Schools can be both high-achieving and inclusive. That is one of the main messages Stirling Council takes from HMI's report on the authority, published on Tuesday.
The report puts Stirling top of the authorities' performance table, jointly with South Lanarkshire, in being graded with 10 quality factors which were very good and one good. The indicator rated good is continuous improvement - so far only Inverclyde has succeeded in being awarded the top score.
The judgment on Stirling is significant in that it is the first on an authority that has developed an integrated approach to children's services from its inception, bringing together education, early years, child protection, fostering and adoption, led by the one department and committee.
This will come as some comfort to the Scottish Executive which has a flagship commitment to this approach. Gordon Jeyes, Stirling's director of children's services, whose leadership and that of his senior staff is praised for being "strong and dynamic", commented: "This is a tremendous advert for an integrated service and we look forward to stepping up the pace of integration."
The council is particularly pleased that it has won these accolades while presiding over schools where exam results were above the national average, pupil absences were consistently below and pupil exclusions were among the lowest.
Inspectors singled out Margaret Doran, head of schools, for her key role in establishing "a rigorous approach to quality assurance in schools".
Their report states: "The director and his senior managers had established a well-deserved reputation, nationally and internationally, for their innovative approaches. Their management style was characterised by one of high challenge, targeted support, urgency and drive."
The central staff in general had "an unstinting commitment" to continuous improvement.
Praise is heaped on Keith Yates, Stirling's chief executive, for "energetic corporate leadership" and his strong commitment to education, and on councillors for making education a priority. But not all council staff were impressed. "On a few occasions, the leadership style was perceived as being too driven and less willing to consider alternative views," the report states. "This should be addressed by the team."
But headteachers, key figures in HMI's evidence-gathering process, did not let the authority down and delivered one of the most favourable front-line verdicts yet on an education directorate.
All heads said that they were aware of the main aims and values of the authority, 97 per cent reported that the policies were appropriate, 93 per cent said they were properly consulted, 95 per cent found there was effective sharing of good practice, 97 per cent were confident the authority had a good knowledge of their school's performance and 91 per cent believed it was helping them improve the quality of education.
Stirling was therefore "adding significant value to the work of its schools", inspectors concluded. More broadly, increasingly joined-up working was improving the lives of children and their families.
The few points for action identified by HMI were to do with improving young people's health and implementing the outcome of the council's own reviews.