Clean sweep by new brooms
A damning verdict in February 2001 led to a clear-out in the Liberal Democrat-run authority that was then home to Labour's Sam Galbraith, the former education minister. Mr Galbraith ensured his native authority was one of the first to be inspected under the new regime of council investigations.
This time round, Ian Gamble, chief inspector, concludes that the authority has "undertaken significant change and made good progress in supporting improvement in its schools". Inspectors say the council has made very good or good progress in all the key aspects where it previously failed.
"This improvement had been slow to start but had, after some restructuring and recruitment of new staff, begun to gather pace. The education service was now in a much better position to deliver its objectives. There was good evidence that the authority was improving in its capacity to manage change and to ensure continuous improvements in schools," HMI states.
John Morrison, council leader, said: "When the initial report was published we did not panic or hide from the difficulties we have to address. Instead, we put in place a robust process, involving the whole school community, which gave everyone a chance to play their part in improving the education service."
Mr Morrison pledged: "Where we are getting it right we will share and build on those experiences and where more work is needed we will act quickly."
Eric Gotts, education convener, said that inspectors had recognised the improvements to communication and consultation. HMI notes better relationships with headteachers and "staff in school now had significantly raised awareness about the direction and values for education in the council".
Sue Bruce, the strategic director, is praised for promoting more effective direction and John Simmonds, head of education, for his "strong leadership". Quality assurance - a significant management feature - was vastly improved, although inspectors say that officials have yet to be absolutely clear what they will do when they confront school underachievement.
A new education and quality development team, under an education officer backed by three seniors officers and 11 staff, had been appointed to support and challenge schools.
"Staff in schools and parents now had much greater opportunities to influence the direction of the education service and to comment on the effectiveness of the service as a whole," HMI comments.
Ms Bruce is delighted that inspectors have recognised the effort and teamwork of the past two years. "We still have a lot of work to do but we have an agreed agenda and we are working towards it. We're now at the races," she said.