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It's average for Argyll

Argyll and Bute, the last of Scotland's 32 education authorities to be visited under the first round of HMIE inspections, has received an average report. This last placing confirms that East Renfrewshire is Scotland's top-performing authority, with every aspect of its performance rated very good.

The report on Argyll and Bute, issued on Tuesday, showed only one of the 12 quality indicators scoring very good (mechanisms for communication), eight rated as good, two graded as fair and none unsatisfactory.

The authority has the distinction of being the only one to have received a public rebuke from the Education Minister - for allowing Rothesay Academy to slide into underperformance. "Measuring, monitoring and evaluating of performance", in secondary schools in particular, is one of two measures judged to be only fair, the other being resource management.

None the less, the council took some heart from the inspection, which it believes shows it offers "good and improving" education. Dick Walsh, its spokesman on education, who wins praise for his "clear and pragmatic political leadership", said the report was "a resounding endorsement of our strategic approach to education".

The report, Mr Walsh added, recognises the strength of the council's vision to be "Scotland's leading rural area".

The relatively new management team, led by Douglas Hendry, director of community services, was said to be "developing well" and "making sound progress". Mr Hendry is praised particularly for "his ability to listen, take an analytical approach and delegate effectively".

Carole Walker, the council's head of pre-school and primary education, had made a very positive contribution to improving the quality of pre-school education and developing the assessment is for learning project.

Ronnie Gould, head of secondary education, had managed his special educational needs brief very effectively and was now focusing on quality improvement in secondary schools.

The report acknowledged that steps were being taken to improve arrangements to comply with the inspectorate mantra of "support and challenge" for schools. "A more proportionate and manageable system had been developed to monitor performance and provide support based on need across the dispersed and diverse communities on the mainland and islands."

But the inspectors found that this system was not yet established for secondary schools, despite "determined efforts". However, attainment in maths and writing had improved for S2 students, particularly in reading.

Apart from weaknesses in the secondary sector, the council is urged to reduce overcapacity: only 7 per cent of primaries had occupancy levels above 80 per cent, compared with 26 per cent in comparator authorities and nationally.

Argyll and Bute may well have received a more upbeat report than might have been expected. As the report stated, "recent restructuring, while having created a period of uncertainty, had strengthened the management capacity within the council and extended opportunities for integrated working to improve services".

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