09 December 2021

Education and Children's Services Committee Round-up

Committee chair Cllr Gillian Owen welcomed councillors to the meeting on December 2 by offering thanks to all young people, staff and parents for their patience following two days of school closures in the wake of Storm Arwen. She offered assurance that closing schools is never a decision taken lightly and it was absolutely essential that the extent of damage across the school estate, ongoing power outages and the impact on things like catering were fully explored before welcoming young people back. 


Cllr Owen also acknowledged the challenges still being faced by schools and services as we all learn to live with Covid-19. She offered thanks to everyone for their efforts during the past year. 


Reverend Carl Irvine was also welcomed to the committee as the new Church of Scotland representative. 


Covid-19 verbal update 

Director of Education and Children’s Services Laurence Findlay offered his verbal update to committee members as schools and services continue to cope with the impact of Covid-19. He explained that the situation in schools remains similar, with staff continuing to follow the advice of colleagues in public health.


He said: “We continue to see a variable picture of covid absences among staff and pupils –  and in comparison to other areas this is not too bad but there are some real staffing pressures in some areas due to other winter illnesses.”


Laurence explained that year groups are sometimes asked to learn from home via Glow but only where absolutely necessary. He was also keen to thank supply teachers for stepping up in such a big way recently. He said: “We are very grateful to our supply teachers, who are often retired teachers coming back to help us, for their efforts.”


Revised guidance on mitigations for schools was issued recently by the Scottish Government and mitigations are expected to be ongoing for some time to come. Laurence offered reassurances that while some more traditional December activities will be curtailed, such as school plays parents can go in to watch, many schools are organising a range of in-school activities, while fully adhering to the guidance.


He also expressed some concerns about sometimes unacceptable verbal abuse head teachers are faced with from parents and was keen to underline that this would not be tolerated. He said: “While we understand the trauma and disruption covid has caused, we also have a duty of care towards our staff, each other and our young people. Staff have been working at pace and it is unfortunate a minority of individuals feel the need to conduct themselves in this way.” 


Live Life Aberdeenshire holiday programme 

Laurence also touched on the success of Live Life Aberdeenshire’s Summer of Play activities which were extended into the October break. He and Cllr Owen enjoyed visiting some of the sessions during October and were pleased with such a strong partnership effort, bringing together community volunteers, former pupils and colleagues who together have delivered more than 71,500 opportunities.


He said there was a good spread of activities across Aberdeenshire, and they were particularly pleased to hear that as a result 73% of those who gave feedback said they’re now more active, 51% said they felt more confident and 80% said they had had more fun as a result of taking part in these activities.


Secondary School Attainment

A report presenting an analysis of secondary school attainment was shared with committee. Head of Education Vincent Docherty introduced the paper underlining the great resilience young people as well as staff have shown in the face of adversity and changes to the certification process this year, and thanked everyone for adapting so well.


The report shows continuous improvement and great success in areas such as the expansion of Foundation Apprenticeships, strengthening our partnerships with industry.


Read a news piece on this important report or read the report in full online.


Lets charging policy

Councillors were also asked to agree to revised charges for education lets and endorse the undertaking of a joint pricing and letting review across Education and Children’s Services, to include Live Life Aberdeenshire services, next year.


When the unintended consequences of changing letting arrangements were raised, officers highlighted that the rate of lets across the board is increasing – from around 650 to 800 – and that there is a requirement for services to have an approved charging policy which ensures consistency as part of the Corporate Charging Framework.


All community users can now be charged in the same way, with agreed discounts for juniors, students, over 60s and those on low incomes. There are different rates for commercial users and discounts for club use too.  The aim is to meet community needs in a cost-effective way while also ensuring the costs of running these facilities are met.


Recommendations were agreed. Read this report in full.  


Consultations on the closure of Longhaven School and Gartly School

Councillors were asked to authorise statutory consultations with local stakeholders, including parent councils, parents, pupils, staff and the local community, on the formal closure of two Aberdeenshire schools, Longhaven and Gartly.


Following some discussion about the implication of larger catchment areas and pupils travelling further to school, councillors agreed the recommendations in both reports and expect to receive further details on the outcomes of these consultations in August 2022.


View the report on Longhaven. View the report on Gartly.


Mid-year performance monitoring 

Committee members were also provided with an update on progress by the service in relation to key directorate actions and outcome indicators supporting the Aberdeenshire Council Plan Priorities 2020 to 2022.


They acknowledged and considered progress made during April to September 2021 and noted key directorate actions and outcome indicators. A further report will be brought back to committee in six months’ time.


View the full report.


Corporate parenting 

Elected members were pleased to discuss a number of reports from the Children’s Services team this time, all highlighting the extensive range of support offered to some of Aberdeenshire’s most vulnerable children and young people. They heard from team leaders who are taking forward a number of vitally important workstreams.


The council is required to report annually on its Corporate Parenting Plan. This report presents the progress made by the council and partners who work collaboratively to improve outcomes for care experienced young people. It also serves to demonstrate ongoing commitment to listening to care experienced young people, to ensure that lived experience directs and influences service design and provision.


Councillors enjoyed a rich discussion with service leads, who explained how young people can be supported beyond their 16th birthday, as long as they are willing to accept support until they are 25. They also explained the breadth of work being done alongside many, many services across Aberdeenshire including the council’s own housing team to ensure care experienced young people are given the best possible support.


Councillors queried the need to recruit more foster carers – something which has been impacted by covid – and officers explained that this is a priority and local media interest will play a role in supporting this moving forward. Councillors also commended the work of teams, saying they feel assured that young people, foster carers and adopters are given the best experience. The input of the Young People’s Organising and Campaigning Group, in ensuring the voices of care experienced young people are heard, was also recognised.


Councillors agreed the recommendations of the report with an additional recommendation for the report to be presented at all area committee meetings. Read the corporate parenting report in full on the committee page of the website. 


Kinship care 

Committee members also considered and commented on the Kinship Care Service Annual Report 

2020-21 and agreed to support the ongoing work of the Kinship Care Team in the year ahead. Aberdeenshire’s commitment to placing children within their extended family wherever safe and appropriate to their needs was underlined. Councillors recognised the value of this team in helping families and supporting children and young people through very difficult times.   


Read the agreed report in full. 


Virtual head teacher 

Councillors were pleased to hear from Aberdeenshire’s virtual head teacher, Emma Allen, on progress made to support care experienced children and young people and priorities outlined following the national Independent Care Review to keep on track with ‘The Promise’ – that every child grows up loved, safe and respected, able to realise their full potential.  


Committee members acknowledged the challenges in terms of data collection on attainment, and that it’s not possible to compare like-for-like data at the moment. They also commended officers’ innovation on delivering our commitment to The Promise and are pleased with the efforts going in to engaging directly with young people, being responsive to their feedback and work ongoing to develop support groups in secondary schools.


Read the agreed report in full.


Throughcare and after care 

Children’s Services’ annual report on Throughcare and Aftercare was also brought to the table, with councillors asked to consider and comment on the findings and continue to support the work of this important team. They support care experienced young people as they transition from child to adult services, and up until their 26th birthday if a young person is willing to accept support.


Councillors heard about work ongoing to deliver support in a range of areas, including helping young people to access healthcare and housing. Their hard work to support young people during lockdowns was recognised, with officers prioritising things like ensuring digital connectivity and partnering with other agencies who could help, and officers commended the tenacity and resilience shown by young people during such a difficult period. Feedback from young people continues to shape the improvement and development of this team’s work.


Read the agreed report in full.


Children’s homes 

An annual report on Aberdeenshire’s Children’s Homes and Supported Accommodation Service was also discussed, and the emphasis on ensuring care experienced young people are provided with the right support at the right time recognised. Councillors welcomed the high inspection grades awarded to Aberdeenshire’s facilities and teams and commended the lengths teams have gone to support our vulnerable young people during a period like no other, at the same time as supporting their own families going through lockdown. Teams are committed to helping and enabling young people to move on from care, and gain the support and skills they need to develop their independence.


Read the agreed report in full.


Financial performance monitoring 

A series of reports are brought to committee throughout each financial year to understand how budget management across the service is going. At the moment, this shows a significant overspend and while councillors understand a variety of budget pressures are there for very good reason they also highlighted the need to deliver a balanced budget at year end.


Read the agreed report in full.