03 June 2021

Education and Children's Services Committee Round-up

Aberdeenshire Council’s most recent Education and Children’s Services Committee meeting took place on Thursday 27 May, with a number of important reports – including holiday recovery programmes, parental involvement and engagement and Audit Scotland findings – up for discussion.
Committee chair Cllr Gillian Owen opened the meeting by welcoming everyone along and congratulating Avril Nicol who has been appointed permanent Head of Communities, Wellbeing and Partnerships, and Cllr Karen Adam who was elected as an MSP in the recent Scottish election.
Cllr Owen also highlighted how beneficial the most recent meeting of committee members and young representatives from across Aberdeenshire was. She said: “Hearing the views and opinions of young people is just so so important and these exchanges have been really valuable.”  Read a full news update on the recent meeting with young reps: https://bit.ly/YPdiscussionMay21
She also passed on best wishes on behalf of the committee to all young people taking part in SQA assessments and thanked staff across Aberdeenshire for their hard work and support, and parents for their forbearance.
Covid-19 Update
A verbal update on Covid-19 was shared by Director of Education and Children’s Services Laurence Findlay, who highlighted how pleased children and young people as well as parents and staff are to be back in school. Attendance remains above the national average and absences relating to Covid-19 sit at just 0.5% of the school population. Staff attendance also remains high.
Laurence also reflected on the good progress of delivering the Alternative Certification Model for SQA assessments this year and thanked teams for their continued efforts as well as young people themselves for their perseverance during a challenging year. Councillors are keen that all young people across the local area receive the same supportive dialogue they enjoyed with pupil reps and that the positive news about how well schools are getting on is shared.
Improving Outcomes for Young People Through School Education
Chief Executive Jim Savege was welcomed to the meeting and committee members learnt about several examples of partnership work across council services to support better outcomes for young people. Councillors considered the report and provided comments to the service for consideration in responding locally to Audit Scotland recommendations. More on this in a full news update: https://bit.ly/3c7qonB
Holiday activities for children and young peopleMembers also approved plans for a holiday recovery programme to improve wellbeing, mental and physical health amongst children and young people. You can read a full news update on this, including details of what to look out for: https://bit.ly/3vJUyVR
Literacies Strategy update
An update on progress with Education and Children’s Services Literacies Strategy was also shared for councillors to approve the ongoing direction of this work. This is not just about literacy skills but includes work led by colleagues in Community, Learning and Development to support emerging needs in people’s functional, emotional, financial, health and digital literacies.
Recommendations were agreed - read the full Literacies Strategy report.
Parental involvement and engagement
Members considered the progress of the delivery of Aberdeenshire’s Parental Involvement and Engagement Strategy and development of the Family Learning Plan.
Both globally and nationally, it is recognised that parents/carers are the single most important influence on their children’s development, learning and achievement. The involvement and engagement of parents in their children’s learning is recognised as a key element in raising attainment through support, help and encouragement given at home and whilst at school.
Officers highlighted increased engagement, attendance and frequency in parent council meetings and other opportunities for parents to engage with officers since these activities moved online. Laurence explained how the impact of the pandemic has had many positive outcomes in terms of extensive work to reach out to parents and this has been very well received. Members agreed clear communications have been absolutely vital since the onset of the pandemic and shared some of their personal perspectives on this as well as the impact on their wider communities.
A great deal of additional work is ongoing and recommendations were agreed. Read the full report on parental involvement and engagement.
Placing requests
A report on placing requests asked councillors to acknowledge and comment on requests from parents to place children and young people out with their own school catchment area. Officers explained some of the reasons for these requests, including family home and work arrangements, and also highlighted the importance of assessing the long-term impacts of placing requests. Members shared a number of queries about this area of work and how it is carried out, highlighted the importance of balancing parental choice and financial management, and asked if the figures could also be discussed by area committees.
Read the full report which was agreed on placing requests.
Directorate Plan
Members were also presented with and updated Education and Children’s Services Directorate Plan which now includes an Executive Summary, performance measures and targets and an updated staffing and workforce planning position.
Members were asked to consider, comment and approve the new plan and instruct ongoing performance reports. The committee welcomed progress on this and engaged in extensive discussion, flagging up some important considerations for services to keep in mind. Recommendations were agreed. Read the full Directorate Plan report.
Annual scrutiny and governance
Cllrs Ross Cassie and Alistair McKelvie, Chair and Vice Chair of the council’s Audit Committee were also welcomed along to the meeting for discussions regarding the Annual Scrutiny Report and the Draft Annual Governance Statement for 2020/21. The breadth of scrutiny at committee level was highlighted alongside the development of elected members’ extensive work in this area and the importance of this activity. These reports were also agreed.
Financial performance
A paper on Education and Children’s Services financial performance to the end of April 2021 was also discussed, with elected members invited to discuss the financial information and forecast position, and discuss progress in achieving agreed savings. The roll of property and facilities management was highlighted in terms of managing pressures for years to come.
Laurence also explained that the service is now taking a much more thematic approach to addressing issues and the importance of developing work around early intervention which can help to limit the need to provide more intensive, costly services further down the line.
Read the full report on financial performance which was also agreed.
Devolving budgets in an empowered schools system
This report provided an update on progress being made in this area. There will be a workshop for elected members on the devolved management system later in June. Officers explained that there is an emphasis on professional support and learning to enable schools to manage their budgets and that Aberdeenshire has a sector-leading approach to additional support for learning budgets.  
The challenges for smaller schools in seeing the benefits of devolved school management were acknowledged but also the benefits in some cases of clusters working together. In answer to how schools will be held to account on budgets, Chief Executive Jim Savege highlighted that we already have quite an empowered environment in Aberdeenshire, relative to other areas of Scotland, and said it’s a collective responsibility and a team effort to balance our books. Read the full report on devolved school budgets.
Review of membership of Aberdeenshire Educational Trust Sub-Committee
The Aberdeenshire Educational Trust (AET) Sub-Committee was recommended, on the advice of external audit, to review the membership of the Sub-Committee and this report sought approval of proposed changes. Read the full paper on membership of the Aberdeenshire Educational Trust Sub-Committee.
You can watch the full committee as it happened via YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BSjJw5IAbs Find out more about the work of Education and Children’s Services Committee: https://committees.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/committees.aspx?commid=494