POLITICAL turmoil in West Dunbartonshire has not stopped the inspectorate from issuing a highly commendable report on the authority's education department, which it says retains the overwhelming support of headteachers and school boards.
With three very goods and seven goods, the authority has emerged with a rating that places it in the upper echelons of the unofficial league table of performance. It is the 21st report on council education departments.
Only one category - resource management - is described as fair after inspectors slated the indecision of the previous administration over empty classroom places and its dismissal of the public private partnership (PPP) initiative.
The authority was riven by division in Labour ranks. Danny McCafferty, former education convener of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and chief negotiator in the post-McCrone deal, left Labour with three others and the defectors overturned the party's control after re-emerging as Independents. Since May, the council has returned to mainstream Labour ranks.
Mr McCafferty publicly stated his opposition to the Scottish Executive's PPP initiative.
The inspectors retaliate by condemning councillors for their refusal to tackle under-occupancy, particularly among primaries where 37 per cent are below 60 per cent full.
The proportion of surplus places is 4 per cent higher than the Scottish average and 7 per cent above similar authorities. In the secondary sector, one school is below 40 per cent full and none is above 80 per cent.
Councillors were aware of the issues but failed to tackle them, the inspectors say in demanding "action as a matter of urgency" to address overcapacity and improve the state of school buildings.
Andy White, who has regained his position as council leader and who previously fell out with Mr McCafferty, gave an assurance that the authority would continue to improve its education services.
HMI's report praises Ian McMurdo, the education director, for his "drive and commitment" in the second most economically disadvantaged Scottish authority.
Mr McMurdo and his senior management team had been "very successful" in winning the confidence and trust of schools and communicating their vision.
The department is praised for its work in the early years and in raising attainment in primaries. "Overall, the rate of improvement in reading, writing and mathematics was faster than comparator authorities and the national average," HMI comments.
In secondary, the story is less positive with inspectors calling for work with heads to lift attainment at key stages, despite signs of improvement between S4 and S6.