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Cut the jokes, please, it's a not a good time

Looking for a job in Milton Keynes? Why?

Now that's not kind. According to Milton Keynes council, visitors to Britain's best-known new town are pleasantly surprised by its American-style tree-lined boulevards, its many parks, footpaths and cycle paths.

Conceived in the late 1960s to accommodate London's growing population, the new town that became famous for concrete cows has worked hard to shrug off this social experiment image. It has, insists the council, been much maligned by "cynical jokes and jaundiced reporting".

Not a good time to mention the education authority's poor inspection report, then.

No. But since you've broached the subject, the Office for Standards in Education's report, published this week, finds that Milton Keynes has failed to make satisfactory advances in raising standards and services to schools.

Inspectors did acknowledge that the unitary authority, which was created in 1997, had inherited many problems and that it has to cater for the highest population growth in the UK.

The council faces a reinspection in 18 months' time.

There must be plenty of jobs?

Such is the boom in Milton Keynes that on average a new school opens in the borough every year. So yes, lots of jobs. "Supply never meets demand," says the authority's recruitment strategy manager, Alcis Baxter-Shipp.

Milton Keynes has 10 secondary schools, 88 primaries and six special schools. Children do Year 7 at primary school, beginning secondary in Year 8.

Teaching vacancies are advertised on the town's website: But that OFSTED inspection! Anything to sugar the pill?

Well, the borough's schools have had a series ofgood inspection reports over the past year. And in a bid to entice more newly qualified teachers the authority is encouraging heads to offer August salaries and is working with a housing association to offer teachers starter homes in 2002.

Are houses expensive?

A three-bedroom semi-detached house with a garage will cost between pound;90,000 and pound;110,000, depending on the area.

Because Milton Keynes has quite a transient population, rents are quite high. Expect to pay between pound;550 and pound;650 a month to rent a semi-detached house.

Is there much to do when the school day is done?

Yes, if you like shopping. Milton Keynes has one of Europe's biggest undercover shopping areas.

There is also a lively arts scene, with one of the largest collections of publicly-sited works of art in the UK, and many performance venues. The multiplex cinema was pioneered there: its pyramid-shaped 10-screen cinema is a landmark.

Any interesting trivia?

Some believe the name Milton Keynes is an amalgam of the names of the economists Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes, which is not unfeasible given the area's business growth (though the name Friedman Maynard would have been my first choice). The truth is much less exciting. Its name came from the original village of Milton Keynes.

Any famous sons, daughters?

Give it a chance, the place is barely decades old!

Jazz's John Dankworth and Cleo Laine live there; so does actor Kevin Whately. "Frank Bruno is in panto here," said a council spokeswoman in a vain attempt to boost the celebrity count. How about this, then: George Chisholm, the jazz trombonist, died there.

Martin Whittaker

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