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Top council's magnificent seven

EAST RENFREWSHIRE maintained its position this week as the inspectorate's favourite education authority, with a remarkable seven out of seven "excellent" gradings.

The top gong was handed out by HMIE this week for improved performance, the council's impact on learners, the contribution learning makes to families, vision and values, leadership and direction given by the authority, development of people and partnerships, and leadership of change and improvement.

Councillors and the chief executive are praised for their strong leadership but John Wilson, director of education, is given a ringing endorsement for his "excellent relationships" with staff, pupils and parents, going so far as to chair pupil council meetings and instigating an online "director's dialogue", in which young people ask him questions.

His "optimistic outlook" that the education service could have a positive impact on youngsters also impressed the inspectors, who said this had communicated itself to staff, who also showed "a belief in their ability to make a difference".

But Mr Wilson was at pains to welcome the report as a tribute to all parts of the service. "We base our policies not just on sound educational thinking that is appropriate to East Renfrewshire, but on sound analysis of performance carried out by our unique EMIS (education management information service) unit which informs the actions we take."

EMIS is described as "outstanding" for the way it analyses and uses data to track the performance of pupils and schools. Its continued refining of practice - introduction of exams into S3 and the timetabling of the new 33-period week, for example - was particularly commended. Schools, in turn, used the performance information well.

Other areas of good practice singled out in the report included the summer school that provided free meals for those who qualified, a youth counselling service, the introduction of campus police officers in three secondaries, and the effective use of arts and active schools staff.

The inspectors underlined East Renfrewshire's strong performance across all ability ranges and, while its high-achieving pupils are frequently singled out, they noted that the number of young people not in education, employment or training after they leave school was less than half the national average and had dropped by 13 per cent in the past two years.

Despite its relatively affluent circumstances, the council won praise for its drive to reduce such poverty as does exist - a holiday activity programme, for example, targets the most deprived youngsters.

"In addition to improving the health and well-being of (those) who participated," the report states, "there was a marked reduction of 40 per cent in vandalism."

The report acknowledges that East Renfrewshire is one of the least deprived local authorities in Scotland. This is a touchy point with the council, irked that it is sometimes not given credit for its role in improving performance, which is attributed instead to their having so many "leafy suburbs".

The inspectors point out that 1,500 people in East Renfrewshire live in the 10 per cent most deprived parts of Scotland, while another 7,500 are in the 11 to 25 per cent areas of most disadvantage. The council also has one of the most ethnically diverse populations - between two and three times the national average.

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