First cut is the deepest

14th April 2006 at 01:00
Either local authorities are getting better at running education and sussing how to pass muster or Her Majesty's inspectors are losing their critical faculties.

No aspects of education departments were deemed unsatisfactory and even the number of "fair" verdicts were slashed in the final round of the first phase of council inspections that ended last year. The first round of inspections began in 2000.

For 2004-2005, inspectors say a major strength was the quality of mechanisms for consultation but some councils continued to show weaknesses in policy development, service planning, resource management and in evaluating performance.

Figures from the Scottish Executive confirm wide disparities between authorities from 2000 to 2005, as Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector, told The TES Scotland last month.

At the extremes, East Renfrewshire - one of the last to be inspected - returned a complete set of very goods in the list of quality indicators, closely followed by South Lanarkshire and Stirling.

But at the other end, Shetland and East Dunbartonshire - the first to experience the inspectors' knife - returned only fairs or unsatisfactories.

Scottish Borders and Moray were the other two councils to return unsatisfactories during the first phase reviews.

In total, 30 per cent of evaluations by inspectors were very good, 46 per cent good, 20 per cent fair and 4 per cent unsatisfactory. Inspectors are due to publish a detailed report shortly which will map the differences.

"The gap between the highest performing and lowest performing authorities is too great," Mr Donaldson said.

Key findings

* Leadership was very good in 31 per cent of authorities, good in 41 per cent, fair in 22 per cent and unsatisfactory in 6 per cent.

* Vision, values and aims were very good in 47 per cent, good in 28 per cent and 15 per cent were fair.

* Service planning was very good in 41 per cent, good in 41 per cent, but 18 per cent were either fair or unsatisfactory.

* Policy development was very good in 22 per cent, good in 56 per cent, but there were weaknesses in 14 reports.

* Consultation was very good in 12 reports, and communication very good in 14 but weak in 10.

* Financial management was very good or good in 78 per cent, fair in 19 per cent and unsatisfactory in 3 per cent.

* The work of centrally deployed staff was very good in 22 per cent, good in 50 per cent and fair in 28 per cent.

* Continuous improvement was very good in only two authorities, good in 23, fair in six and unsatisfactory in one.

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