Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee looked back over 10 years of attainment trends as part of preparing for what head of education Vincent Docherty is referring to as a “brave new world” of preparing young people for the world of work.

Papers to bring elected members up to speed with progress on Foundation Apprenticeships and positive school leaver destinations featured as part of the same discussion which paints a very positive picture for Aberdeenshire.

The call for this analysis into trends was raised by councillor Martin Ford following an update on levels achieved by pupils in last year’s exam results. Councillors were keen to understand the impact the Curriculum for Excellence and the changes to exam structures have had over the last few years, and also how Aberdeenshire’s trends compare to Scotland’s as a whole.

What they’ve learned is that the numbers of pupils in Aberdeenshire achieving five or more National 4 or 5 (or equivalent) level qualifications by S4, three or more Highers in S5, one or more Higher in S5, and one or more Advanced Higher by S6 has been consistently above the national average for the last 10 years. The average rate of improvement across the board in recent years also tends to be greater than that of eight or nine years ago.

While councillors acknowledged there has been a drop in the percentage of those achieving five or more National 4s in S4 in the last few years, our figures are still clearly above the national average and this trend is a national trend suggesting that the change is attributable to the structural change in examinations across the board.

Head of education, Vincent Docherty explains: “A new benchmarking tool was brought in nationally in 2014 along with the new qualifications. We’ve been able to look back, prior to this, to compare like-for-like where we are when it comes to attainment. What this has demonstrated is that we are continually improving as a local authority and we are doing everything we can to further that improvement.

“As we increase the availability of things like Foundation Apprenticeships, which essentially qualify as one Higher but sometimes over two years, we won’t be able benchmark in the same way as we have done to date so it’s an important time to draw upon lessons learned at the same time as looking forward.

“Our focus is on ensuring school leavers move on to positive sustained destinations, whether these be in work, further or higher education or skills development, and our emerging track record in this is really positive too.

School leavers’ destination data analysis shows that over the three years from 2015 to 2018 the percentage of pupils going on to positive destinations has been increasing steadily to 96.3%, above the national average of 94.4%. It also shows the proportion of pupils in Aberdeenshire leaving school in S4 and S5 decreased in 2017/18 and the proportion leaving in S6 increased. An annual participation measure combines data from Skills Development Scotland, schools, colleges, Scottish Funding Council, the Student Awards Agency Scotland and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Vincent added: “We have more than 2500 school pupils leaving schools across Aberdeenshire every year, a school roll which is steadily increasing, and we continue to demonstrate continuous improvement in attainment.

“In this brave new world health and wellbeing is just as important as literacy and numeracy and the most important thing is that we are creating people who know how to learn – if you know your learning style and the different ways in which you can learn new things then you can learn anything.”

The Scottish Government’s ‘Opportunities For All’ programme is a key driver to ensuring all school leavers secure a positive destination – it brings together a range of national and local policies as a single focus to improve destinations through appropriate interventions (and early identification of need), support and tracking of young people as they make the transition from school to the next part of their lives.

In Aberdeenshire it’s led by the Community Learning and Development (CLD) team, and within this the Working With Young People Team delivers Move On Up transitional support to young people from across Aberdeenshire. CLD work with colleagues in social work, education and economic development as well as third sector providers, partners and the Aberdeenshire Employability Partnership to create opportunities and make links between the young people and the offerings available locally.

In addition, Developing the Young Workforce is a seven-year programme that aims to better prepare young people for the world of work by providing learning which is directly relevant to getting a job, through placements, apprenticeships and workshops. This also focuses on the council as an employer increasing the percentage of young people it employs and increasing the number of trainee or apprenticeship posts available.

Elected officials were also updated today on Aberdeenshire Council becoming a lead provider for the delivery of Foundation Apprenticeships from this August. In collaboration with Skills Development Scotland, the local authority will make 300 Foundation Apprenticeship opportunities available for pupils in S5 and S6, providing them with real experiences of the world of work, whilst gaining a qualification at the same level as a Scottish Higher (SCQF Level 6).

Not only is this intended to help address the attainment gap between the poorest and most wealthy communities, it will also help to address issues in relation to equalities and ensuring some of our most vulnerable learners are given the opportunities to help them reach their potential. It will also help the council to meet demands for expertise in areas such as early years, to support the expansion of funded early learning and childcare.

Committee chair councillor Gillian Owen commented: “I am pleased to see such positive trends in attainment over the last decade and heartened by the growing focus not only on ensuring pupils can go on to college or university but that, more generally speaking, young people are being supported to find onward pathways that suit their learning style.”

Vice chair councillor Mark Findlater added: “The increasing variety of blended learning options will help to enable young people to reach their potential in a way which best suits them as individuals. Foundation Apprenticeships are now available to cover twelve different job types in everything from health and social care to scientific technologies. It’s a great way for young people to explore career options at a very early stage in their ongoing journey.”

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