Eric hides the join

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Luton, the town north of London famous for I its airport?

Sadly it's true. In a 1970s television advertisement, when Lorraine Chase was asked if she had been wafted in from paradise, she replied: "Nah, Luton airport." This catchphrase has haunted the place ever since. No doubt it has also haunted Ms Chase.

To overcome its image problem, the education authority sells Luton's cultural diversity, the fact that it has a university, a thriving arts scene, good sports facilities, and its proximity to London and the nearby countryside of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

They make Luton sound like paradise.

They need to - because not enough teachers are wafting in. Luton's secondary schools are short of heads, teachers of science, languages, maths and English. One school has advertised nine vacancies.

What's the education authority like?

Luton Borough Council became a unitary authority and took over responsibility for education from Bedfordshire four years ago. The Office for Standards in Education, which inspected the authority last year, said that although it had done well to establish itself with a difficult legacy, "there is considerable scope for improvement". Its support for primary schools was a balance of strengths and weaknesses, but support for secondary schools was poor.

The authority has six nursery schools, 22 infant schools, 23 juniors, 15 primaries, 12 secondaries and three special schools. Luton operates a pool system for job applications to primary and secondary schools, but you can also apply directly to schools. Some vacancies at www.luton.gov.ukservicesjobs.asp but check out too www.tesjobs.co.uk.

Some schools pay new teachers from July or August of the summer term in which they qualify, and Luton helps newcomers with housing. Staff also have access to the Luton Learning and Resource Centre.

Is there much to do out of school?

Luton has a diverse range of shops. There is a theatre and a new multi-screen cinema, and there are excellent sports facilities. There is also the countryside (see www.bhl.org.uk for some interesting ideas).

Luton is a 20-minute train journey from London and the airport offers flights to much of Europe.

Can I afford to live there?

House prices in Luton seem reasonable, certainly compared with the capital. The average price of a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Bedfordshire is nearly pound;104,000. However, a big double-fronted terraced house with three double bedrooms in the centre of Luton costs around pound;115,000. You can rent a one-bedroom flat for pound;430 a month.

Any famous sons, daughters or residents?

Singer Paul Young, boxer Billy Schwer. Comedian Eric Morecambe was a famous Luton FC supporter. Oh, and Ken Ford.

Excuse me? Who?

Ken Ford. The head of Icknield High School (Arts College), Luton, had his 15 minutes of fame when he featured in a fly-on-the-wall documentary called School Days.

e-mail: martinwhittaker@ntlworld.com

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