Education and Children's Services Committee Round-up December 2018

The latest meeting of Education and Children’s Services Committee began with a video clip showcasing Aberdeenshire’s approach to primary school building.

Quality Improvement Manager Maxine Booth was recently approached to give a presentation at the Education Buildings Scotland Conference, and a number of other local authorities are now interested our Aberdeenshire Design Brief which puts educational requirements at the heart of our build programme.

The difference between our approach and that of many other local authorities lies in the fact our school building design is driven by educational benefit and led by our learning estates team. The Aberdeenshire Primary School Brief was based on extensive consultation with teachers, pupils and parents, and every one of our new schools is now based on this same brief.

Maxine explained: “While all of our new primary school buildings are unique, fitting in with and embracing their local surroundings, the spaces inside and out are all based on the same ‘kit of parts’. They all include learning areas that allow for joined up teaching between different classes, bright and airy spaces for learning, and state-of-the art technology built in to these different areas.”

Committee Chair Councillor Gillian Owen added: “Clearly we are on top of our game here in Aberdeenshire when it comes to our learning estates. A big thank you to Maxine and her team.”

Leigh Jolly was also welcomed into the meeting as it was her first committee session in her capacity as Interim Head of Children’s Services. Councillors also took the time to recognise the efforts of New Deer Primary School, which has been recognised as top in Scotland for using the Accelerated Reader tool. The school was also commended with a Pride of Buchan Award last week.

Dr Anderson, who has decided to stand down as one of the Committee’s religious representatives, was also commended for her efforts and for her many years’ service to the council, as head teacher at Gartly Primary in addition to a secondment with the early years team.

A paper on the expansion of funded early learning and childcare across Aberdeenshire asked councillors to agree a new rate for funded providers and to give the green light for additional funded hours to be made available to partner providers – including private nurseries, childminders and playgroups – from April 2019. Councillors welcomed the move and highlighted the efforts of the early years team in going above and beyond to engage effectively across our local areas during the last few months.

Cllr Owen commented: “The expansion of funded early learning and childcare was always going to be a challenge. There is no one-size-fits-all across such a diverse area that is Aberdeenshire and the extra lengths Audrey Hendry and her team have gone to, to listen to what communities are saying and deliver this in the fairest way possible, really is commendable.”

Chief Social Work Officer Iain Ramsay talked through his annual report, recognising the challenges of continuing to meet demands against a backdrop of reducing funding. He explained: “We continue to invest significantly in areas such as supporting young people with additional support needs, particularly compared to other local authorities across Scotland. We have a skilled, committed and most importantly caring workforce who continue to go above and beyond to provide essential services to vulnerable people across Aberdeenshire.” 

Councillors welcomed the open and honest approach to the report and the efforts of staff, with Councillor Alison Evison putting forward a number of recommendations to be taken forward to Full Council. These highlight the need to make employment in caring roles more attractive, to ensure the needs of children and young people are unequivocally met.

Committee also discussed funding being brought forward from the Northern Alliance, touching on the importance of tackling rural poverty and teacher recruitment challenges. Councillors asked that a report on the way Pupil Equity Funding is being used is taken back to committee for consideration next March. 

A report detailing the council’s Implementation Plan for British Sign Language was also agreed by councillors. Many wholeheartedly welcomed work in this area, recognising the important role sign language can play in society, not only for deaf people but as a learning and teaching tool, in broadening pupils’ language skills and in supporting all individuals who may have difficulty communicating through speech.

Councillors also reflected on the impact of budget changes and the importance of Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC).