Head exits in row over bullies

16th May 2003 at 01:00
YOU might label it serendipity or foresight. Last Friday, Bill Kirkpatrick, head of Blairgowrie High, was shunted sideways into a central management post amid continuing concerns about a break-down of discipline at the Perth and Kinross secondary.

Five days later, an inspectorate report criticised the authority for not tackling weak leadership and management in particular schools and not improving attainment across the board.

The latest HMI and Audit Scotland investigation of an education department presents a middling picture for the middle Scotland authority. It is comfortably ensconced mid-table in the unofficial league table of performance.

The inspectors have issued one very good, eight goods and two fairs to a department that in two years has gone through significant changes. George Waddell, director of education and children's services, and Len McConnell, his deputy, take the plaudits for beginning a turnaround in its fortunes.

But HMI picks out the failure of education bosses to tackle underachievement in leadership and management. Twice within two years the council should have acted, inspectors comment.

Now Mr Kirkpatrick has become the first casualty of the tougher approach.

School staff, at a meeting last Friday, attended by Mr Waddell, heard that the head was moving on after some parents claimed discipline had broken down and one senior student had gone to court to stop a gang of girls picking on her.

Mr Kirkpatrick said he had been in talks with the director for some time about moving into the central management team and his departure would help end the adverse national publicity and offer a fresh start. Dan McGinty, head of St Columba's High, Perth, was this week appointed acting rector.

Recent inspection evidence in Perth and Kinross reveals "significant variations in quality". The majority of primaries had good or very good leadership but one in three had important weaknesses.

"In the secondary schools inspected, the quality of leadership and the effectiveness of approaches to self-evaluation ranged widely between very good and unsatisfactory," inspectors note.

HMI stresses that pupils across the authority perform at higher levels than many others but that attainment is slipping against comparator councils or showing slower rates of improvement. Not enough has been done to monitor and raise attainment, particularly in maths where performance in primaries has fallen in the past three years.

"The authority had met none of its targets for 5-14 attainment in primary and secondary schools," the report states. Most targets in middle and upper secondary had also not been met.

Schools acknowledge the new direction of the department and the commitment of senior directors to the improvement agenda. Some 85 per cent of heads and 89 per cent of school board chairs "appreciated the director's determination to make immediate improvements in the quality of service being provided to pupils and parents".

Mr Waddell, along with Mr McConnell, had identified six priorities when he took over last year, visited schools and discussed ways to improve. "They had fostered an ethos of trust and openness and their approachability and accessibility were highly valued," inspectors report. HMI also commends the authority's devolved management system which hands 94 per cent of the budget to schools.

Jimmy Doig, the council's leader, congratulated the education team for the "positive and innovative work that has taken place".

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