HM Inspectorate of Education
Directorate 5, Victoria Quay, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6QQ t
0131 244 0747 f
0131 244 0653 e
Mr David Hume
Scottish Borders Council
Newtown St Boswell
Our ref: QSE/4/25
16 December 2003
Dear Mr Hume
INTERIM FOLLOW-UP TO THE INSPECTION OF THE EDUCATION FUNCTIONS OF SCOTTISH
The report on the education functions of
Scottish Borders Council
was published in August 2002.
HM Inspectors made an interim visit to the Council in September 2003 to evaluate progress made in responding to the main points for action in this report.
Overall, at this interim stage, the Council had made some encouraging progress on most of the points for action. It was improving communication and establishing the confidence on which further improvements could be built. The new Director of Education and Lifelong Learning (E&LL) had made a very positive impact. He had been well supported by officers at all levels and further strengthening of the team was planned with the appointments of key senior managers, now in progress. However, the extent of work required both at Council level and within E&LL was still considerable. The Council should ensure that remaining work moves ahead quickly and decisively to make a positive impact on schools and pupils.
I attach an evaluation and brief account of the response made by the education authority to the main points for action in the report.
I am sending a copy of this to the recipients of the original inspection report.
HM Chief Inspector
Main points for action
Develop a clear vision and aims for Education and Lifelong Learning, complemented by an integrated planning framework.
The authority had made progress towards establishing key principles on which a clear vision and aims could be built. It had undertaken some successful work to develop an integrated planning framework. Further developments on both aspects are essential to secure a firm foundation for improvements in the work of the education authority.
The authority had succeeded in creating a positive climate and in improving the confidence of officers, schools and other stakeholders in the future of Education and Lifelong Learning (E&LL). Senior officers, led firmly by the new Director, had improved links with schools, engaging them through consultation and re-establishing trust. The secondment of two headteachers to posts as acting Heads of Service within an interim senior management structure had had a positive impact on the relationships between schools and central staff.
A shared principle of working together as one organisation characterised the recovery work which had been undertaken in the Department over the last year.
This principle had also been apparent at Council levels, where improvements in
E&LL’s joint working with other service departments and organisations and in engaging with elected members were marked. However, much still remained to be done by E&LL to establish a shared culture of quality improvement underpinned by robust management systems.
An integrated planning framework was emerging. Considerable progress had been made in rationalising and improving the various plans which existed at different levels. A new corporate plan was about to be ratified by the new Council. An
E&LL strategic plan also existed in draft form. The Department had taken positive steps to involve headteachers in the identification of key development themes used by schools as a framework for their planning. Staff clearly understood that there was to be an integrated framework, and cross-references had been made among the plans. The Chief Executive and the Director of E&LL were well aware that further work in sequencing and aligning the plans was required in the short-term in order that the planning process would lead to improvement at strategic and operational levels.
Establish and improve teamwork at all levels, ensuring that officers are supported by effective staff development and review processes.
The authority had made progress in establishing teamwork in a number of contexts. Further work on promoting teamwork and leading teams effectively was required. Progress on staff development and review processes had been slow.
Teamwork had improved at most levels in the education service. The efforts of the
Chief Executive and the Director of E&LL, and where relevant the contribution of
Directors and officers in other service departments, had been effective in this regard. However, the impact of the improved teamwork will not be fully realised until the revised management structure in E&LL is fully in place and more effectively co-ordinated.
Relationships between E&LL and other Council services had clearly improved at the level of strategic planning. In particular, links with the Finance Division of the
Corporate Resources Department were now closer and related more effectively to the planning and monitoring of the education budget. Staff at all levels in the education service and in other service areas recognised that there was better internal teamwork within the E&LL interim senior management team. Links between schools and centrally-based staff had also improved overall, although it was acknowledged that the operational management of the primary school sector needed to be addressed within the revised management structure. There was also evidence of improving teamwork within centrally-based administrative staff although more remained to be done to sustain this.
Quality Improvement Officers (QIOs) continued to display a high degree of individual commitment to the education service. Senior officers needed to provide effective leadership to this group at strategic level in order to allow their potential contribution to be fully realised. In particular, their role in school review and quality improvement procedures was not yet firmly established nor supported by effective staff development. Other teams and units, such as the E&LL Information and Communications Technology (ICT) unit were only partially established. It will be important for E&LL to ensure the effective operation of both the QIO and the ICT unit teams under the revised management structure in order that schools are effectively challenged and supported.
Ensure the informed involvement of elected members and senior officers of
E&LL in achieving educational improvement.
Satisfactory progress had been made on this point for action.
The education authority had taken positive action to promote enhanced understanding of E&LL issues among elected members. An informative seminar on issues relating to the Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, run by E&LL officers, had been well received by elected members. Weekly meetings between senior officers in E&LL and elected members and monthly budget monitoring meetings with elected members provided suitable opportunities for regular updates and informed discussions. E&LL staff had also made a key contribution to
seminars on a range of issues and procedures which the Council had run for prospective and elected members.
A good start had been made to providing staff development sessions for senior officers in E&LL, particularly on aspects relating to financial monitoring.
Generally, elected members had noted an improvement in the quality of reports submitted to them. It was encouraging that plans were in place to ensure that senior officers would undergo appropriate intensive staff development, notably on project management, once all posts in the new senior management structure had been filled. In addition, plans had been laid for senior officers across all Council service areas to undertake staff development relating to the key competencies required in managing at senior levels.
Develop strategies for improving communication and consultation within a strategic policy framework for the improvement of the service.
The Department had made significant progress towards improving communication and consultation.
Senior officers and elected members had increased their contacts with schools and
School Boards and were now seen by staff and parents as more accessible and responsive. A series of open staff forums and headteacher conferences now provided good opportunities for all staff to be informed and consulted on key developments. Regular meetings with headteacher groups also contributed to effective consultation and communication. The newly established Senior
Managers Group, comprising senior managers, headteacher representatives and
QIOs, provided a good forum for consultation on new initiatives and helped inform policy development. The Senior Officers Group provided similar opportunities for centrally-deployed staff. Headteachers were increasingly co-opted on to working and policy groups to help shape future policy and practice.
A range of briefing papers, position statements, committee reports and minutes of meetings were distributed to schools to keep staff informed. Use of information technology and a more consistent approach to the distribution of information would further improve communication. Considerable improvement had been made in communicating and consulting with a range of other Council services, partner agencies and groups. Liaison with partners in groups including the Borders
Learning Partnership, the Children’s Change Group, the Integrated Communities
Schools Steering Group and Borders Childcare Partnership had strengthened.
However, much remained to be done to extend communication and consultation with a wider body of parents and pupils.
Overall, with an emerging communications strategy and the recent appointment of a communications manager the service is now well placed to make further progress.
Clarify the levels of provision which can be made within available funds, including: producing a comprehensive asset management plan, including policy on the effective management of small rural schools; and drawing up and applying a strategic plan for evaluating aspects of provision within the BVR framework, including provision for special educational needs.
The Council and E&LL had made progress in strengthening resource management.
However, much remained to be done.
The Department had taken steps to plan for longer-term resource management through the three-year budgeting process which was implemented in 2003/2004. It had made some progress towards the development of an Asset Management Plan and now had a much improved knowledge of school capacities. The authority was in the process of reviewing school property needs in line with future roll projections, and with an eye to the nature of the school of the future, so that it could extend the scope of the initial Public Private Partnership (PPP) bid. A policy for the management of small rural schools was dependant on the outcomes of these reviews and was therefore not yet in place.
The E&LL strategic plan did not yet include arrangements for undertaking a programme of Best Value reviews of aspects of provision. Senior managers had given some consideration to a review of provision for pupils with additional educational needs. Reviews of early years/nursery provision and janitorial services had been completed. However, progress had been slow and reports were in draft form. The Council had recognised the need to develop a strategic approach to Best
Value reviews across all service areas. Work within E&LL would depend on progress on this broader front.
Ensure that efficient and effective procedures are put in place to: redefine accountabilities and provide training to ensure effective financial monitoring; develop internal controls to ensure that expenditure cannot be committed without budget provision having been made; agree and finalise Service Level
Agreements; integrate financial management systems across the service; and update and improve the scheme for devolved school management.
The authority had made positive progress in redefining responsibilities and accountabilities in relation to financial management. Continued efforts were required to ensure that arrangements resulted in balanced budgets and that other aspects of financial management steadily improved.
The Council and E&LL had taken some immediate action to redefine financial accountabilities and improve officers’ understanding of their role in the context of financial monitoring. Budget monitoring reports were produced for all budget holders. Elected members were more involved in budget monitoring and links between E&LL and Corporate Resources had been strengthened.
Senior managers and budget holders within the centre held regular meetings to ensure that expenditure was not being committed without budget provision.
However, not all primary schools had the ICT systems to provide necessary financial information. This had contributed to the budget monitoring process not
being as well controlled as it needed to be and an underspend had arisen in
2002/2003. Various other contributing factors to this underspend had been identified and discussed with individual budget holders.
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) was now in place with the cleaning services and steps had been taken to implement a catering SLA to meet the needs of the
‘Hungry for Success’ initiative. It was too early to identify any impact on provision in schools.
E&LL had set up financial skills training for budget holders and had started training on the recently revised Devolved School Management (DSM) manual.
Some further work on clarifying procedures needed to be undertaken.
Develop an efficient management information system and use the information gathered to inform the planning process.
The authority had made some positive progress but much still required to be done to establish an efficient and comprehensive management information system.
E&LL staff had undertaken data collation and analysis in relation to a number of identified tasks, including the compilation of a Special Needs Index, a
Management Review of Schools and a Special Needs Audit based on pupil data.
Progress had also been made in the provision of improved financial data for managers. However, these developments had as yet made only limited impact on provision in schools.
QIOs and ICT officers had worked in partnership with secondary schools to carry out a detailed analysis of attainment. Results of the analysis had been made available to all secondary schools. Training and guidance, including the use of key questions to be used with schools, had been provided for QIOs to assist them in discussing their schools’ performance. Discussions had taken place during visits to schools carried out with the relevant senior manager at the beginning of the current session. Based on the data, action plans to secure improvement were being drawn up. An analysis of 5-14 attainment data had been prepared but not yet distributed to schools. The authority should proceed quickly with its intention to do so.
The authority had taken positive steps to establish a new structure which drew together the various aspects of ICT support into an integrated ICT Unit located within the Business Management Team. The management structure and job remits within the Unit still required clarification, as did its relationship with corporate IT services. There was also a need to further procedures and responsibilities among
ICT staff and QIOs in respect of the future collation, analysis and use of attainment and other key data.
Some auditing of ICT needs had taken place and the Director of E&LL and the
Head of Planning Development had visited another authority to learn from their experience of developing a new management information system. Plans had been agreed to introduce relevant software to support ICT links between the centre and schools on a phased basis, and a capital budget had been allocated for this purpose.
The Department should proceed with its intention to prepare an ICT Strategy, to be set within the context of the corporate strategy planned for completion by
December 2003. In doing so, it should carry out a wider and more systematic audit to establish a clear view of management information needs across the service.
Taken together, the developments already undertaken and those planned for the future had the potential to bring about improvement. However, there was not yet a significant impact on planning or on schools’ performance.
Introduce a more rigorous system of school review.
The authority had made some initial progress with this point for action. However, details of proposed activities were not yet clear enough.
QIOs had worked with the Senior Managers’ Group to consider the principles involved in school review and the relationship of the review process to school self-evaluation and development planning. Further consultation with schools was planned and a timescale for the introduction of school reviews had been set.
However, fundamental decisions about the nature, timing, logistics and resource implications of the review process had not yet been taken. In particular, senior managers should consider fully the implications and impact of having a review of all schools in the same year every three years. As a matter of urgency, the authority will need to increase the pace of progress with this point for action.
Overall, at this interim stage, the Council had made some encouraging progress on most of the points for action. It was improving communication and establishing the confidence on which further improvements could be built. The new Director of
Education and Lifelong Learning (E&LL) had made a very positive impact. He had been well supported by officers at all levels and further strengthening of the team was planned with the appointments of key senior managers, now in progress.
However, the extent of work required both at Council level and within E&LL was still considerable. The Council should ensure that remaining work moves ahead quickly and decisively to make a positive impact on schools and pupils.