Watchdog criticises Argyll and Bute education service
A council's education service has been strongly criticised by watchdogs.
Education Scotland said there were "significant and important areas for improvement" at Argyll and Bute Council.
It highlighted a series of weaknesses, including low morale among staff and head teachers and their "poor relationships" with elected members.
The council said "changes for the better" were already happening, but it had concerns about the report.
It insisted children were getting a "good foundation for learning" at schools in Argyll and Bute.
The report comes as the government considers the role councils across Scotland should have in education.
Argyll and Bute has 89 schools, with many serving isolated or rural communities. Of its 78 primary schools, almost half have a roll of 25 or less.
Individual schools were not singled out for criticism by the watchdog. Among a number of concerns it outlined were:
- The pace of change and improvement has been too slow
- The quality and consistency of curricular experiences provided for children and young people varied significantly
- The morale of many staff, including head teachers, was low
It also criticised the relationship between some councillors and education staff.
The report read: "Poor relationships between some centrally-based staff, head teachers and a few elected members remain an ongoing issue and present challenges to improvement.
"Relationships with a few councillors and other elected representatives are strained and, at times, unnecessarily adversarial.
"There is still significant room for improvement in relationships and in the morale of staff, overall."
It went on: "Whilst there are a few areas of strength, there remain significant areas for improvement in how well the education authority has achieved positive outcomes for its children and young people ."
However, Ann Marie Knowles, the council's executive director of community services, defended the education service.
She said: "Our children are getting a good foundation for learning when they start their education in Argyll and Bute. They are leaving us well-equipped to build happy, prosperous lives.
"Our service already boasts a number of key strengths and we are already taking action to progress improvement where needed. Change for the better is happening already.
"We will continue to work with Education Scotland as part of our drive for excellence.
"However, we have concerns about the process and outcomes of this inspection which took place in September last year.
"We will hold a special meeting of the community services committee in April to fully discuss this report and outline those concerns. Education Scotland will be invited to attend."
The Scottish government is currently reviewing arrangements for school governance around Scotland.
It is looking at what powers to give head teachers, what councils should remain responsible for and what planned new regional boards should do.
Some in local government fear they will be sidelined although the government has stressed councils will still have an important role to play.
Details of the government's plans are expected in June.