25 August 2021

Young people share their experiences with elected members

Young representatives from across Aberdeenshire met with councillors and senior officers again this week as part of a regular programme of engagement, giving young people a chance to share their feedback and shape decision-making.


Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament as well as prefects from a number of schools across Aberdeenshire and young people who take part in the local authority’s Pupil Participation Forum and youth forums took part.


Education and Children’s Services Committee Chair Cllr Gillian Owen kicked things off by welcoming young people to the meeting and highlighting the success of summer holiday camps, offering a range of opportunities across Aberdeenshire designed to meet the needs and aspirations of all children and young people. The team behind these activities are keen to find out what young people thought of the programme, what worked well and what could be done even better in the future.


Head of Communities Wellbeing and Partnerships, Avril Nicol commented: “Nationally it has been recognised Aberdeenshire put in place a programme which is second-to-none.”


But what did young people think of it?


Well not everyone had heard about what was on offer and are encouraged to sign up for alerts from Live Life Aberdeenshire, through a new app which was launched earlier this year. Others was amazed with how happy some of the younger children they know were having taken part and how much they seemed to get out of it.


Laurence Findlay, Director of Education and Children’s Services was keen to get some feedback about this year’s Alternative Certification Model and how settling back into school has been. One young person reflected on how the assessments process had gone “pretty seamlessly”, while others said it was stressful to say the least albeit schools had handled the situation fairly well in difficult circumstances.


Going into the new school year, young people said they are enjoying a return to a greater sense of normality, hoping the positive mood will continue and there isn’t another lockdown, and reflecting on the amount they have achieved during a difficult time has been very positive. Some said things had turned out “pretty well” and they got the grades they wanted where as others highlighted peers didn’t achieve all they had hoped. Everyone is looking forward to the return of after school activities and some highlighted how much they enjoyed working to their own deadlines, and how their own time management had improved during the last year.


One of the MSYPs in attendance queried the mental health support available to those returning to school.


Two new digital mental health services – www.kooth.com and www.togetherall.com have been commissioned to provide a mental health support services to all, organised through a multi-agency GIRFEC group. Kooth is for anyone aged 10 – 18 and Togetherall is open to anyone aged 16+, whether they are in school or not, who lives within Aberdeenshire.


It was also highlighted that counsellors are also now in post within schools and Head of Education Vincent Docherty highlighted the priorities for all schools being: safety, wellbeing and pick up on learning – meaning that an emphasis on a supportive approach for all is weaved through every aspect of school life.


A number of secondary schools are now also Excelerate schools, whose approach to working in ‘squads’ is having added benefits in ensuring a supportive and positive student atmosphere.


Lee Menzies who is Head Teacher at Turriff Academy and is also Chair of the Aberdeenshire Secondary Head Teachers Association underlined the point that health and wellbeing has been a priority from the start of the pandemic and it is recognised that this has a direct impact on young people’s readiness to learn.


Sharing details of a ‘reflective postcard’ scheme in her school, she said one of the biggest supports young people say is important to them is each other, and creating an environment where young people can develop strong friendships is very important. It was also highlighted that many school staff are now trained in something called Draw and Talk, which is about bringing out what young people are comfortable with sharing in a really welcoming, pressure-free way. Lee says Turriff’s reflective postcards also highlight how much young people gain from a sense that the adults around them are listening to them.


Highlighting how well the mental health ambassador programme is working in their school, one young person expressed a need for physical health to be a real priority for schools too, particularly for young people who got used to sitting at home and not enjoying the level of physical activity they may have done in the past.


Asked where information needs to be for young people to take notice, feedback included ensuring parents are given updates, word of mouth and particularly from school staff, a wish for more direct communication between schools and young people, not Twitter but focusing on Instagram, Tiktok or Snapchat, and maybe having champions in schools who can share information and opportunities with their peers.


When Laurence Findlay asked what the key spending priorities should be over the next few years, young people suggested making sure the learning estate is fit for purpose, prioritising relationship building among peers as well as between pupils and staff as part of recovery from the pandemic, and preventing staff freezes in key areas such as Community Learning and Development.


Reflecting on the positives over the last year, attendees agreed that communication had improved, and online meetings and messaging works really well. One young person also took the opportunity to say how glad he is the connection between youth work and elected members is growing.

Cllr Owen summed up by sharing a good luck message with those who are moving on to the world of work or further or higher education and thanking everyone for their participation. She said: “Your views make a real difference so please, when consultations come up and the participatory budgeting that is forthcoming, please do have your say!”


Any young person in attendance at an Aberdeenshire secondary school who is keen to represent their peers and join these meetings should email pupilparticipation@aberdeenshire.gov.uk  


Find out more about Aberdeenshire’s approach to youth participation and engagement and how to get involved at: https://www.girfec-aberdeenshire.org/home/children-and-young-people/