09 June 2022

Round-up on Education and Children's Services Committee discussion

Committee Chair Cllr Gillian Owen welcomed everyone along to the first meeting of Education and Children’s Services Committee since the new council was elected in May.
All councillors were invited to introduce themselves, and Laurence Findlay as Director of Education and Children’s Services explained the role of officers in supporting the committee as well as giving heads of service Vincent Docherty, Leigh Jolly, Anne-Marie Davies-Macleod and Avril Nicol the opportunity to give a brief overview of their remits.
Councillors then had an opportunity to engage in some training time and presentations from officers, to support elected members in their role as part of this policy committee.
After considering outstanding actions from previous meetings, the first matter for discussion was a report outlining the Promoting and Managing Pupil Attendance in Educational Establishments Policy. Councillors considered, commented on and approved the new policy, which focuses on ensuring a partnership approach is taken to supporting children, young people and families – working alongside colleagues in health and social work in particular.
Councillors asked about some of the practical solutions being taken forward and Mr Findlay highlighted some really innovative practice in secondary schools, including a focus on health and wellbeing, supportive ‘squads’ and the success of a ‘late gate’. When asked about the role online learning can play in supporting those who are not keen to attend school in person, Laurence also reflected on the strong partnership Aberdeenshire has with e-Sgoil, Scotland’s e-learning school, as part of the Northern Alliance, and the success of their interrupted learners’ programme in helping young people engage in this way.
A report on attendance and absence data covering the 2020/21 school session was also discussed. Head of Education Vincent Docherty highlighted the Aberdeenshire average rate of attendance is higher than that of the national average. He also urged caution on comparing these figures to previous years, given the disruption the Covid-19 pandemic caused. Acknowledging the average rate of attendance is lower in the North, Vincent also explained targeted work with schools is ongoing, including new efforts to introduce additional family learning and support opportunities.
Read a full news update on this. The papers will also be circulated to all area committees.
A Promoting Inclusion and Reducing Exclusions in Educational Establishments Policy 2022 was also presented for consideration, comment and approval. Councillors are keen to ensure support for the most vulnerable children and care experienced young people is extensive before exclusion is considered. Vincent provided assurances about steps taken and this paper was also agreed.
A report following the statutory consultation on the closure of Longhaven School was also discussed. Officers carefully considered all feedback to the consultation and recommended the closure and the rezoning of the school’s catchment area. Councillors were asked to consider the findings and make a recommendation for Full Council to have their say on the officer recommendations. This was agreed and the findings will be discussed by Full Council in due course. If closure goes ahead, arrangements will be made to move play equipment if it can be safely re-instated at the nearby park. Read a full news update on this.
The learning estates team also presented a paper on the future of Easterfield and Fisherford schools, recommending both schools are mothballed for a further academic year and asking for approval to carry out an Option Appraisal and provide a further report. After queries including what the buildings are currently being used for, members agreed the recommendations. Mothballed schools cannot be used for other purposes as they have to be ready to re-open should the need arise.
Laurence introduced a report outlining the Education and Children’s Services Directorate Plan Update for 2022, acknowledging the pressure on services and teams. Councillors were pleased to see a number of key strategies included in the plan, including the Climate Change and Sustainability Strategy, and asked for mental health as well as services to support children and young people with additional support needs to be prioritised. Laurence provided assurances about the breadth of work by teams in these areas and is keen to provide workshops for councillors on topics including additional support for learning.
The committee enjoyed a lengthy discussion about the recruitment and retention of teachers, the challenges for secondaries as well as rural areas, and touched on the measures in place to support all staff post-pandemic. They were also brought up to speed on the transition the Instrumental Music Service is going through and one of the committee’s teacher representatives asked for school staff to be engaged in discussion about how this evolves.
Councillors agreed recommendations to consider, comment on and approve the update.
A year-end performance monitoring report covering the period October 2021 to March 2022 provided an update on progress with key actions and outcome indicators which help show how the service is delivering on priorities. The committee discussed the successes as well as the challenges, with Laurence underlining the importance of the service understanding where improvements can be made and working together to make these happen.
The Annual Scrutiny and Improvement Report for 2021/22 highlights where key scrutiny activity has been undertaken by the committee during the last year, it explains where scrutiny has added value to the service and helps to shape the areas to be included in the scrutiny programme for the coming year. Councillors discussed the activities outlined in the report and agreed catering services, out of school care provision, Community Learning and Development’s (CLD’s) Partnership Plan and key areas of education including the review of additional support needs provision will be key areas for the committee to look at over the next year. Reports will be brought to committee in due course.
The financial performance of the service to the end of  May was also outlined for committee who were provided with an opportunity to consider and comment on these. Councillors are keen to learn more about how devolved management of school budgets is going (which will become more clear as the financial year goes on) and how Pupil Equity Funding will be spent.

Committee members also considered a quarterly update on the Corporate Improvement Plan, nominated members to a number of  retained sub committees, appointed or deferred the nomination of councillors to a number of outside bodies, and agreed future meeting arrangements so that councillors can continue to join the committee either in-person or online.
The final public agenda item provided an updated on the Live Life Aberdeenshire Holiday Recovery Programme. The service continues to shape provision based on customer feedback and is planning a four-week programme this summer. The two-week Easter holiday programme was really well-received and offered over 57,000 opportunities for children, young people and families to enjoy free sporting and cultural activities. There were more than 36,000 attendances. As part of trying to encourage more 11-17 year olds to take part in activities this summer, work is ongoing with Young Scot to facilitate free access to venues and activities at a time that suits young people (rather than as part of a set programme).
The public reports considered by the committee can be found at:
A recording of  the morning session of the committee can be viewed at:
The afternoon session can be viewed at: