18 December 2019

Education and Children's Services Committee Roundup

The last meeting of Education and Children's Services of this decade got off to a great start earlier this month, with Chair Cllr Gillian Owen highlighting a video clip which was put together by three Ellon primary schools to mark Anti-Bullying Week: https://youtu.be/AWmKLZ-DBv8 Cllr Owen was also keen to recognise the work done by Live Life Aberdeenshire to support more inclusive swimming lessons for young people with additional support needs: https://www.facebook.com/LiveLifeAberdeenshire/videos/2566784286936583/ Councillors were pleased to recognise the progress with outstanding actions from the previous meeting and discussion got underway with another busy agenda, starting with Education and Children's Services Mid-Year Performance Monitoring Report. This report looks at the last six months and performance reports will also be shared with each area committee to look at how we can use the data to shape future actions at a local level. Members recognised the great work going on to achieve the best possible outcomes for our children and young people, and recognised we have areas of strength as well as areas requiring further focus. Director Laurence Findlay explained that for schools we have changed our operating model for supporting inspections, dedicating extra support to those who need it most. A particularly positive development in 2019 has been the expansion of the foundation apprenticeship programme, delivered for school pupils in their senior phase while they continue with their school studies. The number of pupils studying for these qualifications – which are recognised by universities as an A or B (or two!) at Higher level – has gone up from under 50 to over 300! The Developing the Young Workforce team is working with employers to secure even more future work placements, and everyone is encouraged to spread the word to employers who may benefit from an extra pair of hands for an afternoon a week. Contact Andrew Ritchie by emailing Andrew.Ritchie@aberdeenshire.gov.uk if you have any helpful links. Teacher recruitment was recognised as another positive in 2019, with far fewer vacancies than we had at the same time last year. Laurence highlighted that a lot of work is going on behind the scenes to identify and promote new pathways into teaching and offered thanks to all colleagues involved in supporting this. The head teacher representative on the committee also recognised the efforts in this regard and underlined just how important it is. Cllrs also agreed the recommendations in a report about the rezoning of Inverurie Primary Schools, with new catchment areas for Kellands, Strathburn and Uryside approved. Discussion about the Suitability Core Facts which outline how well school buildings score in terms of their condition and suitability was also extensive, with members noting a largely positive and improved picture for Aberdeenshire. Feedback from area committees was also highlighted, including a call from Kincardine and Mearns Committee for consideration to be given to building a replacement for Dunnottar Primary. Officers offered reassurances that Dunnottar School is already recognised as one of several future priorities for capital investment. The snapshot of the current ratings the report provides will be used in a number of ways, including informing future investment priorities for the service. Committee also agreed to undertake a statutory consultation to close Strachan School, and considered a paper on the future of privilege school transport, the detail of which is outlined at: https://online.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/Apps/News/release.aspx?newsID=5608 An update on the progress of the council's Literacy Strategy was also welcomed by members, who approved the ongoing direction and development of the strategy to focus on financial, health and digital literacy as well as functional literacy. Iain Ramsay attended committee to present his second report as Chief Social Work Officer, highlighting that the Chief Social Worker Annual Report reflects the work colleagues in social work are doing to support both adults and children and young people. It was recognised that services are performing well across a range of functions and staff in all sectors continue to demonstrate their commitment to supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities. Many of our practitioners work in multi-disciplinary environments and there are strong ties between the children and adults teams. Budgetary pressures are recognised as a significant issue and the overarching message was to commend staff for the support and protection they have provided to children and families throughout 2018/19. Members underlined the importance of effective transitions between child and adult services, the need for even tighter collaboration between police and council services during times of crisis and the importance of engaging with external agencies who are offering support for mental health and wellbeing. Cllr Owen then thanked Iain for providing a detailed, open and honest report and endorsed comments made recognising the work of so many dedicated teams.