Committee round-up: Education, Learning and Leisure Committee 4.2.16

The latest attendance figures for Aberdeenshire, a new approach to language learning, and the replacement of an Inverurie primary school were among matters discussed at the latest meeting of the Education, Learning and Leisure Committee.

The meeting, on Thursday, February 4, took place in Aberdeenshire Council’s Woodhill House headquarters in Aberdeen.

Statement on future of dyslexia units

Committee chair Cllr Alison Evison opened the meeting by reading a statement regarding the status of the council’s dyslexia units at Kellands School in Inverurie and Crimond School in Fraserburgh.

Following a decision by Scottish Ministers to refuse closure of the units to support a move to an Aberdeenshire-wide model of dyslexia support, it was confirmed that both units will remain open and that Aberdeenshire Council will not be appealing the decision.

Arrangements for the referrals and admissions process are to be confirmed in the near future.

Progress of Corporate Parenting approach discussed

The committee heard an update on the work being done to allow Aberdeenshire Council to meet its ‘corporate parenting’ duties.

Corporate parenting describes the responsibility Aberdeenshire Council and its partners have for children and young people who are looked after – by the council, foster parents or by others in the wider family network, for example.

Councillors were told of the work done to involve young people in discussing issues affecting them, and the recruitment of ‘corporate parenting champions’ to support the approach.

A report before councillors also outlined the development of work placement opportunities under the ‘Our Family Firm’ banner, and a range of supporting materials including a new corporate parenting website.

Cllr Evison, who is a corporate parenting champion, said: “We are all corporate parents. We all have a role to play.”

Cllr Isobel Davidson called for the committee to be given more information on corporate parenting to highlight challenges and success stories. Speaking of the service champions, she said: “It would be good to find out what difference they are making to people’s lives.”

Social Work Manager Leigh Jolly explained that as well as 35 work experience placements organised specifically for looked after children, others would have gained experienced through the regular school-based approach.

There was further discussion about supporting looked-after children to pursue hobbies and interests before the committee agreed to note the report.

Value of Pupil Support Assistant post recognised in review

A review of the implementation of the Pupil Support Assistant (PSA) post in Aberdeenshire schools was welcomed by the committee.

The role was created in 2012, incorporating posts that previously provided support in the classroom, for learning, for special education needs and for playground supervision. 

A working group was set up in August 2015 and, as part of its work, conducted a review of the way in which the post was established in schools. As well as surveying PSAs directly, the group sought views from head teachers, teachers, pupils and parent councils.

PSAs are offered permanent contracts linked to school clusters rather than individual schools to provide increased flexibility.

A report before councillors said the ‘overwhelming view’ of those who responded was that PSAs were a ‘highly-valued resource’ and ‘essential’ to the smooth-running of schools.

The report was welcomed by the committee, and a series of ongoing recommendations supported.

Committee hears latest on new approach to language learning in Aberdeenshire

Progress of the approach being taken to support pupils to learn two languages in addition to their mother tongue was outlined to the committee.

Language Learning in Scotland: a 1+2 Approach is a national report that recommends all learners should have access to modern language learning from primary one onwards by 2020.

A report before the committee highlighted that ‘language ambassadors’ have been identified for each school that will champion the new approach language learning in primary schools, and that discussions are continuing with secondary schools.

Quality Improvement Officer Deborah Masson said the aim was to ‘promote the diversity of languages’.

In response to a question from Cllr Ron McKail, it was explained that a multi-agency, cross-sector group has been looking at how to support families whose first language isn’t English.

The committee went on to discuss support for traditional language, specifically Doric, and the global rise in the use of Mandarin.

The committee agreed to note the work to date on the language project and agreed to support the ongoing implementation of the process across Aberdeenshire.

Attendance rates performing well, despite slight fall locally

Attendance rates at Aberdeenshire schools continue to perform above the national average, despite a slight fall from last year, councillors heard.

Over the 2014/15 session, Aberdeenshire pupils had an attendance rate of 94.8%, ahead of the Scottish average of 93.7%. This represented a slight drop in Aberdeenshire from 95.2% in the previous year.

The committee welcomed the report and extended congratulations to pupils, parents, carers and staff.

Feedback on plans to replace Inverurie’s Market Place School considered

The response to proposals to replace Inverurie’s Market Place School with a new school at Uryside was discussed by the committee.

Cllr Davidson called for a review of the proposals in light of the severe flooding that hit Aberdeenshire, including the Inverurie area, at the start of the year.

In response, Head of Resources and Performance Craig Clement said that while the council needed to be ‘mindful’ of potential flooding issues that the scheme was considered to be the best approach for education provision on the area.

A document was produced to show that any future flooding was likely to impact only on the outside areas of the school rather than the facility itself.

The committee went on to adopt the proposal to end the provision of education at Market Place school during the 2016/17 school session on completion of the new school at Uryside.

Revised Westhill primary school zones help release local capacity

The committee welcomed a detailed project that will help reduce pressure on school places in the Westhill school network area.

The work focused on the capacity and catchment areas for the Crombie, Elrick, Skene and Westhill primary schools, with the rezoning model reducing pressure on Skene Primary School in particular.

The committee agreed to support the proposals, as previously discussed by the Garioch Area Committee.

Update on Learning Estates Strategy discussed

The committee discussed the latest update on the council’s Learning Estate Strategy, which monitors the condition of existing facilities and considers the future management and development of the schools network in Aberdeenshire.

Cllr Jean Dick commended the work undertaken by officers regarding the strategy but voiced concerns at ‘snagging’ issues that have affected some of Aberdeenshire’s newest facilities.

She called for a report to be prepared on the issues experienced so that they could be discussed in detail by the committee. The request was supported.

In terms of school roll planning, the committee heard that statistics are gathered on a quarterly basis from housing developers so that the council can anticipate how many new pupils might move into the area and manage this accordingly.

The committee also heard that detailed work has begun to look at capacity issues facing schools across Aberdeenshire.

There was some discussion on individual school projects and capacity issues before the committee approved priorities for review in future years, and noted that updated school roll forecasts will be discussed by area committees.

Funding agreed towards replacement of Peterhead bowls pavilion

Aberdeenshire Council has committed £40,000 to help Peterhead Victoria Bowls Club replace the pavilion destroyed by fire in 2014.

A report before councillors explained that although the council maintained the greens and pavilion, the lease and insurance were the responsibility of the club.

In the discussions that followed the fire, it was noted that the lack of pavilion could lead to an end for the club and its 90-year record of participation in leagues and competitions.

Cllr Lenny Pirie welcomed the funding proposal, calling the club a ‘very important part of the community’ for all ages.

But Cllr Alan Buchan felt more information should be sought to clarify ownership of the building, and that reports should be brought back to the Buchan Area Committee and then back to EL&L.

Committee chair Cllr Alison Evison stressed the proposal was an ‘urgent matter’ and that any delay could prevent the club opening for the new season. Attention was also drawn to the committee report, which stated the council has ‘no legal interest’ in the pavilion.

Describing it as ‘an unusual situation’, Cllr Martin Ford said it was ‘a perfectly reasonable response for the council to solve a situation nobody hoped would come along.’

Cllr Ford’s motion to support the funding proposal was seconded by Cllr Fiona McRae.

Cllr Alan Buchan then lodged an amendment calling for further information and reports to the Buchan Area Committee and then to EL&L. He was seconded by Cllr Ron McKail, who raised concerns the funding could set a precedent.

The funding proposal was supported by nine votes to seven. The £40,000 will be used to support fund-raising towards the new pavilion, on the condition that the club produces a viable business plan for the development and maintenance of the facility.

Other matters

The full public reports considered by the committee can be found at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/committees-and-meetings/