Shetland kept on the leash by HMI

28th May 2004 at 01:00
Shetland's education service is still "on probation" as far as HMI is concerned - and it points the finger for delays at councillors rather than officials.

In what is generally a glowing account of progress made by the council since the "low base" of the original HMI findings of December 2001, the follow-up report on Tuesday cautions that key weaknesses remain in systems dealing with best value.

HMI is therefore holding back on giving its final approval until next March when inspectors are due to decide whether they should visit the authority for what would be an unprecedented third time since 2001.

The follow-up inspection praises the council for having made very good or good progress on seven of the eight points for action identified in the original report. It has made "significant progress in developing its capacity to manage, support and challenge schools".

In a passage which reflects on how considerable were the shortcomings uncovered three years ago, HMI also commends the "effective steps to stabilise and strengthen the management of education".

Alex Jamieson, head of education, is praised for his "strong and clear leadership, particularly in improving approaches to quality assurance and teamwork".

Mr Jamieson, who was appointed from his previous post as head of Mid Yell Junior High in the wake of the initial report, told The TES Scotland he was "absolutely delighted" that the authority had been able to address the educational issues highlighted.

"My aim is to ensure that we have a service which is recognised throughout Scotland as one that is of high quality and is well managed," he said.

Mr Jamieson added: "We are now completely in touch with what is going on in our schools, which this service was not previously, and we are therefore able to target resources where improvements are most required."

The one area where progress has been judged only "fair" was in the council's failure to ensure it provided better value for money. A best value service review report, which included controversial plans to close and amalgamate schools, was delayed by councillors as they faced elections in May last year.

Since then "some progress" has been made on revised reviews of primary and secondary education, while other moves are only at feasibility or design stages.

A best value report, from a group of councillors and officials, is due to go before the full council on June 30.

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