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Councils rise to a crack of the whip

The first education authorities to be inspected under the new powers given to HMI, East Dunbartonshire and Highland, have drawn up action plans, as they are required to do to address shortcomings identified by the Inspectorate.

East Dunbartonshire, which was given an unflattering report, has approved an extensive programme of 11 targets involving 54 separate tasks. This has beaten the deadline of April 10 set by Jack McConnell, Education Minister, who described HMI's findings as "very worrying".

The most lengthy sections deal with communications and management, where East Dunbartonshire was judged to be most deficient. Inspectors found the authority lacked vision, leadership and good management. Relationships with some of the nine secondary heads were "strained and sometimes acrimonious".

Vicki Nash, the council's chief executive, largely accepted the criticisms as a "fair reflectio".

The action plan includes an annual "customer satisfaction survey" of heads and a public performance report. Progress towards meeting the targets will be monitored and evaluated "systematically and rigorously", it pledges.

Sue Bruce, strategic director in charge of community services, which includes education, said the plan was about "embedding good practice for the long term: it's not intended to be a quick fix". The council will issue 20,000 leaflets to parents, summarising HMI's findings and outlining its response.

Highland's education committee, which had to react to a highly positive report, none the less found 10 action points which it plans to pursue over the next two years. These include improvements in quality assurance arrangements, better reporting on schools' performance to councillors and parents, and "best value" reviews of curriculum and learning support.

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