Far from the madding crowd

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Northumberland? That's a bit off the beaten track, isn't it?

I'll say. It is the most sparsely populated local authority in England, famous for its stunning countryside, castles and coastline - and for Hadrian's Wall, built by the Romans from the Tyne to the Solway to keep the Scots out.

Actually, it was the Picts.

No, it was definitely built by the Romans. Anyway, nowadays Northumberland's remoteness is keeping teachers out. Despite being a very desirable place to live and work, schools in the further flung corners of the county are a bit isolated and do have great difficulty recruiting staff. So there are a good many vacancies in Northumberland's small rural schools.

It sounds wonderful - apart from the isolation bit.

Yes, but one of the selling points for Northumberland is its lack of traffic. It is one of the few places in the UK where you can commute without having to set off the night before.

The county is great for the outdoor life - walking, cycling, fishing and so on - though it does have its share of deprived rural towns.

It also has the splendid city of Newcastle (a separate education authority) on its doorstep.

What is the local education authority like?

Northumberland had a reasonably good report from the Office for Standards in Education last year. It said the authority hs a sizeable core of very good schools and most schools make good use of low levels of funding.

It is one of the few authorities to operate a three-tier system. There are 15 high schools taking 13 to 18-year-olds, 45 middle schools for nine to 13-year-olds and 144 first schools, plus nine special schools.

There tend to be most vacancies in the middle schools. Newly qualified teachers gravitate to either first schools or high schools, so Northumberland is keen to attract NQTs to the 9-13 schools.

"This is a nice place to work, but people don't tend to see north of Newcastle," says Bill Humphrey, senior adviser and inspector with Northumberland LEA. "But in fact you can live in the smartest, trendiest part of Newcastle and be in many of the rural areas of the county within 45 minutes."

I bet houses are cheap in the rugged North East.

They can be, depending on where you want to live. A three-bedroom semi-detached house in the county town of Morpeth can cost pound;90,000, which is high for the North. In remoter market towns such as Blyth a similar house will cost around pound;55,000.

To rent a three-bedroom semi in Morpeth costs between pound;500 and pound;600 a month.

Any famous sons, daughters or residents?

Footballer Alan Shearer, Coronation Street actress Denise Welch, folk musician Kathryn Tickell.

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