WEST LOTHIAN's education service, which does not exactly serve one of the most advantaged parts of Scotland, has received accolades from the inspectorate.
The latest HMIE report on the education authority has rated West Lothian excellent in four aspects of its work and very good in the remaining three measures of quality.
The inspectors found that, in an area with pockets of severe deprivation, "the authority had made significant improvements of attain- ment at almost all levels" between 2002 and 2006. In many cases, the report adds, progress had been greater than in similar authorities or nationally.
Improvements even occurred in the "problem" years of S1 and S2, when attainment had risen in reading, writing and maths over the five years.
There had been notable improvements in S2 writing and maths in 2004-06.
HMIE reports on West Lothian's schools showed almost all evaluations recorded as very good or good. Even leadership, pinpointed as a critical area for improvement, was rated very good in all the schools inspected since 2004. At the authority level, strong leadership and direction was a key strength.
One effect of West Lothian's work will especially commend it to the Government: the council had the second best record of improvement in Scotland in the attainment of the lowest 20 per cent of pupils in 2006.
This was achieved, the inspectors said, by requiring all schools to identify their poorest 20 per cent of learners and also the 20 per cent from the most socially deprived areas. The progress of these pupils was monitored, with additional support provided as necessary.
Overall, West Lothian was said to have a "robust" and "systematic" approach to analysing exam performance and following through with performance visits to schools. Nonetheless, an average of some 20 per cent of its pupils disappeared off the radar after leaving school - a higher percentage than in similar authorities or nationally.