Haar lifts from Edinburgh

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
Edinburgh Council's new children and families department is this week basking in a much more positive HMIE follow-up report than the first one it received in March 2003.

Roy Jobson, the department's director, said the inspectorate had acknowledged the authority's "hard-won improvements", particularly in closing the gap between the most disadvantaged youngsters and others. Of the six points for action demanded in the original report, progress on four was rated very good and the others good.

Inspectors noted two years ago that there was "clear headroom and capacity for further improvement". This year, they found "strong evidence that the education department (since renamed) had improved the provision of education for children, young people and families".

It had significantly improved the quality of data available to schools and "strengthened the rigour with which schools' performance was monitored and challenged. It had demonstrated its capacity to take forward improvement."

The key challenge for the new department was to raise attainment in S1 and S2, and tackle underperformance in S3-S6.

Mr Jobson pointed out that these improvements had taken place at a time when the education and social work departments were being combined, sparked by the review of social work following the death of young Caleb Ness - which he described as "probably the deepest crisis in the council's history".

This major change took place alongside a drive to boost attainment, a review of school catchments, rationalisation of schools and investment in modernising school buildings.

Inspectors acknowledged these pressures and praised Mr Jobson for his "strong strategic leadership at a most difficult time for the council".

This had led to staff taking a positive approach which helped them manage the changes.

Ewan Aitken, the council's executive member for education, was also commended for "firm political leadership".

While inspectors noted that attainment over the past two years had remained "relatively even", they praised the city's record in promoting the wider achievement of young people, in particular the high priority given to enterprise education and citizenship. This was leading to "broader and more relevant learning for pupils".

Mr Jobson told The TES Scotland that the department had "stepped up a gear in providing a more systematic focus on supporting and challenging schools". A headteacher had been seconded for this purpose.

The director's priority now was to capitalise on the formation of the new children and families department to improve attainment. "We have got to look at the issues that are outwith the school," he said, "and harness resources to be more preventative and proactive."

The neighbourhood structure within the council, linking services in the interests of the child, was aimed at preventative work. "We have to take account of total needs, not dislocated services," Mr Jobson said.

"But starting with the child not the system also means a duty to those who are able youngsters, not just the most vulnerable."

Mr Jobson believes attitudes to social work are changing, because of high-profile cases such as Victoria Climbie and Caleb Ness. He said it was "fair comment" that social work had been starved of some resources in the past while education budgets surged ahead.

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