Judge after 12 months

The conclusions of the long-awaited inspectorate report on the education service in Scottish Borders Council could have been easily anticipated (page 3). Its financial management was a mess and the council leadership in all its forms was too passive, yet staff did a good job in the circumstances brought about by the financial crisis. And the authority's schools are doing rather well despite the budgetary distractions of the past year. The council's response was equally predictable - nothing to do with us, squire: it was the previous lot that mismanaged.

Of course such inspections can easily be dismissed as a snapshot, allowing the subject of the investigation to claim that it is already out of date and events have moved on. But it is clear from the HMI report that Scottish Borders is not out of the wood yet, even although some trees have been chopped. The report notes that not all the action taken to remedy weaknesses in the running of the education service has been fully effective. Above all, trust has to be established in the local education service.

Although it is self-evident that the education authority in the Borders was weakly managed and mismanaged by both officials and councillors, perhaps the most fundamental conclusion from the HMI report is that the budgetary crisis clouded the real issue which was that the council did not put its money where its mouth was: it set levels of provision but failed to fund them properly. This is certainly a critical weakness in any council's stewardship of education.

Although the inspection regime for education authorities has its critics, the report on the Borders is judicious and balanced. Inspectors found themselves on unfamiliar territory, probing an authority which had been destabilised and trying to distinguish between froth and substance. But perhaps the real report will come after the follow-up visit in a year's time, when the present council will not be able so easily to blame its predecessor.

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