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Good all-rounder turns in a 'solid' performance

HMI's report on Dumfries and Galloway, published yesterday (Thursday), gave the authority a "good" verdict overall.

All bar one of 11 quality indicators were judged to be good; the authority's mechanisms for consultation received the top rating of very good. Nothing was found to be fair or unsatisfactory. Fraser Sanderson, the council's director of education, said it was a satisfactory verdict - "a solid piece of work".

Mr Sanderson earns a handsome tribute as a "highly respected" director who, with his senior staff, led his department well. He provided "considered, strong leadership, backed by a very sound understanding of issues" and an "encyclopaedic knowledge" of the local education scene.

The director's "very broad remit" was noted. Apart from schools, he was responsible for children and adult services, community learning and development, leisure and sport, libraries and museums - "and a number of other community services".

Most headteachers - 81 per cent - felt the council's policies met their needs.

The record of schools was considered patchy, however. Attainment in reading, writing and maths had improved in primary and in early secondary.

But 5-14 performance was below the national average in reading and writing and, while the record in SQA examinations was above the national average, "there was scope for strengthening further some aspects of performance".

But the authority does win praise for boosting pupils' broader achievements through "very good" arrangements in the arts, sport, enterprise and citizenship, which were beginning to have a positive impact. The council had not yet done enough to "support and challenge" schools, however.

Generally, the education department knew its patch well and what needed to be done to bring about improvements. "This had led to several well-judged initiatives and plans for development," HMI concluded.

There was praise, too, for "laudable aspirations" towards the inclusion of special needs pupils and promoting teamwork with other services. But "there were still varying perceptions of how effectively the overall vision of better integrated services had been accepted", particularly in the relationship between social work and schools.

Inspectors now expect the council to take action on five fronts - including the fraught and lengthy struggle to reorganise its schools. A priority is "improving accommodation in those schools most urgently requiring attention". Stranraer Academy and Lockerbie primary were singled out.

A council subcommittee approved a public private partnership (PPP) programme last April to refurbish all 16 secondaries and 41 primaries, and build five new primaries. But no final decision had been taken and there was now a perception of "undue delay", the report states.

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