Education and Children's Services Committee Round-Up

Education and Children's Services Committee met on Thursday 27 August to discuss a range of reports highlighting the broad range of services delivered on behalf of children and young people across Aberdeenshire. 
 
Committee Chair, Cllr Gillian Owen opened the meeting, highlighting thanks to staff across the service, reflecting upon exam results and congratulating young people on their achievements as well as acknowledging the ongoing work to help children and young people settle into the new term. Councillors are keen to wish everyone well for the academic year ahead.
 
Director of Education and CHildren's Services, Laurence Findlay went on to explain health, safety and wellbeing as a first priority for the service at the moment. In schools, leadership teams are well aware everyone has had different experiences of lockdown and Laurence assured elected members that his staff are highly skilled at assessing the needs of learners both emotionally and academically. There is a wealth of guidance to support practitioners and they are also working to address some of the other significant world events taking place. Schools are actively encouraged to cover all aspects of equality and diversity as part of the curriculum and the Black Lives Matter is continuing to feature highly as part of this. 
 
In terms of actions following the previous meeting, councillors were assured updates on both Peterhead and Inverurie Community Campuses will be forthcoming for committee members, and an update report will be coming forward in due course concerning home education.
 
Cllr Owen made mention of digital meetings being one good thing arising from the pandemic, highlighting that a recent get together with Aberdeenshire Youth Council, including a number of MSYPs, and councillors was a great example of where we have been able to make engagement even more easy and accessible. Read the full story on this: https://bit.ly/2YcE6OQ 
 
A report to inform committee members of the use of delegated powers, by reason of special urgency, in regard to 'No-One Left Behind' Opportunities for All Grants was first on the agenda. Councillors approved grant funding of up to £29,000 for the provision of employability agreements and acknowledged the value of grand funding over the past three years to Aberdeen Foyer, Lead Scotland and Barnardo's Scotland. Officers explained how these agreements which have been in place for around eight years help many vulnerable young people to move along supported pathways and use various specialist approaches. Councillors welcomed the report and are keen to find out more about how grant applications are assessed and how partner organisations demonstrate their worth.
 
An update in terms of services' response to the pandemic was also acknowledged by elected members who were invited to provide comments to the service. As well as offering a lot of helpful feedback, elected members were united in highlighting their thanks to staff. More on this: http://www.bit.ly/2YFDh1i 
 
For updated FAQs designed to support children and young people as well as parents and carers of those attending Aberdeenshire's schools, visit: https://bit.ly/FAQschools
 
An update on the service's Performance Monitoring Report provided an update to committee on progress with key actions and outcomes which demonstrate how Education and Children's Services is working towards the Council Priorities. 
 
An extremely positive paper on school catering reflected the challenges faced by the service which is seeking solutions and moving forward in a positive way. Councillors acknowledged and discussed these challenges, highlighting how highly regarded the service is by many pupils and parents. Alongside a commitment to further engagement and consultation with young people and parents to increase uptake, they agreed the recommendations of the report. Read the full story on this: http://www.bit.ly/2QwHzDG
 
A financial monitoring report highlighted the challenges of communicating the reality of the situation the council finds itself in at the moment. Elected members discussed the revenue and capital financial performance for the first quarter, approved a number of budget movements and noted progress in achieving agreed budget savings as well as noting the impact of External Audit's Interim Report of the 2019/20 Audit. Head of Children's Services Leigh Jolly provided assurances on costly out of authority placements, referring to the need to support a very small number of children and young people displaying particularly high risk behaviour.  
 
The hard work and dedication of Children's Services staff was highlighted in a further five committee reports during the discussion. An update on the progress of the implementation of the Aberdeenshire Young Carer Strategy 2018-2020 as well as plans to develop and consult on the next strategy was acknowledged in an extremely positive way. A paper from the adoption team highlighted their annual report and the important work ongoing to encourage adoptive families to come forward as well as provide life long post adoption support: http://www.bit.ly/3hv96RU
 
The fostering team's annual report provided Leigh as Head of Service another opportunity to commend the work of her dedicated teams and pay tribute to the many remarkable fostering families who are supporting around 140 children across Aberdeenshire. Read more: http://www.bit.ly/2Qwo6mM
 
An annual report on the council's Corporate Parenting Plan was also discussed, showing the progress made by the local authority and our partners who work collaboratively to improve outcomes for care experienced young people. The report also serves to demonstrate ongoing commitment to listening to care experienced young people to ensure that lived experience directs and influences service design and provision.
 
Councillors were keen to highlight how important it is that all council staff and elected members understand we all have a responsibility as corporate parents and can help to raise awareness, and to listen and support care experienced young people.
 
The report explains that over the past three years, meaningful engagement has been further enhanced with our Care Experienced Young People through Twilight Sessions whereby Care Experienced Young People and Corporate Parenting Leads meet to discuss and identify ‘what works well’ and ‘even better if….’ These discussions inform the direction and priority setting in developing Aberdeenshire’s Corporate Parenting Plan. 
 
Each Looked After Child Review is asked to consider whether a placement is meeting the needs of each young person. Throughout 2019/20, 98% of placements reported this positively. Of the 2%, plans were in place to assess and identify whether something needed to change within the placement or whether a different type of placement was required.
 
The report also highlighted that over the last three years the number of looked after children who left school with a positive destination has increased dramatically from 70.7% to 94.9%. Elected members were very grateful to teams for their work on this, which has been supported through a range of Council initiatives including an increase in Family Firm placements, focused outcome delivery with a range of partners including Skills Development Scotland, Social Work, Education and the Opportunities for All (OfA) Officer.  This report was agreed along with a recommendation to add this to Area Committee agendas.
 
A Child Protection Committee progress report was also shared with committee to ensure an awareness of the multiagency arrangement and the work of partners in this regard.  The Aberdeenshire Child Protection Committee is a multi-agency group with members from the police, health, local authority and third sector organisations. The role of each agency is to give individual and collective leadership and direction for the management of child protection services by promoting child protection policy and practice.
 
Over the past two years, improvement activity has focussed on: Initial Referral Discussions (IRD) - the provision of consistent child protection response, Domestic Abuse and the Protection of Children, Child Sexual Exploitation,  Child Protection Practice with regard to children with disabilities, Learning and Evaluating our joint responses with regard to the Toxic Trio, Learning from Case Reviews particularly in relation to neglect, Child Protection Case Conference processes, and CPC Self-Evaluation. 
 
The CPC's ambition is to continue to improve the culture, ethos, practice, competence and confidence of practitioners by delivering and implementing multi-agency Child Protection learning and development opportunities, which includes a multi-agency Child Protection Calendar training. Susan Mclaren who took on the role of Chair of the CPC in April thanked everyone for their support, highlighted their work to strengthen connections with colleagues in adult services and provided assurances about their commitment to ensuring together we can always support children and families who find themselves in crisis.
 
This year's National Improvement Framework report was also discussed, a paper which is submitted to the Scottish Government on an annual basis to ensure pursuance of a number of strategic priorities in education. The report highlights the scale of what Aberdeenshire's Education and Children's Services team is supporting on a daily basis – with 35,932 school pupils across Aberdeenshire, 2,714 teachers, a primary pupil teacher ratio of 13.3 and an average class size of 22. Elected members approved the detailed report which was delayed due to the pandemic and agreed to a further update coming back to committee to review in six months' time. 
 
An update on the development of the council's Literacies Strategy was also provided with councillors agreeing to approve the ongoing direction of the strategy and welcome a further update and first draft of the strategy in 2021. Lead officer for Community Learning and Development highlighted that the significance of digital literacy has been amplified throughout the pandemic and emotional literacy in terms of supporting people's mental health too. 
 
Reports are available in full by visiting https://committees.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/committees.aspx?commid=494&meetid=19546
You can also watch a webcast of Education and Children’s Services Committee by visiting https://aberdeenshire.public-i.tv/core/portal/home