Charter Marks for customer car have gone to some of the old hands in the education business, reports Warwick Mansell.
A community school in Cornwall and a Staffordshire day nursery for children with special needs are celebrating after winning Charter Mark awards for the third successive time.
Hayle community school and the Leek day nursery, in Leek, Staffordshire, headed a list of 29 colleges and schools to win the government-backed awards for excellence in public service.
Jayne Walford, manager of the nursery, said she was thrilled they had managed to retain the Charter Mark status it first achieved in 1993.
The inspectors' report on Leek, called it a "first-class service". The Charter Mark, which sells itself as a public sector gold standard, particularly rewards bodies that make themselves accountable to their users.
Run by Staffordshire social services, the nursery provides support and education for families defined as "in need" under the Children Act 1989.
Some of its parents have mental health problems and some of the children have suffered abuse or neglect.
As well as providing day care and a pre-school for children, the nursery offers services to parents ranging from advice on budgeting and nutrition to dealing with tantrums.
Parents, who are invited to help draw up development plans identifying their family's needs, are united in support of Ms Walford and her staff. This commitment impressed the Charter Mark inspectors.
Their report to the nursery concludes: "Your ethos of supporting families is highly respected by users and other professionals.
The quality of service was summed up by one parent who described it as a 'life-line'."
The winners, all of whom have achieved Charter Mark status at least once before, will receive their awards at a ceremony in London in February.
The Charter Mark awards scheme was launched in 1992 by former prime minister John Major to "show the world what people in public service can achieve". It was one of the leading components of Major's Citizen's Charter, designed to raise standards in the public sector.
Interest, however, soon dipped.
In 1994, 24,000 state schools were invited to apply but only 37 took up the offer, and there were only 523 applications throughout the public sector.
But last year, after reviewing the scheme, the Labour Government threw its weight behind it.
The 1998 awards contained a record 508 winners from 31,000 nominations, and 76 winners from education.
For the first time this year, the awards are being announced in two stages.
The first 29 have just been named and the second tranche y expected to contain more first-time winners y will be announced at the awards ceremony in London.
In all, there are expected to be around 550 winners this year.
Charter Marks are awarded to an organisation for three years, after which they must apply to renew their award and demonstrating "real improvements of service".
An independent judging panel chaired by Baroness Perry, President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, judges organisations according to 10 criteria.
To win a Charter Mark organisations must: set themselves high standards of service, be open and provide full information, consult and involve, encourage access and choice. treat all fairly, put things right when they go wrong, use resources effectively, innovate and improve, work with other providers and be able to demonstrate user satisfaction.
* SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES AWARDED FOR PUBLIC SERVICE
The first 29 winners are:-
Albany school, Essex;
Bethune Park primary, Humberside;
Birmingham college of food, W Mids; Blackburn college, Lancs;
Douay Martyrs school, Middlesex;
Dudley technology college, W Mids;
Fife college of FHE, Fife;
Frogmore county infants, Surrey;
George Ward school, Wiltshire;
Goffs school, Herts;
Grange Park primary, Tyne and Wear; Halesowen college,
Harlow college, Essex;
Hayle community school, Cornwall;
Henley college, Coventry;
Heywood community high, Lancs;
Ivybridge community college, Devon;
Leek day nursery, Staffs;
Northampton boys' school,
Paddock Wood primary, Kent;
St Boniface's college, Devon;
St Brigid's high school,
Sandringham county infants, Surrey;
Thomas Mills high school, Suffolk;
Tonyrefail school, Mid Glam;
Walsall college of Aamp;T, W Midlands;
Watford girls' grammar, Herts;
Weald college, Middlesex;
West Thames college, Middlesex.