After a period of turmoil, Aberdeenshire's new director of education has moved swiftly to give the authority a sense of purpose, according to HMIE.
The inspectors' evaluation of the council's work in education said Bruce Robertson, who has been in post for little over a year, had made a "significant improvement" to the service, which the report described as "good and improving". Mr Robertson provided "strong dynamic leadership" which had inspired high levels of confidence and motivation" among staff.
Praise is also given to councillors and senior officials for their leadership before Mr Robertson arrived, at a time when senior staff were on extended absence leave and the previous director had departed.
The council was said not to have had a good structure to support and challenge schools, and it lacked an education director after the departure in October 2006 of the controversial Sohail Faruqi, who had only been in post since May 2005.
Mr Robertson has now established a directorate management team which the inspectors suggest has "a clear potential for improvement". Quality improvement officers have been appointed to focus on standards, although the report notes that pupils in most secondary schools turn in "consistently high levels of performance" in exams.
One of Mr Robertson's early, symbolic decisions was to rename his department "education, learning and leisure". He welcomed the "thorough inspection", although he acknowledged that while it outlined a rapidly improving position in most respects, it had also identified key challenges, such as making self-evaluation and a "continuous improvement culture" a more central part of the system. A focus on more consistently high standards in more schools was also required. And the council must pay attention to the state of its school buildings.
Aberdeenshire has been campaigning for some time for more government funds to improve its school estate. The inspectors found a high proportion of its schools in need of "extensive upgrading".
The "improved and improving" verdict on the council is reflected in the evaluation of the 10 quality indicators, which are judged to be "good" in nine of them; the only exception is in "vision, values and aims" which is rated "very good".