24 March 2022

Education and Children's Services Committee Round-up

The final Education and Children’s Services Committee before the local election in May took place last week, with Chair Cllr Gillian Owen thanking everyone who has contributed to the work of the committee during the last five years.


Committee members considered actions following the last committee and what will be brought forward for the new committee, when it will meet for the first time in June.   


Covid-19 Update

Director of Education and Children’s Services, Laurence Findlay provided another verbal update on the impact of the pandemic on schools. He explained cases remain high among both pupils and staff and that we are continuing to see significant disruption across our schools. It is hoped this will improve as we move into warmer weather although we would expect some disruption to continue as long as the requirement to self-isolate remains.  


Laurence also reflected on forthcoming exams for senior phase students, reminding the committee that for many young people these will be the first formal exams they have ever taken. He asked members to join him in wishing young people the best of luck and explained that schools have been working very hard to prepare young people, and lots of extra support is going to be made available through the Easter break, either at school level or through the National e-Learning Offer. 


Children's Services Plan Annual Update 2020-21 

Laurence introduced a report on the progress of the Children’s Services Plan, saying that in his role as Chair of the GIRFEC Strategic Group, "as a partnership we continue to mature and evolve” and that it is encouraging how much multi-agency collaboration has continued despite the pandemic.


Councillors thanked Head of Children’s Services, Leigh Jolly and her teams who are working with colleagues across the NHS, health and social care, police and third sector. They welcomed and acknowledged the importance of the plan’s areas of focus, including prevention, children’s rights, and recognised the role for all of us as corporate parents.


Officers provided a great deal of insight into the innovative work ongoing behind the scenes at the moment, including involving young people in the redevelopment of the plan itself, supporting children and young people who have autism and interventions to support some of our most vulnerable families. 


The recommendations of the report to consider and comment on the plan as well as acknowledge progress were agreed. Read the Children’s Services Plan report.
School leaver destinations Head of Education, Vincent Docherty brought forward a report on Initial School Leaver Destinations for 2020/21, saying we should be very proud of Aberdeenshire’s 96.2% of leavers going on to a positive destination such as further study or work. This figure is consistently above the national average as well as our ‘virtual comparator’. He said: “A huge amount of work goes into ensuring young people have a positive experience after they leave school.”


Councillors thanked officers for the comprehensive analysis and asked for more focus on supporting young people who use English as an additional language.  

The recommendations of the report to consider and comment on the analysis of school leavers and on the progress made in supporting young people were agreed. Read the school leaver destination report. 


Interim Policy on Relationships, Learning and Behaviour  

An Interim Policy on Relationships, Learning and Behaviour was put forward to replace an existing policy, emphasising the need for schools to focus on promoting positive relationships and preventative approaches. New national guidance is due to come in this year and this policy has been put in place for the meantime – a finalised policy will be put together next year for consultation with young people, parents and colleagues.


The committee approved the use of the interim policy as well as the full consultation and review taking place in due course. Read the interim policy report.


Anti-Bullying Policy and Guidance 

Read a full news release on this anti-bullying report. Elected members shared their points of view on this topic, saying we must not lose sight of the trauma caused by bullying. They welcomed the emphasis on teacher training and being trauma informed as well as using a multi-agency approach but questioned whether we could improve the definition of what bullying is.


Officers explained that the council must use the national definition which is included in the report but have provided further exemplification in this as well. They provided assurance children’s rights are being taught in schools, that schools often use school values to highlight and underline what their respectful communities stand for, and that colleagues focus on a restorative approach.


The new policy and guidance was approved. You can read the full report on the new Anti-Bullying Policy and Guidance. 


Update on DYW  

An update on activities around Developing the Young Workforce in Aberdeenshire once again honed in on our Scotland-leading approach to the roll-out of Foundation Apprenticeships. These qualifications are often recognised by universities as not one but two Highers and are making a huge difference to the level of attainment and achievement among the many young people who are taking part.


DYW lead Andrew Ritchie presented the report and councillors shared positive reflections on the extensive work ongoing in creating options for young people. Thanks were shared with the DYW team, school staff, partners, employers, students and parents.


Elected members endorsed the governance of DYW in Aberdeenshire and acknowledged the focus on continuing as a lead provider for the delivery of Foundation Apprenticeships next session. Read a full news update on Foundation Apprenticeships or visit the DYW report in full.


Devolved School Management 

A report on Devolved School Management presented a revised scheme for councillors to approve. Head of Resources and Performance, Anne-Marie Davies-Macleod explained the work on this has been informed by external research and benchmarking, it is in line with national guidelines, and it has also been developed with key stakeholders across the system.


The new scheme means increased emphasis on devolved budgets and stakeholder participation as well as an increased role for communities in school improvement. It is underpinned by a robust professional learning offer.


Teacher representatives on the committee shared some concerns from primary colleagues, including the timing for this change as the review of admin support for schools is underway. They were met with assurance that there will be targeted work with head teachers to explore the roll-out. 

The recommendations were agreed in full. Read the report on Devolved School Management.

Teacher staffing

An annual report on teacher staffing highlighted continuing challenges with recruitment in Aberdeenshire, particularly for primary schools in the north and in some secondary subjects across the board.


A teacher representative on the committee queried why probationers have to go through an interview process following their probation period. It was made clear there is not always a full-time post available following a probationer placement and schools say a competitive interview process for permanent posts is important.


The recommendations were agreed. Read the full report on teacher staffing.  


Early Learning and Childcare Admissions Policy 
Committee members approved plans which include the introduction of an additional term for early years so that families can access their 1140 full funded hours of early learning and childcare sooner. Read a full news update on ELC admissions or visit the report which was agreed in full.


1140 Update 

Members of the committee praised the continuing progress in rolling out the fully funded 1140 hours of early learning and childcare across Aberdeenshire. Since the additional hours were introduced, the level of uptake has steadily increased and now sits around 80%, a significant shift since the longer hours were first offered. Aberdeenshire is also offering an enhanced rate for partner providers who are supporting children with additional support needs and working closely with settings to ensure they have the capacity to provide the best possible support to families.


Read a news update on 1140 or visit the 1140 Update report.
S1 limits, learning estates update and school roll forecasts

Three reports were presented to committee by the Learning Estates team, picking up on various important areas of work which go into ensuring schools and settings are properly equipped with enough space to meet the needs of all learners.


Secondary school admission limits and reserved places for the next school year were agreed.


A Learning Estates Update and three-year plan report asked councillors to consider the progress of the continued development the learning estate, the plan for the next three years, as well as noting the suitability and condition of buildings and the temporary accommodation status in our schools. Officers reflected on the work they’re doing across the Northern Alliance (with seven other Scottish local authorities) to share the expertise Aberdeenshire has in the development of learning estates.


Councillors welcomed the report and took the opportunity to reflect on the forthcoming retirement of Shona Sellers, head teacher at Peterhead Academy, thanking her and her team for their efforts.  


They also heard the team is progressing well with scoping the cost of adding a new building to the Kemnay Academy site. They are currently working with the school and architects, and are costing the proposal across two financial years. This will be brought back to committee with further designs and detail. 


School roll forecasts up to 2026 have been considered by area committees in recent weeks and were also shared with Education and Children’s Services Committee.


Carbon Budget – Six-Monthly Update 

A report sharing progress on Education and Children’s Services’ Carbon Budget provided an opportunity for officers to explain the input of young people, schools and Live Life Aberdeenshire colleagues is invaluable. Some of the next steps, including ensuring there are recycling stations inside and outside all schools, are costly and this update sought permission for officers to explore sponsorship options.


One councillor highlighted the importance of considering the whole life cost of these and the savings they could make from reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill. Another would like to see a focus on ‘reduce’ before ‘re-use’ and ‘recycle’, considering things like the use of jotters from one year to the next – this will be picked up with school colleagues.


Participatory Budgeting 

A report on Participatory Budgeting in Aberdeenshire’s schools was met with appreciation by councillors. The contributions of Philip Boath, Service Manager for Community Learning and Development who is retiring at the end of March, were recognised, particularly in reference to the last few challenging years and a complete change of direction for teams having to engage with service users online.


Councillors also recognised that the role of schools has been significant in promoting and supporting the opportunity for young people to take part in the participatory budgeting process. Committee members agreed it is a great way of encouraging young people to participate in their democracy and are pleased the carbon budget will also feature as part of the next round.


Read a full news update on the mental health and wellbeing projects supported through Participatory Budgeting.


Financial Performance and Policy Register Annual Reporting 

The recommendations of reports on the service’s Financial Performance and Policy Register Annual Reporting were also agreed.


You can watch a full recording of the meeting on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhnmY13NLjY