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Dundee puts the icing on the cake

DUNDEE has emerged as the first education authority to win the top accolade of "very good" from HMI for part of its work.

The city's "vision, values and aims" were judged the best in the business, as was its planning. Nine other quality indicators were found to be good. None was fair or unsatisfactory.

The council's success is all the more remarkable given considerable pockets of social deprivation and educational difficulty. One in five families with school-aged children is on income support and a declining population has fallen by 6 per cent since the council's inception five years ago.

Anne Wilson, the director of education, is personally credited with driving forward the agenda which has so impressed the inspectorate. "In the last two years she had placed much emphasis on addressing communication issues, difficulties in which had previously led to strained relationships with some staff in schools.

"She had vigorously implemented a programme of visits to schools and open meetings with staff. Her strategies had largely been effective and schools and other stakeholders agreed that communication and consultation had greatly improved."

HMI's report, published on Tuesday, adds that Mrs Wilson "showed enthusiastic commitment, with a particular focus on encouraging and celebrating the success of pupils. At an early date she had clearly recognised the need to improve pupils' attainment and had stimulated and supported a number of key initiatives to effect change, at times prior to similar national strategies, for example in early intervention."

Among the authority's other successful initiatives were its approaces to self-evaluation and programmes of curriculum support such as the READ (raising early attainment in Dundee) project as well as an emphasis on improving performance in writing and maths.

Dundee was the first authority in Scotland to network every primary classroom and all secondary schools were linked by last December.

Mrs Wilson told The TES Scotland that the findings "mirror very closely the results of the evaluations we had undertaken ourselves. It is particularly heartening that it recognises many of the problems the authority faces but also that we are improving and heading in the right direction. We do consider ourselves to be an improving department, and the inspectors' report acknowledges that."

As is its normal practice, however, HMI highlights "main points for action". These include targeting support on lower-performing schools and subjects, improving the way problem pupils are handled, refining communication and consultation, providing better financial information to schools, particularly on property repairs, and developing more rigorous analysis and evaluation of school performance.

The department is already taking steps to address the shortcomings, Mrs Wilson said. It has been given the usual eight weeks to draw up an action plan.

Mechanisms for consultation were good but staff and parents were sometimes unhappy with the results, according to the report. However, this is seen as a considerable improvement on the position two years ago when relations with staff were causing such concern that the education committee had to set up a "morale working group".

Leading article, page 16

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