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Five into one: it's enough to have you turning circles

Swindon, the Wiltshire town noted for its railway heritage?

Yes - and, of course, it's the home of the Magic Roundabout.

You mean as in Zebedee, Dougal and Florence?

No, as in motorists going around and around. And around.

The Magic Roundabout, as it is known locally, is slap bang in the centre of Swindon. It was opened in 1972 and was a revolutionary concept in traffic management hitherto unrivalled for its maddening ingenuity.

The roundabout lurks at a junction of five roads in Swindon town centre, a series of mini-roundabouts inside one big roundabout. The "magic" must surely refer to the rush of exhilaration drivers experience when they finally get off it.

After a challenge like that, getting a job in Swindon should be a doddle.

The local education authority has been running around in circles trying to fill posts. The secondary school recruitment situation is particularly bad in Swindon, with vacancies in maths, science, modern foreign languages, art and English. Two schools went on a four-day week in January.

"If we get three or four people applying for a job, we are lucky," said a spokeswoman. "It very much depends on the school."

In primary schools there is less of a crisis but, as in many other areas, Swindon is short of headteachers.

The borough has 67 primary schools, 13 with nursery units, 10 secondaries, two with sixth forms, six special schoos and one pupil-referral unit.

What's the LEA like?

Swindon Borough Council is a unitary authority which until 1997 was part of Wiltshire. It is bracing itself for an inspection by the Office for Standards in Education next month.

Swindon is a boom town, unemployment levels are the lowest in Europe and there is high capital investment in schools in a bid to accommodate the growing population. The town is also piloting a community Internet project, linking homes to schools.

Is there much to do when the marking's done?

It's not the most attractive of town centres but has become something of a Mecca for shoppers since the opening of the Great Western Designer Outlet Village in what used to be a railway works.

One of Swindon's biggest assets is the stunning countryside surrounding it: the Cotswolds and the Marlborough downs.

Is housing affordable?

No. Newly qualified teachers would struggle to buy a starter home, though the local authority is considering a scheme to support key workers' housing needs.

The average three-bedroom semi-detached house is around pound;115,000. To rent the same would cost about pound;650 a month, while a one-bedroom flat is pound;400 a month.

Any famous sonsdaughters?

Actress Diana Dors, model and television presenter Melinda Messenger, newly-wed pop star Billie Piper, new wave band XTC, comedian Mark Lamarr.

Martin Whittaker

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