Winter weather, success stories and education changes debated

battling winter weather, examples of success, and changes moving forward as part of budget decisions were among items discussed at the latest meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s education, learning and leisure committee in Woodhill House, Aberdeen.

The committee discussed the latest update on performance within the education, learning and leisure service, covering the period October to December 2010.

A report before councillors highlighted a range of actions being taken to improve performance to meet annual target plans set out in the service plan for 2010/11.

Improvements have been recorded for three objectives relating to learning, quality of facilities and quality of services, and steady results relating to needs of learners and healthy lifestyles were noted.

Highlighted activities related to the 3-18 Curriculum, Early Years Review, and Parental Involvement Strategy, implementation of the 2009 Additional Support for Learning Act, draft strategies for culture and sport, implementation of the Quality Improvement Framework, and continuous improvement activities.

The committee went on to discuss a variety of related topics, including the adjustment of opening times for swimming pools, the importance of informing people about budget implications and consulting on possible measures in future years, and hopes that communities would link in with museums to help them continue to operate.

ATTENDANCE rates in Aberde enshire remain higher than the national average and, in turn, absence levels are among the lowest, the committee heard.

The attendance rate in Aberdeenshire schools for the 2009/10 school year stood at 94.4%, against a national average of 93.2%. Only East Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire record higher attendance rates.

The figures were welcomed by the committee, with Cllr George Carr encouraging officers to discuss absence management measures with the top performing councils to see if the rate could be even further improved.

In a separate report, the committee welcomed the efforts made by staff, parents and pupils to get to school during the recent bad winter weather.

Councillors discussed the good reporting mechanisms in place for informing parents of closures, as well as measures used to help pupils continue their studies during school closures using such tools as the Glow network, podcasts, blogs and other online resources.

CHANGES within the school catering service that could generate savings of more than £280,000 a year were agreed by the committee.

Under the plans, free fruit will no longer be provided to pupils in primaries one and two, and meals for all primary age groups will no longer contain fruit juice or milk. The nutritional value of meals will be maintained and drinking water will be available with each meal.

A report before councillors highlighted a large amount of wastage of the free fruit that is currently provided to pupils, and that fruit would continue to be available as part of a school meal.

In addition, fruit juice and milk would continue to be available for purchase by those pupils wishing to do so.

The measures will take effect from May this year and will support the school catering’s service’s aims to save £220,000 during the financial year 2012/13.

REVISIONS to the way teacher staffing levels are calculated and increased flexibility in class sizes have been approved and could generate significant savings for the education service.

The new formula for calculating teacher staffing levels takes account of commitments by the council to ensure sufficient places for probationers.

Changes to the way depute head teachers and principal teacher of guidance are allocated to secondary schools were also approved.

It was also agreed to increase the maximum class size for English and maths classes during S1 and S2 to 33 to provide greater flexibility for teachers.

The proposals were developed as part of measures to achieve savings agreed by the full council in November last year, amounting to £570,000 in 2011/12; £1.78million in 2012/13, and £970,000 in 2013/14.

A reduction of around 79 teacher posts is expected over that time period, some due to falling rolls.