05 September 2019

Committee Update: Education and Children's Services

The Corporate Parenting Annual Report, devolving budgets to schools and the ongoing success of Active Schools were among matters discussed at the meeting of Education and Children's Services Committee on Thursday 29 August. 

Cllr Gillian Owen opened the meeting by congratulating the many young people who have done Aberdeenshire proud in their exam results this year. She commented: "Thanks to all of our parents and carers and of course a special thanks to our wonderful teachers across the local area."

A Year of Young People legacy video was then shared with elected members, which is available to view online: https://youtu.be/s21SIJxjPts

Officers then presented on research they've done to survey schools across Aberdeenshire to find out more about the work ongoing across Education and Children's Services to educate children in and about nature. This follows a member promoted issue raised by Cllr Martin Ford earlier this year. The committee also enjoyed input on this topic from Professor Donald Gray from the University of Aberdeen. Read more on the importance of surrounding our young people with nature and Mintlaw Academy's great example of best practice: http://bit.ly/2k5Pdsk 

Councillors also considered and agreed the recommendations in a report on devolving budgets to schools. Find out how we're empowering schools across Aberdeenshire: http://bit.ly/2MKHCfg

The future of Longhaven School which has been vacant since April last year was also on the agenda. Speaking following the meeting, Cllr Owen explained: "Committee agreed to approve the preparation of an Options Appraisal for Longhaven School, with one potential option being permanent closure. 

"Pupils were relocated in April 2018 and a decision was taken earlier this year to continue to mothball the school for the new academic year. We have not received any approaches for any new pupils to enrol at the school and school roll forecasts show a very small number of families living in the catchment area with children under school age.  

"As part of the Options Appraisal process, officers intend to engage with the community to explore all possible options for the future of the school. We will consider all information available to us when this is brought back to committee for consideration." 

To assess if a school is viable ensuring educational benefit to all, officers consider peer groups, projected school rolls for future years, alternative local provision and the impact on the community. A paper explaining the outcomes of the Options Appraisal will be brought back to committee in due course. 

Councillors were also given the opportunity to comment on the findings in relation to the Aberdeenshire National improvement Framework and Plan. Chair provided feedback on this from our Members of Scottish Youth Parliament who highlighted how encouraging it is to see consistently high records of attendance. The Framework identifies four key priorities for action:

• Improvement in attainment, particularly literacy and numeracy
• Closing the attainment gap between most and least disadvantaged children
• Improvement in children and young people’s health and wellbeing
• Improvement in employability skills and sustained, positive school leaver destinations for all young people.

While these themes are national, the actions taken in Aberdeenshire are led by Aberdeenshire. To find out more and read all of the committee reports: http://committees.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/committees.aspx?commid=494&meetid=19403 

There was also an extensive debate on the issue of flexi-schooling. Some members underlined the need for evidence-based decision making and although a motion was presented to move forward in a different way, an amendment to go ahead with the recommendations in the report was agreed.    

Cllr Owen commented: “Legislation does not enable us to consider flexi-schooling requests separately to home schooling requests so updating our home education policy to better guide parents on flexible options is where this is best-placed.  

"We have also established a joint working group involving parents, teaching staff, senior officers and representatives from national organisations to consider the complexities of flexi-schooling in more detail.  
"Existing arrangements to support flexible schooling in relation to young people with additional support needs through GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) processes will continue. Any other applications would be assessed on a case by case basis and the ultimate decision will depend upon the proposal put forward, the strength of this in terms of meeting pupils’ needs and the costs involved.”

In an update on the continuing success of Active Schools, it was highlighted we have almost 900 volunteers supporting activities across Aberdeenshire, making up almost 95% of the dedicated team. 

Recent evaluation has shown there has been an increase in the quality of training being offered to pupils through a structured continuous professional development programme for both staff and volunteers. Strong links continue with SportScotland and 28% of the school-age population in Aberdeenshire is now taking part in one or more activities offered through the programme. They have also had a successful focus on engaging with young women, with girls making up 47% of those who are taking part at secondary level. 
A transition programme supporting pupils moving from P7-S1 gives them the opportunity to participate in sporting activities and at the same time get used to other pupils and the academy they're moving to. Evidence has indicated this has reduced anxiety and stress associated with moving from primary to secondary and supported pupils to build social relationships with peers who have a shared interest.
Thanks were passed on to everyone involved. A video clip highlighting some of the success is available to view at: https://youtu.be/doW49oZn130

Fantastic outcomes in the progress of the Northern Alliance's literacy workstream (delivered through a collaboration of eight local authorities across the North and West of Scotland), and a strong track record for Children's Services as evident in the Corporate Parenting Annual Report and the Children's Homes Annual report were also discussed. 

Interim Head of Children's Services, Leigh Jolly was keen to highlight the success stories of our care experienced young people and the staff teams who support them. She explained: "The young people we look after have often experienced the breakdown of relationships or circumstances completely out with their control before coming to us. Our staff are committed to ensuring our young people feel loved, respected and valued at the same time as setting boundaries as you would do with any young person to support them and enable them to become independent. 

"Our young people are remarkable individuals, they have faced many adversities and we are very proud of them and the progress they make. I'd also like to pass on my gratitude to colleagues in our three children's homes in particular whose commitment to building strong relationships with these young people makes all the difference."