Councils told to do better

25th September 2009 at 01:00
Almost one in four authorities is not successfully meeting children's needs, HMIE analysis finds

A quarter of child protection services failed to meet minimum standards, according to an HMIE report.

Seven out of 30 local authorities fell short of "positive criteria" set by the Scottish Government, while only three were "very good" or better. Aberdeen, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Fife, Midlothian and Moray were rated "unsatisfactory" or "weak" in at least one of four HMIE quality indicators, during inspections carried out between May 2006 and February 2009.

The report also shows seven were weak or unsatisfactory at helping children, causing "immediate concerns". As many as 13 were similarly poor at recognising and assessing risk and needs. No authority rated "excellent" in either category.

There were only 12 ratings of "excellent", the top grade, out of a possible 540 (the authorities were rated on 18 aspects of child protection), half for "vision, values and aims".

The figures, which did not include pilot inspections in East Dunbartonshire and Highland, led Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray to call for a review of child protection across Scotland. "One in four councils not meeting the needs of children shows the depth of the problem," he said.

The figures relate to initial reports, and do not take into account improvements identified in follow-ups, a Government spokesman said: "Scotland has the most robust child protection inspection regime in the UK, allowing problems to be identified and action taken, and we have seen this in subsequent reports on Aberdeen and Midlothian."

The Government's "radical shift towards early intervention" through its early years framework was one of several measures aimed at "ending the culture of crisis management where risks are left to fester and develop".

The HMIE analysis is the first attempt to gauge progress by schools and education authorities in achieving "positive inspection reports", as required under the Scottish Government's national performance framework. More than one in nine schools was "weak" or "unsatisfactory". Of 333 inspection reports between April 2008 and March 2009, inspectors judged that 39, or 12 per cent, failed to meet positive criteria. Another 80 (24 per cent) were only "satisfactory". Some 153 were rated "good" (46 per cent), while 61 (18 per cent) were "very good" or better.

There was a healthier picture in the pre-school sector, with 27 out of 342 (8 per cent) inspections in which criteria were not met.

Senior chief inspector Graham Donaldson said inspections were not an end point, but a way of mapping out improvements.

A Government spokesman said: "As recognised by HMIE, Scottish education is steadily improving and most schools provide excellent learning environments for our young people. This report only relates to the small proportion of Scottish schools inspected this year."

Rhona Brankin, Labour education spokeswoman, warned that financial cuts and a reduction in teacher numbers could lead to more schools failing to meet standards.

Clackmannanshire nursery is "excellent" on all counts, page 14.

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