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Join the pilgrims to the historic garden of England

Ah, Kent, the garden of England.

Indeed. The county stills holds on to its Darling Buds of May image of rural bliss: think apple orchards, oast houses and winding country lanes. Kent also has big commuter belt towns with areas of deprivation. A county council spokeswoman sums it up thus: "It's a microcosm of England really."

So, they'll be short of teachers then?

How did you guess?

Some of Kent's schools have been hit by industrial action over teacher shortages. Many schools have had difficulty finding staff and getting supply cover. "We have more vacancies this year than in previous years, particularly in the three core subjects of maths, English and science," says the local authority spokesman.

The county has responded by setting up a recruitment action group and investing pound;150,000 on improving recruitment and retention of teachers. One of the recruitment initiatives is a website - - where applicants can post their CVs and be put in touch with schools directly. The site is getting around 3,000 hits a month, including one applicant who went online from an Internet cafe while on holiday abroad, applied and got a job.

Is the LEA worth moving for?

Kent is England's biggest local authority. The Office for Standards in Education paid Kent LEA a visit last year after its first inspection found weaknesses, including problems with school improvement and support for special needs. On its return, it found satisfactory progress had been made in most areas. However, the LEA was still not doing enough to help underachieving schools and support for new heads was inadequate.

The LEA ws challenged by the "excessively complex pattern of its school organisation", Ofsted said. Kent has a big range of schools: many small village schools and also some big urban, multiracial schools. More than half of Kent's schools had been grant maintained and 88 former GM schools returned to the LEA fold in 1999. The county also has 33 grammar schools.

Much to do after school?

Plenty. Off to France or Belgium, should the fancy take you. With the Channel tunnel and Dover ferry port, Kent is very handy for getting to our European neighbours. You can get to London or Lille in an hour by train from Ashford.

If retail therapy is your thing, near Dartford is Bluewater, which claims to be Europe's biggest shopping and leisure development.

For outdoor interests, there are the North Downs, an area of outstanding natural beauty stretching from the Surrey border to Dover's white cliffs, The Weald woodlands and lots of coastline to explore.

As for history, visiting all the grand houses, gardens, castles, Canterbury Cathedral and other sites of interest could fill your weekends for months.

Can I afford to live there?

Kent can be expensive, but parts are surprisingly cheap. The average price of a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Tunbridge Wells is around pound;150,000. Affluent Londoners tend to favour weekend homes in the like of Ramsgate or Broadstairs because they are so cheap. A three-bedroom semi in Ramsgate goes for pound;80,000 to pound;95,000. Or you can rent the same for pound;400-pound;500 a month.

Famous sons and daughters?

Mick Jagger, Ted Heath, General James Wolfe, Vita Sackville-West.

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