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Breathtaking hilltops with a dash of Worcester

Ah, the Malvern Hills!

Yes, the inspiration for much of local composer Edward Elgar's music. The majestic Malverns have also attracted writers, including Byron and George Bernard Shaw. Shaw called them "quite the best bit in England".

The Malvern Hills loom out of the landscape between Hereford and Worcester, giving breathtaking views. They're also famous for their spring water. Other parts like Worcester and Bewdley are becoming famous for their flood water - the River Severn has burst its banks repeatedly in recent months. So if you're planning on living in Worcestershire, take note of Elgar and head for the higher bits.

Has the local education authority been sinking or swimming?

Swimming, mostly against the tide. Worcestershire became a new shire authority in 1998 - previously the authority was Hereford and Worcester County Council, though traditionally they were two counties.

Worcestershire is currently the lowest-funded county council in the country. "We are proud to be poor," says the director of educational services, Julien Kramer, stoically. "We had a good inheritance in terms of schools, but a very poor financial inheritance. That hasn't changed this year."

Despite this, Worcestershire came out reasonably well in its Office for Standards in Education inspection in autumn 1999.

What about the county's schools?

In spite of Worcestershire's relatively affluent populaion, the LEA's schools perform averagely against national figures, according to Ofsted.

The county has a curious combination of two and three-tier systems, with 189 primary and first schools, 39 middle schools, of which 31 are deemed secondary, 30 secondary schools, 13 special schools and nine pupil-referral units. Almost a third of its primary schools have less than 100 pupils.

There are teacher shortages in maths, science, modern languages and English. There are also occasional shortages of supply teachers. The LEA posts all teacher vacancies on its website: www.worcestershire.gov.ukwcc And when the marking is done?

As well as its lovely countryside, the county is rich in history, music and the arts. Worcester is a fine old city with a great cathedral, and the spa town of Malvern holds big drama and music festivals. There's also the Three Counties agricultural show in June.

Is Worcestershire expensive to live in?

Not particularly. A three-bedroom semi in Worcester can cost between pound;75,000 and pound;110,000 depending on the area. In outlying villages houses become more pricey. You can rent a one-bedroom luxury flat in Worcester for pound;375 a month.

Any interesting trivia?

It's the home of Worcestershire sauce. And the county has the world's oldest continually published newspaper, the Berrows Worcester Journal, which once published Lord Byron's poetry.

Martin Whittaker

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