By RYAN TAYLOR
GOVERNMENT inspectors have given their backing to Shetland Islands Council’s education and psychology services in two positive reports.
The HMIE published its findings this week following a series of inspections running from last December until February this year.
Inspectors used 10 indicators to judge the education service, finding it to be very good in five areas of evaluation, good in another four areas and merely adequate in only one.
They commended the high attainment in SQA examinations at access and standard grade level, and highlighted the fact that senior students also performed well in intermediate and higher classes.
Pupils in secondary schools, said the report, achieved “consistently strong” results.
Leadership at the authority was “strong and effective”, with the head of schools Helen Budge “held in high regard by senior staff, elected members and head teachers”.
The inspectors felt she provided “a clear sense of direction” for the service, and the department was well placed for further improvements.
For the very young, the standard of pre-school education was reported as being of a “consistently high standard”, which gave children “innovative and creative approaches to learning”.
Inspections on primary schools across a two year timeframe had found “a wide range of strengths”, with “consistently good” levels of reading and maths among pupils.
Attendance at both primary and secondary schools was more than satisfactory, with rates of absence among the lowest in the country.
Inspectors also found “significantly fewer” pupils were excluded in Shetland than in schools elsewhere.
The educational psychology service also impressed inspectors in a separate report, when they assessed it against 19 performance indicators.
Deemed to be very strong in eight performance indicators, the service was reported as good in another eight areas, and adequate in another two.
It was judged to be poor against only one performance indicator.
Inspectors praised the strong levels of partnership and the commitment of staff to children and young people.
Not everything was held in high regard by the inspectors, however.
Despite strong overall levels of education, it is hoped pupils will soon achieve better attainment in reading, writing and mathematics by the time they reach the end of S2.
And inspectors found there needed to be a higher level of co-operation amongst staff.
The reports follow an initial damning inspection by the HMIE in 2001, which found SIC education to be lacking in a number of areas.
An action plan was drawn up, and an interim visit was carried out by inspectors in January 2003, before a letter identifying progress made was published.
After a further visit a year later, inspectors said positive progress had been made by the education department.
Now, education chiefs will be focusing on the future, and hoping the ghosts of the past can finally be put to rest.
Executive director of education and social care, Hazel Sutherland, welcomed the inspectors’ findings.
“We’re really pleased with the report. The team has worked hard on the actions we got in 2001,” she said.
“The council had a lot of areas that required action and since that time the team has worked hard to get back on track, and that is reflected in this positive report.”
She said psychology inspections only started in 2006, and added Shetland was the first island authority to go through the inspection process.
“We’re very pleased with both of the reports. We are comfortable with what they are saying about us. We acknowledge we have to do work in some areas, but it is helpful to have the outside world come in and take a fresh look at what we do.”
Welcoming the reports was chair of the services committee and Lerwick South member Gussie Angus, who said staff had worked hard to gain the recognition from inspectors.
“These reports… clearly demonstrate the successful outcomes of the hard work and commitment of all staff involved over the years since the first inspection of the education service in 2001 identified a number of areas in which improvement was required,” he said.
“The high quality of the education provision in Shetland is clear, and our challenge is now to take this forward.”