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Schools boss will fight to be heard by new education secretary on ‘unique challenges’ of rural areas

Laurence Findlay with Aberdeenshire Council chief executive Jim Savege.
Laurence Findlay with Aberdeenshire Council chief executive Jim Savege.

Aberdeenshire’s schools boss wants to make sure the views of his local authority – and those of other rural areas – are heard by Scotland’s new education secretary.

Shirley-Anne Somerville was appointed to the post by first minister Nicola Sturgeon with deputy first minister John Swinney moving on to tackle the Covid recovery.

Laurence Findlay, who has been director of education for Aberdeenshire Council since 2018, is looking to work with the new cabinet secretary “closely” as schools recover from the impact of Covid-19.

He is a member of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) and said the group meets regularly and are seeking talks with Ms Somerville as soon as possible.

Mr Findlay said he wants to make sure Aberdeenshire Council is given a “voice is at the table” and that the challenges it and other rural areas face are not forgotten about.

He said he will be “engaging positively” with the Scottish Government in the years ahead.

Aberdeenshire Council’s education convener councillor Gillian Owen with Mr Findlay.

Mr Findlay said: “We meet weekly as a team of directors and one of the things we will be seeking to do is to have early dialogue with the new minister to have a positive and proactive conversation about Scottish education.

“There are some big reports coming out soon like the OECD report on Curriculum for Excellence and we want to work with the new cabinet secretary closely.  We would be seeking to influence local views as far as possible.

‘Our own unique challenges’

“It is important to remember that Scotland is a small country and the issues faced by rural authorities are very different to those faced by urban ones.

“Sometimes the narrative in education is what is happening in Edinburgh, Glasgow and the central belt and some of the challenges they have.

“But we have issues in Aberdeenshire with child poverty as well, it is just a bit more hidden. We have also had issues in the past with teacher recruitment.

“We have our own unique challenges so we need to make sure our voice is at the table and we are engaging positively with the Scottish Government to look for solutions to some of these challenges.

“We also have a lot of good practice in rural areas – it is not just about what is happening in Glasgow and Edinburgh.”

Mr Findlay comes from Fraserburgh and was educated at nearby Rathen Primary School and Fraserburgh Academy.

He went on to study French and German at Stirling University before completing his teacher training there.

Mr Findlay taught English in France before returning to the classroom in Edinburgh and eventually returned to his own secondary school to teach modern languages.

He moved to Keith Grammar School and was appointed schools boss for Moray Council. He became director of education with Aberdeenshire Council three years ago.

Wellbeing of pupils and staff after lockdown a key concern

Mr Findlay has also been speaking about some of the challenges faced by Aberdeenshire’s young people as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The schools boss said some pupils have “thrived” during the pandemic as they easily adapted to home schooling and remote learning while others have “struggled” without any traditional education.

Mr Findlay said they had a dedicated phone number for parents who were worried about their children and it received dozens of calls every day it was open.

He admits supporting the mental health of staff and pupils with “appropriate measures” like counselling and specialist help.

Between 15 and 20 calls a day

Mr Findlay said: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve had a phone line in place three days a week and it for parents to phone up if they had any wellbeing concerns about young people.

“We were getting between 15 and 20 calls a day from people who were struggling with worries about home schooling and the general wellbeing of their children.

“We’ve invested a lot in mental health and wellbeing because obviously as society opens up parents are anxious.

“I think we have a lot of work to do in that area to make sure we have the appropriate measures.

“We’ve all been in the same storm the past year but we have all been in different boats and some people have thrived but some have really struggled.”

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