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Grin, everyone's vanishing

Cheshire's known for its beautiful countryside, isn't it?

In its promotional material, Cheshire County Council waxes lyrical:

"In a patchwork landscape, which is largely unspoilt by the ravages of modern agriculture, you will find neat little villages with their half-timbered buildings and thatched cottages. Here is a rich mosaic of fertile farmland, woodland, rivers and canals."

Then there are the industrial bits, such as Ellesmere Port.

The county's education provision, too, is something of a success story. Pupils at key stages 1, 2 and 3, at GCSE and A-level perform better than the national average and the county's proportion of young people in full-time education is a higher than average nationally.

Teachers should be grinning like a Cheshire cat.

You'd think so. However, like Lewis Carroll's elusive cat, the county's teachers are vanishing - and not even leaving their grins behind. A local authority survey last year found four out of 10 of its teachers want to quit in the next five years, and many are in their mid-30s.

Pressure from parents was cited as a concern equal to excessive paperwork for causing stress.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Yes, though the LEA is working hard to tackle this, surveying those who leave the profession early to find out why and trying to encourage qualified teachers back in. "One major concern is teacher morale," says an LEA spokesman. "It's difficult to know how to tackle that on a local basis."

As elsewhere, recruitment is a problem. Heads are reporting a low number of applications for posts, says the spokesman. "And they are expressing clear concerns about the quality of the applications they are receiving."

The county has 15 special schools, 292 primaries and 45 secondaries. It is promoting its graduate teacher programme and has set up a website advertising jobs - www.cheshire.gov.ukeducteacvacs - which earlier this week has 16 jobs posted.

Much to do when the marking is done?

Cheshire is quite a varied place, ranging from the aforementioned neat villages to industrial towns such as Runcorn and Widnes. The county's jewel in the crown is the walled city of Chester, with its timbered buildings.

It is handy for Manchester and Liverpool.

Cheshire is also good for the green-fingered, with lots of big country gardens. More than one in eight garden visits in the UK are made here.

Are houses affordable?

That depends on which part of Cheshire you fancy, or need to be near. Alderley Edge, south of Manchester, has become something of a millionaires' row. In Runcorn a three-bedroom semi-detached house sells for around pound;65,000. In Chester expect to pay around pound;110,000 to pound;120,000.

Any famous sons or daughters?

John Prescott, Neil Hamilton and comedian Russ Abbot.

Martin Whittaker

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