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Rural and Hardy

Ah, rural splendour...and home of the Cerne Abbas giant!

Indeed - the wonderfully rude giant carved into the hillside is probably Dorset's most celebrated landmark. There are many theories about his origins - that he is a pagan god or even a representation of Hercules. Certainly, no one can deny hisenormous part in local mythology.

Dorset is a truly lovely place. More than half the county is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty and it has some 90 miles of remote coastline. It has the market town of Dorchester and the resort of Weymouth. The county is also quite prosperous, despite relying mainly on farming and tourism. But behind the idyllic image there are rural issues of low pay and the loss of localamenities. Apart from tourism, the county council and other publicservices are the main employers.

Do they need any more employees? Teachers, for instance? Funny you should ask. Actually, there's no recruitment crisis in Dorset, but schools are finding it increasingly difficult to find staff.

"There are fewer and fewer people responding to adverts and we have increasing numbers of temporary appointments pending being able to appoint somebody permanently," says a spokesman. There have been particular shortages in maths, food technology and in early years.

Dorset has an enormous range of schools, with a combination of two-tier and three-tier systems. There are 182 maintained schools with a mix of infants, juniors, primary schools, 11-16 and 11-18 secondaries, as well as first, middle and upper schools, plus special schools and a pupil-referral unit. There are many small schools - a quarter of the primaries have fewer than 100 pupils. Dorset has secondary schools with technology, language and sports college status as well as beacon schools.

What is the education authority like?

After local government reorganisation in 1997, it was criticised for poor communication and relationships with schools. But a recent inspection found that the education authority "now fulfils most of its functions satisfactorily and services are improving". Ofsted also found a new climate for change and development and a mood of optimism in many schools.

What about the quality of life?

The county has a crime rate well below the national average, and employment rates are high. It has popular resorts such as Weymouth and Lyme Regis, and easy access to the continent with ferry services from Poole. London is easily accessible, traffic permitting, and you're not far from Bournemouth or Southampton.

But can I afford the house prices?

They're not cheap. According to the Land Registry, an average-priced house in Dorset costs around pound;146,000, while a flat or maisonette will cost nearly pound;85,000.

Any famous sons or daughters?

Dorset has had its share of literary figures, most notably Thomas Hardy, famous for his melancholic verse and his novels depicting harsh life in rural Wessex. Oh, and let's not forget the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Martin Whittaker e-mail:

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