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Convener who saw his way to double-glazing

Neil Munro reports on how education authorities are being called to account

Ross Martin, West Lothian's education convener, is an enthusiast for outside scrutiny - and believes councillors' performance should not be exempt.

Mr Martin is perhaps a surprising devotee of external audit since he is a former teacher (Beath High in Cowdenbeath). But, of more relevance, he is vice-convener and former convener of Lothian and Borders police board, which receives reports on inspections by HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

"As custodians of the public purse, we need to demonstrate value for money," Mr Martin says. "And, as democratically accountable, we must ensure that the people who elect us are happy with the service. If they are to make a judgment, it must be based on more than what the child says when he or she comes home."

But he warned: "Education authorities would carry zero credibility if they were not prepared to face up to outside scrutiny. This is particularly important after the massive changes following local government reform. Our advisory service, for example, has been wiped out and replaced with curriculum support teams of teachers who are given extra time off. Our central support staff has been reduced from 200 full-timers to less than 100."

Mr Martin says the council wants HMI to look at support for schools and indicate whether it is "efficient and effective". He adds: "We think we're more efficient than most, but we don't know. And, while we are at the cutting edge in the drive to raise standards and invest in information technology, we need to know it is being effective in the schools."

He believes that evaluating performance and setting targets for the authority is the natural next step in a package which sets targets for individual pupils and schools.

The plus side shows a pound;4.5 million refurbishment of West Calder High, his ward secondary; double-glazing completed in one of his local primaries; and two local nurseries moving from three to five half-day sessions a week.

"What I can then do is go to the electorate and say 'these were my targets, I've achieved seven out of ten, I haven't achieved the others, here are the reasons why and if you think that's OK, please give me your support.' "It's a question of practising what you expect others to do."

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