Green and pleasant land

Martin Whittaker

The Isle of Wight I I've always fancied living on a small island.

Then this could be just the place. The Isle of Wight has a gentle pace of life; it's like stepping back in time. Some islanders dread driving on the mainland: on the Isle of Wight a traffic jam is having cars in front of you. It also has a warm, sunny climate - bearing in mind this is Britain - beautiful countryside and miles of unspoilt coastline.

OK, what's the catch?

Because of the quality of life, schools aren't short of teachers. But they do find it hard to recruit heads, deputies and heads of department. This is because there are limited opportunities on the island for partners and spouses working in other professions, unless they fancy writing that novel, opening a gift shop or selling ice-creams.

The Isle of Wight is economically separated from the relatively affluent south coast of England. Pay is low and the island relies on tourism.

There are also pockets of disadvantage. Four of its wards are among the most deprived 10 per cent nationally.

What's the education authority like?

The Isle of Wight Council was the very first authority to go unitary in 1995, with the merger of two district councils and a county. It has just come out of its first inspection by the Office for Standards in Education reasonably well, with praisefor its support for schools. But Ofsted also said the separateness of the island and expensive ferry crossings bring a sense of isolation, causing complacency in some schools.

The voice of common sense. Surely the authority should address this by rejoining the Isle of Wight to the mainland?

Don't be sarky. Actually, the island's separateness has benefits too: there is a close relationship between the local authority and its schools. These are in a three-tier system, with 46 primaries taking pupils aged four to nine, 16 middle schools with pupils aged nine to 13, and five high schools for 13 to 19-year-olds.

Isle of Wight education officer John Gardner said: "It's a desirable place to live and work. Many of the problems of mainland schools, such as security and violence to staff, have not materialised here."

Can I afford to live there?

You certainly can. Houses are much cheaper than along the rest of the south coast. You can buy a three-bedroom semi-detached house for between pound;70,000 and pound;90,000. A modern detached house with sea views would be around pound;118,000. Or you can rent a three-bedroom semi in Ryde for pound;450 a month.

Any interesting trivia?

Yes. The Isle of Wight has the oldest telephone box in Britain. It also exports garlic to France. And Enid Blyton took holidays there. Hurrah!

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Martin Whittaker

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