Career Ready, improving outcomes and benchmarking our performance in E&CS

The most recent meeting of Education and Children's Services Committee was opened by 17-year-old Abbie Welsh from Meldrum Academy who has been recognised as our Career Ready Student of the Year for 2019. 
Abbie shared an animated account of her experiences of taking part in the Career Ready programme which is part of the Council's wider effort in Developing the Young Workforce with skills for learning, life and work. Her transformational journey was underlined by Craig Sim, Depute Head at Meldrum who explained that two years ago neither of them could have imagined she'd feel confident enough to address a committee of elected members but that she'd worked very hard, benefitting from her Career Ready experiences and that she was thoroughly deserving of this recognition. 

Committee Chair Councillor Gillian Owen added her thanks to mentors giving up their time to support the programme and encouraged many more to come forward from both the council and private businesses. Chief Executive Jim Savege is a current programme mentor and anyone who is interested can find out more by contacting Curriculum For Excellence Officer, Alison Robertson. 

The Committee also congratulated Ailsa Lipp (Largue School) and Jack Esslemont (Aboyne Primary) on finishing first and second in the national John Byrne Drawing Competition.

Leigh Jolly presented annual reports for both the adoption and fostering services which were both very well received by members. Councillors engaged in discussion around matters such as the impact of legal processes on prospective adopters, the average length of the adoption process, adoption by step-parents and the post-adoption 'letterbox' scheme as well as continuing foster care for young people over the age of 18, the varying criteria applied by different fostering agencies, the impact and financial implications of further education on foster children, the link between fostering delays and adoption, and recognition of the different compositions of families. They recognised the high standards of service being achieved in Aberdeenshire as noted within recent inspection reports by the Care Inspectorate. 

The Local Government Benchmarking Framework Thematic Report for Children and Young People was also discussed and councillors were asked to consider the content in the local context of improving outcomes. Over the last eight years, all 32 Scottish councils have been working with the Improvement Service (IS) to develop a common approach to benchmarking and the national overview report highlights the role that council services such as sports, libraries, early years provision, housing, economic development, and school absence and exclusion rates have in improving outcomes. Officers are committed to continuing to drive improvement across a number of areas, including the introduction of things like a new virtual head teacher role especially to support looked after children and young people. The remarkable improvement in statistics in this area over the last few years was put down to the positive work that school and social care staff are doing together. 

A report on the review of Inverurie primary school catchment areas was also discussed, with councillors authorising the beginning of a consultation which is now in progress. Officers explained the review relates to the closure of Marketplace School following the opening of Uryside and the emerging trends across the town as a result of this. Cllr Owen highlighted the feedback of Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament as well as her own, welcoming the review. A follow up paper will be discussed at December's meeting. 

Performance monitoring of the priorities in the Council Plan across Education and Children's Services was also discussed with elected members agreeing the recommendations but also requesting a workshop session on HMIE reports and inspections to better understand Aberdeenshire's performance.

In further discussion, an update report on Strachan School highlighted extensive work has been done to assess the viability of reopening the facility as a school, looking at alternative local provision as well as the need to ensure educational benefit to pupils. Councillors acknowledged an Options Appraisal following extensive engagement with the local community and noted the final deadline for members of the community to submit any further suggestions by June 14th. 

Cllr Owen commented: “Given that we have not managed to attract any new pupils to enrol at the school over the last two intakes, it will remain mothballed for the time being. Any alternative use for the facility cannot be progressed unless it is permanently closed as a school. A report will be considered by councillors in August as to whether to begin a formal statutory consultation on its potential permanent closure.” 

A Member Promoted Issue on promoting and improving recycling and composting rates which was raised by Cllr Martin Ford was met with agreement by committee in terms of its importance and Head of Education Craig Clement will work to ensure a systems wide approach based on the activities of some of our most successful settings. 

Other matters discussed included an alteration to the Adventurous Activities Policy, a nomination to join the Passenger Transport Network Review Working Group and the outcomes of the recent consultation on school holiday dates. The recommendations were all agreed.