08 December 2022

Education and Children's Services Committee round-up Thursday, December 8

During its meeting on Thursday, December 8, Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee chair Cllr Gillian Owen welcomed councillors to the meeting and congratulated Inverurie's Steven Strachan who won the Inspiring Aberdeenshire Future Award for 2022.

Cllr Owen highlighted that members of the committee had attended their second school catering workshop at Arduthie School with plans for a third workshop in the new year. 

The chair spoke about a catch-up with MSYPs, youth councillors and pupil participation reps on Wednesday (December 7) evening, talking about school meals, school transport and the under-22 bus travel card. 

Cllr Owen said she had visited a number of nurseries over the tattie holidays and last month visited Torphins Primary School for the Neeps and Tatties book launch.
On behalf of the committee, she wished all school teams and young people a Happy Christmas and happy, successful and healthy 2023.

You can read the agenda items by clicking here.

Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative – Progress and Impact Report and Phase 4 Regional Improvement Plan

Members considered and commented on the latest report from The Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC) and agreed to hold a workshop for members to learn more about the collaborative’s work. 

The collaborative is between eight local authorities - Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Eilean Siar (Western Isles), Highland, Moray, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands - with a shared vision to improve the educational and life chances of children and young people through collaboration.

Throughout the phase three plan, the RIC has focused on increasing its reach and impact through the ongoing promotion of digital engagement, resulting in over 1,667 engagements involving over 18,000 professionals from across the eight local authorities and Education Scotland. 

In addition, the RIC has 57 teams operating with almost 3,000 memberships and the Northern Alliance newsletter has in excess of 4,500 subscribers.

Since January, the RIC has carried out its most significant engagement exercise to date with schools across the Northern Alliance developing the phase four plan and priorities. 

This involved 22 engagement sessions, involving 460 practitioners, resulting in over 1,400 contributions which were used in shaping the phase four plan, which includes:

•    Wellbeing and Learning - feeling well and learning well
•    Social Intelligence - how we work and learn together
•    Equality Investments - how we break down barriers to wellbeing and learning
•    Systemness - working together to improve our system

Director of Education and Children's Services at Aberdeenshire Council Laurence Findlay said: “There are a number of successes highlighted in the progress and impact report and in terms of our phase four plan, this has been produced following the biggest engagement exercise we've ever undertaken.

“We've been very fortunate to have worked with Professor Michael Fullan, one of the world's leading educational researchers, in developing our plan and as the report notes, we have built our plan around Fullan’s Four Right Drivers for Whole System Success.”

Aberdeenshire’s Triannual Scottish Attainment Challenge Report

Members acknowledged the report into the Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC) about achieving equity in educational outcomes - ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed - with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

The SAC provides focused and targeted improvement activity in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. 

The committee had previously approved its National Improvement Framework Plan and stretch aims for improving attainment over the coming year – the report, produced by Education Scotland, sets out the progress that Aberdeenshire has made to date and outlines the next steps

Head of Education Vincent Docherty said: “The Scottish Attainment Challenge will continue to provide support for children and young people impacted by poverty through strategic equity funding, people equity funding, care experienced children and young people funding and a number of national programs.

“The main aim of the policy is to support recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate progress in closing the gap. It also supports and complements a range of initiatives and programmes to ensure that all children and young people reach their full potential.”

The next phase of the SAC will continue to provide support for children and young people impacted by poverty through Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), Care Experienced Children and Young People funding and a number of national programmes.

Analysis of Attainment and Achievement of Young People from Aberdeenshire Secondary Schools in Accredited Awards (2021-22)

Members of the committee heard how Aberdeenshire’s attainment tends to exceed that of national measures. 

For 2022, Aberdeenshire exceeds the national figure in 12 of the 14 measures and its attainment in 2022 is above the 2019 pre-Covid level in 11 of the 14 measures. 

Vincent Docherty said: “This report demonstrates a really positive performance and it’s about congratulating the young people who make this really high level of performance - and it's not just attainment, it's attainment and achievement across Aberdeenshire and I think we in our teams, are really proud of it.”

Merger of Fraserburgh North School and St Andrews School into a new primary school in Fraserburgh.

The committee agreed to authorise a statutory consultation with local stakeholders - parent councils, parents, pupils, staff and the local community - on the proposal to merge Fraserburgh North School and St Andrews School to a new primary school in Fraserburgh. 

The consultation launches on December 12 and runs until February 24. 

A public meeting will be held on February 1 at 6.30pm in the assembly hall at Fraserburgh Academy, Dennyduff Road, AB43 9NA.

Education and Children’s Services Mid-Year Performance Monitoring Report – April to September 2022 (Council Priorities)

Members agreed the recommendations of the report on the progress with key actions and outcomes in delivering on the Aberdeenshire Council Plan Priorities (2020-2022), linked to the Education and Children’s Services (ECS) Directorate Improvement Action Plan (2022-2023). 

Annual Report of the Kinship Care Service 2021/22

The committee considered and commented on the annual report for Aberdeenshire’s Kinship Care Service, which supports Aberdeenshire’s most vulnerable children who are looked after away from their parents. The report also looked at the services available to assess and support carers. 

Social Work Manager (Corporate Parenting) Andrew Dick said: “The first option is always whether it's possible for them to live with a member of their extended family or with a friend of the family who's known to the child or young person when a child is unable to live at home.

“Kinship care provides them with the opportunity to live with people that they have an existing relationship with and it’s often that's within or nearby to the community that they're familiar with as well. 

“Our kinship care team provide a vital service in assessing and supporting kinship carers of our looked after children in Aberdeenshire.”

The number of children and young people in Kinship care fluctuates throughout the year but as of March 2022, Aberdeenshire Council supported 192 children and young people in Kinship arrangements.

Virtual Head Teacher Annual Report 2021-22

The committee considered and commented on the report of Aberdeenshire's virtual head teacher, a unique role supporting the school population of care-experienced children and young people. 

The role was created in recognition that care-experienced young people are more likely to have experienced adverse childhood experiences which can impact on their well-being and ability to participate and engage fully with education, which can lead to lower attainment and poorer destinations post school. 

The total number of care experienced children and young people in Aberdeenshire schools is 685.

Chief Social Work Officer and Head of Children’s Services Leigh Jolly said: “We believe with the right support, our care-experienced young people can achieve just as well as their peers. 

“The role of the virtual head teacher is to concentrate fully on this cohort of young people and work collaboratively with schools, services and other organisations to tackle inequalities and to support those improved outcomes. 

“Our virtual head teacher works collaboratively with schools and young people alongside social work and health and has made significant strides in really raising the profile and the needs of care-experienced young people.

“Our data indicates current positive destinations for care-experienced young people in Aberdeenshire sit at around 88%, which is higher than the national average, although we mustn't be complacent and there is still plenty of work to do.”

Fostering Service Annual Report 2021-22

The committee considered and commented on the report.

In total, 62 fostering information packs were requested during the reporting period, compared to 59 in 2020 and 66 in 2019.

Social Work Manager (Corporate Parenting) Andrew Dick said: “We absolutely strive to keep children at home with their parents or with members of their family whenever that's safe and possible. 

“Whenever this can't happen, one alternative option for children and young people is to live with foster carers. Aberdeenshire’s fostering service recruits, assesses, trains and supports foster carers to ensure that we provide the very best possible care to children who cannot live at home.

“There have been various positives for the fostering service in terms of how they've supported foster carers during the reporting period, and particularly given the challenges which COVID-19 continued to pose.

“Feedback within the report shows the positive impact that fostering can have on the lives of children, young people and carers. A further positive is the number of young people choosing to remain with their foster families and their continuing care up to the age of 21, which affords them the opportunity to move on from here at time that's right for them.

“The report also outlines the challenges which continue to face the service as the number of carers deciding to stop fostering continues to outweigh those joining us - and this is a national challenge. However, we continue to work hard locally to overcome this and employing creative ways to recruit and support carers.”

Annual Report on Aberdeenshire's Children's Homes and Supported Accommodation Service.

Within Aberdeenshire Council Children’s Services there are three children’s homes: Coblehaugh in Inverurie and Scalloway Park in Fraserburgh both provide care to up to six young people each while Fernbank in Peterhead provides care to up to four young people. 

Taizali Supported Accommodation Service in Fraserburgh provides a place to live for young people who have moved on from being looked after away from home but who require a stepping-stone to independent living and provides care to an additional four young adults.

Social Work Manager (Corporate Parenting) Andrew Dick said: “The reporting period presented a number of challenges for all of Aberdeenshire’s children's homes due to the impact of COVID-19, particularly on staffing of our homes. 

“There's lots of examples of young people and their families providing very positive feedback about the service received. 

“Young people continue to benefit from a very stable, experienced staff team across all of our establishments, and we've also worked hard over the reporting period to develop our model of care, focusing on embedding the principles of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy alongside our improvement plan for Scalloway Park. 

“Specifically, we have ambitious aims for the continued development of our residential childcare provision in Aberdeenshire over the next reporting period.”

Violence Against Women Partnership Progress Report 2019 – 2022

Members considered and commented on a hard-hitting and emotive report about women, children and young people who have experienced violence from a male perpetrator. 

The Aberdeenshire Violence Against Women Partnership (VAWP) brings together a range of statutory and voluntary agencies in Aberdeenshire with the aim of improving agency responses to women, children and young people who have experienced violence from a male perpetrator.

Chief Social Work Officer and Head of Children’s Services Leigh Jolly highlighted that the meeting lands in the middle of the 16 days of activism campaign, a United Nations campaign taking place between November 25, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, through to December 10 - International Human Rights Day. 

This year's campaign shines a light on gender inequality.

She told the committee members: “In 2020/21 there were 65,251 domestic abuse incidents recorded by Police Scotland across the country - that's one incident reported every nine minutes.

“Around four out of every five of these incidents had a female victim and a male accused. On average, victims experience 50 incidents of abuse before asking for help and nine times more women than men are killed by their partner or their ex-partner. 

“In the UK, 51% of girls have experienced public sexual harassment since June 2020 and 35% of women do not feel safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark. 

“In Aberdeenshire, 65 per 10,000 incidents of domestic abuse are reported, and we know that women enduring domestic abuse in rural areas like Aberdeenshire are half as likely as urban victims to report the abuse. Abuse in rural communities can last on average 25% longer.

“In urban areas, attitudes to violence against women in Scotland showed that only 58% of people in Scotland believe that women who wear revealing clothing on a night out are not to blame for being assaulted or raped, with 60% saying the same of women who are drunk and around a quarter think that women often lie about being sexually assaulted or raped - and nearly two in five believe that rape results from men being unable to control a physical need.”

By adopting a gender definition, the partnership does not deny or minimise the use of violence against men or within same-sex relationships. The gendered analysis is a reflection that women and girls are disproportionately affected by particular forms of violence because they are women and girls. 

Leigh added: “Services provided by police, council, NHS, and so on, will continue to provide support to all people experiencing domestic abuse, regardless of gender.

“There are also specific third sector support for men through organisations such as FearFree.”

Community Learning and Development Service – Performance Report

Committee members considered and commented on the work undertaken by Aberdeenshire Council’s Community Learning and Development Service (CLD).

CLD offers programmes with a learning focus and other types of activity designed with participants and promote educational and social development. 

It includes activities that develop communities as well as promoting the educational and social development of the individuals and groups participating in them.

Members heard that over the last 18 months, 9,173 sessions were held across 866 projects including face-to-face and online.

There were 4,025 learners engaged with CLD with 1,073 engaged in adult learning projects and 2,954 learners engaged in youth work projects.

In addition, 4,283 learners participated in youth work projects with 4,133 (96.5%) goals achieved by young people. There were 1,629 learners taking part in adult learning projects with 1,524 (93.5%) goals achieved by adult learners.

There were 329 people completing accreditations or wider achievement awards such as the Saltire Award, John Muir Award, and SQAs in ICT, employability, numeracy, working with others and communication.

Update on Participatory Budgeting in Aberdeenshire Schools 2022/23

In June 2021, Full Council agreed £85,000 of funds to be allocated to this project to support Covid recovery by encouraging schools and young people to focus on positive mental health and wellbeing projects and activities within schools across Aberdeenshire.

Aberdeenshire Schools Participatory Budgeting (PB) project is a process that empowers young people to make decisions about where a proportion of council budget spend is allocated within relevant topics.

In March 2022 the ECS Committee agreed to further fund PB in Aberdeenshire Schools with a focus on carbon reduction/climate change.

Aberdeenshire Council Service Manager for Youth, Adult and Learning in Communities Dominique Carlisle-Kitz said: “To give a flavour of the last year, there were 44 projects with a focus on positive mental health and well-being across 16 school networks and 13 schools directly benefited.” 

This year’s project has so far received 23 applications from 14 cluster areas with 18 school projects securing funds that promote carbon change/climate action running between November 2022 and end of March 2023.

Members agreed to expand the age group in primary schools to include P6 and across the school years for smaller schools; to align the funding period to reflect the school year to allow applicants to be involved in the project to completion, as well as approve extending spend until the end of the school term for the second round of applications and include the current successful projects.

Aberdeenshire Community Learning Community Partnership – Annual Progress Report 2021-2022

Members considered the report on the update on the Aberdeenshire Learning Community Partnership (ALCP) Community Learning and Development (CLD) Plan 2021-2024.

Key partners include Lead Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, Aberdeenshire Voluntary Action, Community Learning and Development, North East Scotland College, Scottish Prison Service and Workers Education Authority.

Aberdeenshire Council Service Manager for Youth, Adult and Learning in Communities Dominique Carlisle-Kitz said: “A range of activities have been achieved - we've distributed a well-being pack for all the ALCP partners and that's been well received and being used. 

“We've also developed an adult learning forum which has recently met with Moray forum to celebrate Adult Learners Week and they are participating in some themed discussions there and they're planning to do work with Highland forum as well. 

“The evaluation we completed ahead of the creation of the plan was showcased nationally on Education Scotland's website - so a range of progress against the three-year plan and partners working together collectively, and I think the virtual working has enabled some of that to happen as well.”

Financial Performance as at 31st October 2022 

The financial performance of the service to the end of October was outlined for the committee who were provided with an opportunity to consider and comment. 

It was agreed that an energy workshop and how it affects ECS budgets would be held.

Tackling Poverty and Inequalities – Child Poverty Action Report 2021/22

Committee members acknowledged the progress of the actions and commented on the draft Year 4 Local Child Poverty Action Report. The draft will be presented to the Communities Committee on December 22.

Councillors discussed the cost of the school day and agreed to hold a workshop on the matter. 

It was also said that cost of the school day sessions have been set up with all schools and parent councils in January, focused on the ‘worried about money’ leaflet and making sure that schools and parent councils have the knowledge, skills and confidence to have difficult conversations and know how to support parents.

Aberdeenshire Council’s Tackling Poverty and Inequalities Coordinator Annette Johnson said: “When we talk about poverty, we are talking about people not having enough resources to meet their needs. It means not being able to heat their home, pay their rent or buy the essentials for them or their children. 

“It means we can end up facing insecurity, uncertainty and having to make impossible decisions about money.

“The report highlights the outcomes which the partners have achieved. You can see in 2021 the partners have worked with 904 priority families to increase income, reduce costs, improve employability and ensure they can access their range of opportunities. These could not have been achieved without a strong partnership working around this agenda. 

“The report also highlights good practice which demonstrates how we are making it easier for people to access the right support when they need it. Those with lived experience have not only been consulted in the layout and content of this report, but they have given their thoughts throughout it.

“The report also gives us an opportunity to focus on ideas for the future. Families have raised concerns around the high price of fuel, food and essential items with families seeking financial support for the very first time. 

“The feedback from partners is that more families use food banks, advice services and are looking for that financial support there continues to be a range of programmes and interventions in place to support families who are experiencing challenges at this time.”