Education and Children's Services Committee round-up 16.02.17

The first Education & Children’s Services Committee met following a change in its name under the council’s new Scheme of Governance.

Relocation of the enhanced provision centre at Newtonhill School to Portlethen Primary School

Councillors discussed the outcome of a statutory consultation on the proposed relocation of the enhanced provision centre at Newtonhill School to Portlethen Primary School.

Enhanced provision centres are a support base for children with additional support needs and this proposal was linked to the next report due to be discussed by committee - the establishment of a new enhanced provision centre at Mill O’Forrest School in Stonehaven.

The proposal to relocate the centre from Newtonhill to Portlethen came as a result of the council’s commitment to provide the right support for children as locally as possible. Councillors heard that in Portlethen there are at least 20 children who would be accessing enhanced provision and it is where the need is greatest. Pupils from Newtonhill who need additional support would still receive it as required.

Committee agreed the relocation of the enhanced provision centre to Portlethen Primary School.

Establishment of an enhanced provision centre at Mill O’Forrest School in Stonehaven

Councillors heard that Stonehaven does not currently have a primary enhanced provision centre and that the council proposed to create one at Mill O’Forrest School, the largest primary school in the town.

The school is already very inclusive and has met the needs of a very wide range of children with additional support needs. As part of the new centre, physical adaptations to the building would be carried out to make it more accessible and councillors heard there is overwhelming support in the community for the plans.

Committee agreed the proposal.

The Northern Alliance

Committee discussed the work so far of the Northern Alliance - a partnership involving seven Scottish local authorities working together to support the professional development of staff working in education.

Councillors heard that the council has been working closely with colleagues in Aberdeen City, Moray, Highland, Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles to develop new ways of working, such as a pilot scheme on early literacy.

Councillors praised the joint working as evidence of professional collaboration.

Developing the Young Workforce

Committee welcomed a report outlining work carried out so far on developing the young workforce in Aberdeenshire and making sure young people are prepared and have the right skills to thrive in the world of work once they leave education.

Councillors stressed the importance of promoting rural and fisheries skills as well as supporting all young people but particularly Looked After Children.

Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence levels

Councillors were presented with data previously scrutinised by them at the end of 2016 on the achievement of pupils in meeting Curriculum for Excellence levels throughout their school careers.

Officers emphasised the experimental nature of the data gathered so far, which should not be used to make comparisons with other local authorities as currently information is collated in different ways by different councils.

Scots (Doric) Language Guidelines

Committee agreed a new set of guidelines for the promotion of Doric in schools and in a wider sense across Aberdeenshire.

Councillors were unanimous in their support for the proposals, which would weave the language into the curriculum, working with partners such as the Elphinstone Institute to support staff with appropriate materials and also develop a Doric trail and support traditional music in the area.

Committee members said they were very pleased to see the work of the council in promoting Doric which they saw as a valued language and a strong part of the North-East’s culture and heritage.

Teacher recruitment

Councillors received an update on the council’s drive to recruit more teachers and the range of measures being pursued.

Officers emphasised that vacancy rates in Aberdeenshire fluctuate and currently stand at 25 vacant primary posts and 26 vacant secondary posts, which represented around a 3% vacancy rate in the area.

Measures to boost teacher recruitment and retention include the DLITE scheme, which allows participants to study a part-time, post-graduate teaching degree, the TIE scheme, through which former oil and gas workers are training as teachers of STEM subjects, and engagement with probationary teachers to encourage them to stay in the area.

Attendance and absence in Aberdeenshire schools

Committee discussed attendance and absence rates in Aberdeenshire schools and heard that total absence rates have improved slightly, that overall attendance amongst Looked After Children is up and that Aberdeenshire’s figures compare favourably on a national scale.

Learning Estates strategy

Councillors received an update on the work of the Learning Estates team and their focus on making sure Aberdeenshire school buildings are of a suitable condition.

Committee praised the team for their work on the new schools being built in the area and heard about future plans to improve the school estate in Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Inverurie.

Consultation report on the review of Mintlaw network primary school zones

Councillors agreed to a proposed rezoning of the primary school network in Mintlaw.

A series of housing developments planned in the area will likely have an impact on school rolls which the proposals, including changing the catchment area around Stuartfield School, will help mitigate.

Committee heard that officers work closely with the council’s Planning service so they can take into account future house numbers and the potential impact they will have on school rolls.

Establishment of a North East Hub for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Committee welcomed Andrew Comrie, Director of Academic Innovation at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, who talked them through a partnership proposal between the conservatoire and the council to create a North East Hub for performing arts in Fraserburgh.

Mr Comrie said that one of the conservatoire’s main aims is to establish local access points for the arts in key parts of Scotland.

Councillors praised the exciting opportunity and said they were looking forward to the development of performing arts programmes targeted for children and young people in Aberdeenshire so they can build on their existing talents.

Libraries and Heritage Pricing Policy

Councillors agreed a new pricing policy for libraries and heritage, which included the removal of junior fines for late books, often seen as a barrier for young people using libraries.

The pricing review had been driven by a report, previously agreed by Full Council, which said that the council should strive to be more consistent in its approach to fees and charges and that it should aim to achieve full cost recovery for services where possible.

The new pricing policy stresses that while some people may find charges, for example for room hire, rise, by increasing discounts available to people on low incomes the council is still supporting access for all and that by moving to full cost recovery where appropriate it will be able to sustain services in the long-term.