Education and Children's Services Committee Roundup

The most recent meeting of Education and Children’s Services Committee began with sharing Dunnottar Primary’s winning video clip, ‘Choose Kind’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JJcQvIX1Gw 

Committee Chair Cllr Gillian Owen acknowledged the success of a Year of Young People legacy event including the high standard of competition entries from teams and individuals across Aberdeenshire who shared their insights into how they’d make Scotland a place for young people. 

Cllr Owen also highlighted the success of Peterhead Modo who won an award for prevention and inclusion at the 2019 National Youth Awards. She said: “Congratulations to the Modo team on this well-deserved award. Our Work With Young People team is proud to support and collaborate with Modo, and their efforts to engage with young people regardless of their background or situation is valued.”

The Instrumental Music Service was also given a mention, with three bands through to this year’s Scottish Concert Bands Festival awards.

An update report on the Young Carer Strategy was well-received by councillors. Interim Head of Children’s Services, Leigh Jolly was pleased to outline some of the work done to involve young carers directly in developing a suite of information to support others in similar circumstances. She also explained that a new project would be commencing shortly to help unpaid carers by offering breaks supported by the local hospitality industry.

A number of papers centred on the management of learning estates, including updated secondary school admission limits. Elected members put forward a number of questions across their localities in relation to the Learning Estates Strategy and acknowledged that Longhaven School will continue to be mothballed for another academic year after no applications were received for the school in January. They also thanked the learning estates team for the extensive work they’re doing to support such a large school estate.

Papers to bring elected members up to speed with progress on Foundation Apprenticeships (more news at: http://bit.ly/2EFG53T) and positive school leaver destinations (more news at: http://bit.ly/2Jvq6Lq) featured as part of the same discussion which paints a very positive picture for Aberdeenshire.

The call for this analysis into trends was raised by Cllr Martin Ford following an update on levels achieved by pupils in last year’s exam results. Councillors were keen to understand the impact the Curriculum for Excellence and the changes to exam structures have had over the last few years, and also how Aberdeenshire’s trends compare to Scotland’s as a whole.

What they’ve learned is that the numbers of pupils in Aberdeenshire achieving five or more National 4 or 5 (or equivalent) level qualifications by S4, three or more Highers in S5, one or more Higher in S5, and one or more Advanced Higher by S6 has been consistently above the national average for the last 10 years. The average rate of improvement across the board in recent years also tends to be greater than that of eight or nine years ago.

Head of Education, Vincent Docherty explained: “A new benchmarking tool was brought in nationally in 2014 along with the new qualifications. We’ve been able to look back, prior to this, to compare like-for-like where we are when it comes to attainment. What this has demonstrated is that we are continually improving as a local authority and we are doing everything we can to further that improvement.

“As we increase the availability of things like Foundation Apprenticeships, which essentially qualify as one Higher but sometimes over two years, we won’t be able benchmark in the same way as we have done to date so it’s an important time to draw upon lessons learned at the same time as looking forward.

“Our focus is on ensuring school leavers move on to positive sustained destinations, whether these be in work, further or higher education or skills development, and our emerging track record in this is really positive too.”

In collaboration with Skills Development Scotland, the local authority will make 300 Foundation Apprenticeship opportunities available for pupils in S5 and S6 this August, providing them with real experiences of the world of work, whilst gaining a qualification at the same level as a Scottish Higher (SCQF Level 6).

Councillors recognised that it’s a real credit to Aberdeenshire that we have sustained and improved against a backdrop of challenges.

Vice Chair Councillor Mark Findlater commented: “The increasing variety of blended learning options will help to enable young people to reach their potential in a way which best suits them as individuals. Foundation Apprenticeships are now available to cover twelve different job types in everything from health and social care to scientific technologies. It’s a great way for young people to explore career options at a very early stage in their ongoing journey.”

Committee members also enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on how we’re using Pupil Equity Funding, with a report outlining the arrangements in place to support this. The importance of engaging with parents, carers, teachers, pupils and other stakeholders was highlighted along with the role of QIOs to ensure this money can improve outcomes for young people and help to address the attainment gap.

Councillors welcomed the detail provided in the report and raised concerns about the additional workload this could place on teachers. As Chair, Cllr Owen was pleased to report some of the improvements she’s seen in her local schools but acknowledged the importance to give any school which is struggling additional support to spend the money if they need it. 

A report outlining plans for a consultation on the pattern of school holidays for the next five years was agreed. The survey is available until May 6 at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/TN2JMV9

Councillors also considered a number of other reports, including agreeing plans for the early years team to open applications for partner providers to apply for capital grants to support the roll out of 1140, and approving the ongoing development of the Literacy Strategy.

A lot of debate then centred around a member promoted issue concerning flexi schooling. A motion for the discussion was put forward by Cllr Alison Evison and councillors were asked to consider and comment on a detailed analysis of what flexi schooling is and how it applies to Aberdeenshire.

Commenting on the outcome of the discussion, Committee Chair Councillor Gillian Owen said: “I must stress the discussion was not about making a decision on adopting or encouraging the practice of flexi schooling.

“It was simply an opportunity to discuss the national context, to understand the advantages and disadvantages of it, and to decide whether we should progress with a stand alone policy on flexi schooling.

“Committee agreed an amendment to the motion, acknowledging that the home education policy is currently being reviewed by officers and that this should be brought back for discussion at a later date.

“The fact is that legislation does not enable us to consider flexi schooling requests separately to home schooling requests anyway, so updating our home education policy to better guide parents on flexible options is where this is best placed.

“We already have arrangements in place to support flexible schooling in relation to young people with additional support needs through GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) processes. Any other applications would be assessed on a case by case basis and the ultimate decision will depend upon the proposal put forward, the strength of this in terms of meeting pupils’ needs and the costs involved.”

To read all of the reports discussed by committee, visit the Committees section on our website: http://committees.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/committees.aspx?commid=494&meetid=19044