion about the parental involvement and engagement strategy 2018-2021 “Learning Together in Aberdeenshire.” 

Cllr Karen Adam said ‘spontaneity’ should be included in learning so that neurodiverse children aren’t unintentionally discriminated against. 

Cllr Charles Buchan expressed delight about the elements of the report that recognise the influence parents have on their children. However, he expressed concern that Community Learning and Development (CLD) was underresourced to engage with the target audience. 

Laurence Findlay mentioned an app called Seesaw as an example of measuring parental engagement. He also suggested that engagement is considered more broadly. 

Cllr Victoria Harper noted that parents who don’t feel confident are now acknowledged. She added that wellbeing, mental health and learning barriers needed to be built into the discussion. 

Cllr Ford said by encouraging parents to come forward it would have to be accepted that some would not participate. An alternative would be that the state should play a greater role. However, he was not in favour of this approach. 

Cllr Adam added there were cases where the child might not wish the parent to raise matters with their school. 

Cllr Owen’s suggestion that an additional recommendation be added for area committees to be updated on this report was supported. 

The committee approved the recommendations as set out in the report.

Analysis of attainment discussed

Councillors considered the plans outlined in the report to improve attainment. They also recognised and congratulated young people, their parents and carers, teachers and support staff as well as the wider Children’s Services across Aberdeenshire on the level of success and achievement outlined in the report. 

The committee members furthermore agreed that area committees should receive a subsequent report on attainment and achievement which provides information at a school level. 

Cllr Owen and Aberdeenshire Council’s Head of Education, Vincent Docherty, both stressed that national changes to the way attainment is measured has affected how performance is calculated. 

Vincent said he wanted to reassure the committee that S4 pupils perform better under legacy measures and positive destinations are significantly better than the national average. 

Cllr Owen said that some of the Aberdeenshire Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament wanted to put on record their thanks for all the efforts students made in achieving excellent exam results. 

Cllr Ford said interpreting the data without the first appendix in the report would be difficult and called for officers to revisit how the reports are presented. 

Cllr Adam asked what could be done to help pupils from socio-disadvantaged backgrounds. She congratulated pupils and teachers on the largely positive results and said that whilst her son was sitting his exams he was receiving regular text updates from his teachers. 

Cllr Buchan thanked Vincent Docherty and his colleagues for the work they have done and continue to do on attainment. 

Cllr Judy Whyte wondered if Aberdeenshire was missing out on funding in comparison with other Scottish councils. 

Laurence Findlay explained under the universal element of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, Aberdeenshire receives £3million in pupil equity funding which equates to £1,200 per young person. 

An attainment advisor who works with schools is paid for by Education Scotland. He added there is also a targeted element of the Scottish Attainment Challenge which sees local authorities in west central Scotland receive greater funding than those in the north east. Furthermore, he said that these measures do not take into account rural poverty. Laurence said COSLA has called for a fairer distribution of funding. 

The recommendations set out in the report were agreed by the committee, which asked officers to ensure evidence displayed in the appendices is clearer in future.

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Peterhead Academy consultation agreed

The committee approved plans for a statutory consultation on the replacement and relocation of Peterhead Academy. The consultation relates solely to the relocation of the academy, and other aspects of the Peterhead Community Campus will be subject to separate consultations. 

Cllr Owen welcomed the report whilst Craig Clement also described it as an ‘important milestone.’ 

Cllr Alan Fakley also welcomed the report and praised the work undertaken by officers but questioned whether the new school would be big enough. 

Learning Estates Team Leader Rachael Goldring assured him that the figures for delivering housing in Peterhead will be taken into account and the school roll figures for Peterhead Academy in 2025 suggest that numbers will have fallen. 

Cllr Ford said the wording of the consultation should solely focus on the site rather than mentioning the size of the school. He added the public needed to have confidence that the process is being properly managed.

Cllr Owen agreed with Cllr Ford. 

Cllr Fergus Hood said the council is at the mercy of housing developers as it is difficult to estimate how many houses will be built and when they will be constructed. 

The recommendations set out in the report were agreed by the committee. 

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Other matters 

• Phase three of the Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Plan was considered. 

• The committee learnt about success stories from Kinship Care. For more information click on this link  

• Committee members were invited to pledge their support for a commitment on resources and circular economy 

• A paper on financial reporting from August was considered by the committee 

You can see all the reports on the Aberdeenshire Council website. Please click on this link 

You can view a webcast of the committee by clicking here 

You can a video of the Aberdeenshire Music Centre Big Band in action on our YouTube channel