Education Learning and Leisure Committee round-up 26.05.16

An update on the school catering service, evaluation of the newly-built schools in Aberdeenshire and approval of grant funding for cultural and lifelong learning organisations were on the agenda for the latest Education Learning and Leisure Committee, which began with a welcome from the chair, Cllr Alison Evison, to the school pupils and Youth Council representative in attendance.

Enhanced provision in Kincardine and Mearns

Councillors discussed proposals to be opened for public consultation on changes to enhanced provision in the Kincardine and Mearns area. Enhanced provision means a school has an enhanced level of resources, such as access to a sensory room and life skills area, and support for learning staff who have an enhanced level of expertise to meet a range of needs.

To make sure children with additional support needs in the Kincardine and Mearns area get the right support in the right place at the right time, the proposals recommend the relocation of the enhanced provision centre at Newtonhill School to Portlethen Primary School and the establishment of a new enhanced provision centre at Mill O’Forest School in Stonehaven.

Councillors approved the proposals to go out for consultation and agreed the consultation’s timeline, from 10 June to 16 September 2016, with the request that it is made clearer in the proposals what enhanced provision means.

Strachan Primary School

The committee discussed an update on Strachan Primary School, previously mothballed when the school roll dropped to two, but now operational with a current roll of four, which is expected to grow.

Head of Primary Education, Andrew Griffiths, said officers will continue to monitor the situation at the school and following questions from councillors gave assurances that the Curriculum for Excellence is being delivered as appropriate, with the school pupils getting very good outdoor education and wider social experiences due to links with other schools in the area.

The committee noted the current position at Strachan Primary School with the chair thanking the service for their hard work.

School roll forecasts

Councillors agreed a report detailing the school roll forecasts for each primary and secondary school in Aberdeenshire until 2021. Officers introducing the report explained the data is taken from the census, the NHS and placing requests.

Councillors thanked officers for the comprehensive report and praised the rezoning exercises that have taken place in some parts of Aberdeenshire. They raised concerns over a number of schools which seem to be over capacity but officers assured them they have temporary accommodation or non-linked accommodation and are sitting within their working capacities. Work is going to be carried out over the summer so the service can take better note of housing developments and the impact they can have on school rolls.

Post-occupancy evaluation of new build schools

The committee noted a report evaluating the new schools built in Aberdeenshire over the past few years now that they are occupied by staff and pupils and used by members of the public.

Councillors congratulated both Education & Children’s Services and Property for their work in delivering the new schools, saying they have enjoyed visiting them, have been very impressed with the facilities and stressing they are a great investment for young people and communities in Aberdeenshire.

Both officers and councillors recognised that there have been issues but that they are being addressed. They also stressed the importance of being able to take stock of the new builds and learn lessons from each project for the future. The service advised it intends to develop its evaluation process even further, using national guidelines, engaging with building users, talking to pupils and learning from other Scottish schools.

Education & Children’s Services performance

The committee approved a report noting the progress Education & Children’s Services is making a range of areas, including an increased number of sports facility users (with more than 60,000 additional swims in 2014-15 compared to the previous year) and a 13% increase in the use of indoor sports and leisure facilities.

Councillors congratulated the service but requested more information on what is being done to boost attainment, with officers advising a raising attainment plan is being developed.

Service plan 2016-19

Councillors were asked to approve the service’s 2016-19 service plan which sets the direction for the service over that time. They discussed engagement with young people, with the chair thanking the Youth Council for their feedback on the plan and highlighting the recent achievements of the service.

The committee and officers acknowledged continued work to recruit and retain teachers is needed although the situation in Aberdeenshire has improved significantly over the past year. Councillors were given an update on a replacement for Peterhead Academy, with site options being identified and an engagement process with local stakeholders to start after the summer.

Although the service plan was accepted by councillors in principle, a vote to refer it to full council for discussion was successful.

School leavers’ destinations

The committee welcomed a report showing that in 2014-15, 95.9% of school leavers in Aberdeenshire went on to positive destinations, which is above the national average. When recording leaver destinations eight categories are used – Higher Education, Further Education, training, employment, voluntary work and activity agreements, which are classed as positive, and unemployed and seeking work, and unemployed and not seeking work.

In particular councillors praised the significant increase in the number of looked-after children going on to positive destinations, which grown from 73% in 2013-14 to 90% in 2014-15. Officers advised this was because of regular monitoring and engagement with young people about their future aspirations, as well as early identification of those less likely to secure a positive destination.

School catering update

The committee commented on the progress made in the provision of school catering in Aberdeenshire. In particular councillors commended the catering service for encouraging healthy eating and for using British goods although they asked that local produce be used as much as possible, noting that local haddock is used which supports the fishing industry. They also requested a progress report on the new cashless system of paying for school meals, which has been seen as a success overall but has had some technological glitches.

Grant funding for Lifelong Learning & Leisure organisations

Councillors approved grant funding for a range of lifelong learning organisations, including Aberdeen Foyer, the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses and Duff House. The chair commended the work of officers and third-sector bodies in supporting the Syrian New Scots programme which has helped Syrian families now living in Aberdeenshire to learn English and become accustomed to the area.

Following questions from committee about a perceived lack of promotion of Duff House and the programme of events taking place there, officers said they recognised the importance of the building to the area and said discussions with Historic Environment Scotland on the matter will be taken forward.

Culture, Heritage and Regeneration – Doric

Councillors expressed their delight at a report highlighting the council’s commitment to promoting Doric culture and music in Aberdeenshire, saying they looked forward to the development of the area as a centre of Doric language and poetry and were particularly impressed with joint work with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to create a northern hub in Fraserburgh to support local musical talent.