The rapid rise in the number of apprenticeships across the Islands is one of the success stories of Community Learning and Development within Comhairle nan Eilean Siar on Lewis and Harris, says HM Inspector Alona Murray in a report issued yesterday (Monday July 23rd).

Community Learning and Development (CLD) partners within Comhairle nan Eilean Siar across Lewis and Harris were inspected by Education Scotland during May and June this year.

Education Scotland staff talked to children, young people, adults and community organisations. They worked closely with local CLD managers, CLD providers, partners, paid staff and volunteers.

They looked at how “paid staff and volunteers are developing their own practices and building capacity. We looked at how partners are contributing to current and evolving national policy objectives such as closing the poverty-related attainment gap; prevention; reducing social isolation; tackling health inequalities; and empowering communities.”

The reports states that: “Community planning partners have developed a shared strategic vision for the islands. Senior leaders understand and value the role of CLD in meeting key priorities in this vision such as reducing depopulation and addressing barriers faced by remote communities.

“This is beginning to influence resource allocation, including the recent move to locate CLD Service practitioners within communities and the development of e-Sgoil.

“CLD practitioners and third sector organisations play a strong role in community planning partnership groups. The Young People’s Participation Group, led by CLD, is beginning to ensure greater coordination of operational work and reporting progress against outcomes in the Integrated Children’s Services Plan.

“There is a positive ethos towards partnership working which now needs built on to ensure all aspects of CLD are well coordinated. Joint work to deliver employability and skills for work focused programmes is resulting in a range of successes. This includes a rapid rise in the number of apprenticeships available across the islands.

“Partners need now to strengthen the governance of CLD. Identifying shared CLD priorities and a structure to report progress in all aspects of CLD to the Council and the Outer Hebrides Partnership will support this.

“Elected members play a key role in strengthening community voice within strategic planning. They are highly visible in communities and participate in a wide range of local community groups giving them a sound understanding of the needs of their communities. Senior leaders have a clear commitment to improving youth voice and community influence.

“The Youth Council successfully influence decision-making. Their creative engagement with other young people across the island is deepening partners’ focus on issues such as mental health and young people’s rights. Community organisations in Harris have been instrumental in the development of the strategic Harris Plan 2016-2020.

“CLD practitioners and leaders are increasingly using self-evaluation tools to identify the impact of their work on stakeholders and identify areas for improvements within their services and organisations. There is now a need for CLD partners to come together to improve their use of shared self-evaluation to inform joint planning.

“The majority of staff and volunteers access training from mandatory courses to, in a few cases, degree level courses which enhance their practice. Staff are supported to be innovative and to take managed risks within their work. Council CLD sessional staff are supported to try new approaches by managers and more recently through co-working with skilled apprentices. “

The report says that a wide range of organisations contribute to volunteer development across Lewis and Harris. “Whilst partners regularly open up their training to each other the overall offer is not always as clear and transparent as it could be. Staff and volunteers would benefit from partners now working together to better coordinate and develop the training offer.

“Strategic community planning partners use data well to identify key priorities and inform the allocation of resources. They are, for example, developing programmes such as apprenticeships in the care sector to address the projected increase in the percentage of older adults.

“There are a few examples of CLD partners using measurable targets to inform improvements and identify progress. The Volunteer Centre Western Isles annual work plans monitor progress effectively using clear targets. The Outer Hebrides Managing Employment, Enterprise and Training and Hebridean Independent Living and Learning Services programmes set targets annually and evaluate success via key performance indicators.

”Partners now need to increase the systematic setting and use of robust and measurable shared targets. This will increase partners’ capacity to identify and report progress to stakeholders. There are upwards trends in aspects of provision. Positive destination figures for the Outer Hebrides are consistently above their virtual comparator and show an upward trend from 95.4% in 2011-12 to 97.6% in 2015-16. Increasing numbers of children are gaining Callanish awards and more young people are participating in non-accredited youth work and Gaelic youth work.

“Learners would benefit from CLD partners working together to explore how they can take action to address negative trends identified through performance data. For example, the low completion rates for Duke of Edinburgh’s awards and the drop in young people gaining Saltire awards. Partners should now jointly identify and analyse key shared performance measures to capture the overall impact of CLD across the islands. This will enable them to better articulate the contribution CLD work makes to strategic and local priorities and identify any unmet needs.
“A strength in the islands is the use of intelligence from the wide range of community and learner consultations to inform planning at strategic and local level and within organisations. Results from the Place Standards and Community Signature consultations undertaken in the last year are influencing community planning actions. Partners should now ensure there is greater coordination around community engagement and consultation and ensure feedback to stakeholders is prompt to avoid alienating residents through over consultation.

“Skilled and enthusiastic volunteers across Lewis and Harris provide key services which help to address community issues. There is a strong culture and high rate of volunteering. A recent survey by Volunteer Centre Western Isles indicates that 75% of those aged 16-25 years old volunteer at some point in the year. Highly effective and ambitious third sector organisations play a significant role in improving communities.

“A key feature of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are the volunteer led land trusts which deliver a wide range of services from large scale infrastructure improvements to social events. Galson Estate Trust (Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn) has become a local community anchor in Lewis. Their investments in renewable energy and housing provide revenue which is reinvested in the local community. North Harris Trust provide a broad range of local services including social housing, business units and a recycling centre alongside tourism boosting activities such as guided wildlife tours. This has a positive impact on the economy of the area.”

The report adds that effective use is made of stakeholder feedback to inform programmes. For example, a review of employability support for adults with complex additional support needs resulted in a change in focus from a community café to a lifeskills programme. Involving learners and their parents/carers in the development of the new programme has been fundamental in ensuring the programme is needs-led and effective.

This inspection of CLD in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar found the following key strengths, the report says.

  • A shared understanding of community planning vision beginning to drive positive change.
  • Dynamic and capable third sector and community organisations improving outcomes.
  • Strong culture of volunteering meeting learner and community needs.
  • Well planned, targeted and inclusive programmes improving life chances.

The inspectors say they discussed with partners how they might continue to improve their work. This is what we agreed with them.

  • Improve CLD governance.
  • Develop joint targets and performance measures to better capture the full impact of CLD.

“Our Area Lead Officers along with the education authority will discuss the most appropriate support in order to build capacity for improvement and will maintain contact to monitor progress.

“We will revisit the local authority to check on progress within one year of publication of the report.”