'Long way to go' to put Moray back on course

10th February 2006 at 00:00
Moray Council's education department is not out of the woods yet, according to one of the most negative judgments yet delivered on a local authority.

The council overall comes in for severe criticism in a report by Audit Scotland for being "inward-looking" and "has a long way to go to be in a position to deliver best value to the people of Moray".

The report, issued on Wednesday, says it is doubtful whether rapid changes demanded by the council's new leadership will be possible without drafting in councillors and senior officials from elsewhere.

The experience of Moray is known to have been one of the factors that prompted Peter Peacock, Education Minister, to ponder on the ability of small councils to be effective, an issue that hit the headlines again this week as the First Minister is said to be similarly exercised.

The Audit Scotland report shows these concerns are more widely shared and it suggests that "such a relatively small council will struggle to cope with such a challenging agenda".

The education department is commended for the steps it has taken since the poor HMIE report it received two years ago, which found that no aspects of its performance were very good, only two were good, eight were fair and one was unsatisfactory.

Mr Peacock took the unusual step of calling in officials from the authority to demand action. External consultants were deployed but Audit Scotland says the education service "still needs to do more to develop a culture of continuous improvement".

The report adds that "it is difficult to form a clear view of the education service's performance (since) there are still few performance measures and targets".

Audit Scotland notes the "much more positive" follow-up report by HMIE last year, and that "determined efforts had been made to raise attainment and change the culture of the service". Attainment levels in primary had improved but "remain a challenge" in secondary schools.

The report says that the council still needs to cut overcapacity. It backed off from closing 21 schools last year, after its proposals provoked what Audit Scotland described as "considerable concerns from the community".

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