More Borders brickbats

An education department reshuffle is welcomed by inspectors critical of council's provision in wake of pound;4m deficit,reports David Henderson

It would have cost pound;100,000 had Scottish Borders hired a consultant to come up with the same recommendations as the inspectorate for improving its education department, David Parker, the council's depute leader, admitted on Tuesday in welcoming the condemnatory HMI report into the past failings of councillors and officials.

Inspectors were rushed in ahead of schedule by ministers to scrutinise the education department after it ran up a pound;4 million deficit 18 months ago, a calamity that led to the overthrow of the ruling Liberal DemocratIndependent coalition and major departmental upheaval.

The Accounts Commission has already commented extensively and adversely on the lack of proper financial control in the previous administration, and the inspectors this week heaped more criticism on the education department, placing Borders next to bottom in the unofficial league table of local authority inspections.

The inspectors, who visited between March and May, judged no aspects of provision to be very good. Two were found to be good, five fair and four unsatisfactory - including vision, leadership and management. Resource and financial management systems were deemed unsatisfactory.

Mr Parker, who was previously the principal Scottish National Party opponent of the administration before jumping ship and joining the new ruling group, described the HMI verdict as "fair and balanced". Inspectors had produced "really good stuff".

He added: "We recognise the pertinent criticisms which they make and I can assure you we intend to address those criticisms over the next year before the inspectors come back."

Mr Parker said the new administration had taken "decisive and forward-looking actions" to resolve many of the issues, a feature acknowledged by the inspectors. Standards in schools remained above average despite the shortcomings of the department, which has already been restructured.

Four senior education officials have now left and a new director, Glenn Rodger, takes over on August 19, while two headteachers - Derek Reid, of Burnfoot Community School, and Brian Keenan, of Galashiels Academy - have been brought in as interim heads of service for the primary and secondary sectors.

David Mallen continues in the directorate as head of planning and development.

A new position of education business manager goes to Lynn Mirley, who will join the team in October from the private sector.

Leader, page 12

'LET HEADS BE IN CHARGE'

Commenting on the inspectorate's report, Brian Monteith, the Conservatives'

education spokesman, said the simple lesson was that education was not safe in the hands of local authorities. Schools should be run by headteachers, "not council bureaucrats".

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