09 December 2020

E&CS Committee recognises the commitment of 'remarkable' and 'truly exceptional' staff

The final Education and Children's Services Committee of 2020 began with Chair Cllr Gillian Owen welcoming Cllr Louise Mcallister into the fold. Cllr Mcallister is new to the committee having won the Ellon and District Bi-Election. Cllr Owen also thanked Cllr Vicki Harper for her service as part of the committee.   

With a background in lecturing at Banff and Buchan College for 12 years, Cllr Mcallister hopes her experience of working with children and young people will be beneficial to committee discussion.

Cllr Owen reflected upon some recent calendar highlights, including joining the head teachers of St Andrew's School and Inverurie Academy to open Inverurie Community Campus in October, and participating in this year's Inspiring 
Aberdeenshire event – recognising those unsung heroes within our communities – virtually.  

Acknowledging the impact of the ongoing pandemic, Cllr Owen said: "I've been impressed by how our schools have risen to the challenge and developed creative solutions to support children and young people. I know parents, as well as young people themselves, appreciate this greatly."

Director of Education and Children's Services, Laurence Findlay highlighted that 
Aberdeenshire's school attendance rate continues to be largely positive and above the national average. 

He also underlined the good progress being made with recruiting additional staff across all clusters and highlighted that more than 4,000 devices have now been shared with young people through the Connecting Scotland Fund as well as the support of the 
Aberdeenshire Education Trust. This will aid young people's access to e-learning where necessary. More at: 

Laurence went on to explain that an out of hours service is working well to support schools and head teachers dealing with the impact of Covid-19 during evenings and weekends. He also made a commitment to ensuring everyone is updated as soon as more details are made available on the SQA exam diet for 2021. 

Details have since been announced at a national level to explain that Higher and Advanced Higher 
exams will not go ahead and instead, pupils will be assessed using the same model that has been agreed to support National 5s – a model which has benefited from the input of various representatives including teaching staff and union representatives.   

The intention is to ensure safety as well as fairness for all, 
recognising that a significant percentage of the poorest pupils in Scotland have been most adversely affected by Covid-19 during recent months. We will be working hard to ensure schools have the support they need to take forward these new arrangements. More at: 

The Committee's head teacher representative highlighted good work ongoing across schools in terms of updating risk assessments as guidance evolves. He acknowledged that preparing for exams had been causing some concern among both staff and pupils who 
were keen for clarity on what is ahead.  

Cllr Owen echoed the concerns of young people members of the committee met with from 
Aberdeenshire's Youth Council, Youth Forum and Members of Scottish Youth Parliament in relation to the exams timetable. 

Reflecting on the experiences of those young people who had recently enjoyed e-learning while the Gordon Schools, Huntly was closed, one elected member highlighted positive feedback about how well things worked and the school's preparedness to make that transition to learning and teaching online. Others highlighted the way that teachers have applied themselves during the ongoing pandemic more generally as being 'remarkable' and 'truly exceptional'.

The newly launched 
Aberdeenshire Children's Services Plan 2020 - 2023 was considered and acknowledged by committee alongside the Children's Services team's Annual Report.   

The joint plan sets out the strategic direction and objectives of 
Aberdeenshire Council, NHS Grampian, Police Scotland, the Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership, Grampian Fire Service, Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration and third sector organisations represented by Aberdeenshire Voluntary Action (AVA) in meeting the needs of children and young people across the local area.

Please read the full write-up highlighting the shared commitment of all partners at: 
https://bit.ly/CSP2020Abshire This joint work has also been highlighted through a short video clip: https://bit.ly/CSP2020video  

Head of Children's Services Leigh Jolly explained during the meeting that this ambitious plan had a significant consultation response, with respondents overwhelmingly agreeing with the priorities outlined. Elected members a
greed that it's great to see children and young people's rights featuring so highly in the new plan as well as clear links with the Child Poverty Action Plan. The importance of trauma-informed communities was also highlighted, and a report will be brought back to the committee on this specifically. 

Speaking afterwards, Cllr Owen said: "We are so pleased to play a key role in 
Aberdeenshire's joint Children's Services Plan. It's ambitious, it recognises the great progress that has been made to date and underlines our commitment to those five key priority areas: corporate parenting, preventing and acting early to reduce the impact of substance use, children with disabilities, supporting families in the early years and supporting children and young people to enjoy great health and wellbeing."

Vice Chair, Cllr Rosemary Bruce added: "P
roviding help for care experienced children and young people, which is called Corporate Parenting, is something that we all – as councilors, public services colleagues and members of our communities – can and should prioritise. It's about supporting opportunities for care experienced children and young people, whether that be work experience or mentoring, promoting kindness and understanding, or championing their cause as we develop services and community planning."  

A brand new 
Aberdeenshire Young Carers Strategy 2021-2023 was also considered and approved. A full news release on this is available at: 
https://bit.ly/3gvwTkV You can also view the committee report online. 

The Annual Report for 
Aberdeenshire's Children's Homes was also welcomed, with elected members recognising and thanking staff for their commitment to ensuring all of our homes provide the best possible environment for young people in their care and really making them a home. A full news release is available at: 
https://bit.ly/3qDlQLr You can also view the committee report online. 

Leigh Jolly explained: "We are there to nurture, support and enable. It's our role as corporate parents to do everything we can to address those barriers to learning, and I'd also like to pay tribute to young people themselves and staff, who did us so proud – particularly during lockdown – managing those restrictions really well."

The committee also discussed and agreed new guidance document for head teachers – 
Parental Requests for Flexi-Schooling – which has been added to the council's Home Education Policy.   Cllr Owen highlighted the "proportionate, progressive and sensible" approach taken, highlighting the collaborative process undertaken by staff, elected members, parent representatives and others to reach agreement on the new guidance. 

Cllrs agreed the p
rocess should be praised and recognised, and welcomed the partnership working as well as the huge amount of research which has gone into it. View the full committee report online. 

The development of a dynamic purchasing system to support the delivery of Foundation Apprenticeships was also approved by committee, with elected members underlining an ongoing commitment to expanding this offer among senior phase pupils. 
Read the full committee report online. 

Elected members were also asked to 
authorise statutory consultations on the
relocation of Anna Ritchie School to the new Community Campus in Peterhead and the merger of Dales Park and Meethill schools in the town. Both items were approved with transport officers asked to do an assessment at Meethill and provide feedback to local members. 

Cllrs were supportive of these consultations with the local community in 
Peterhead, recognising this is an ongoing part of extensive engagement which continues to be undertaken by the service. The importance of ensuring an open dialogue was underlined, along with the importance of encouraging informal feedback which has already been gathered to be formally submitted by members of the community. 

Education and Children's Services Mid-Year Performance Monitoring report was also approved, 
recognising that April to September 2020 covers a period like no other. 
View the full report online. 

The council's wider Digital Strategy was considered, 
recognising the huge impact digital has made this year. 
Read the full report online. 

The Chief Social Worker Annual Report, presented by Iain Ramsay, was also considered and acknowledged, noting members' comments on health and wellbeing, training and learning provided to staff, and how social work services have been adjusted during the pandemic. Cllrs agreed that we have a workforce which responds to challenges with empathy, support and kindness, and thanked Iain for his clear and detailed report. 

The committee was also asked to consider the Council's Climate Change Declaration Consultation and put forward comments to be discussed as part of a future Full Council meeting. Cllrs enjoyed an extensive discussion and suggested the carbon budget should become an integral part of ongoing discussion about council business, as well as the importance of engaging with young people in particular. 
Read the full committee report online. 

In relation to the 
Revenue and Capital Financial Performance for Quarter 2, councillors approved budget movements, noted progress in achieving budget savings, agreed devolved education management following a review of how this works and noted ongoing work to satisfy the recommendations of an External Audit report. 

Comments were noted on unspent Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) and Laurence Findlay highlighted a number of positive interventions schools have used PEF for and explained that this snapshot doesn't reflect planned activities which haven't been accounted for in terms of budgets yet but acknowledged that continued issues with recruitment in the North of 
Aberdeenshire do pose a challenge.

 Owen brought the meeting to a close by thanking Head of Resources and Performance Craig Clement for his service as he heads off on secondment with Education Scotland.

You can 
watch a recording of the committee in action via link on the committee's page of the website.