Hail the quiet rennaissance

30th January 2004 at 00:00
SHEFFIELD Stripped of its shabby past, Britain's fourth largest city shows promise

Martin Whittaker goes looking for a job in Sheffield

The home of stainless steel and snooker?

The very same. Some writers have not been too kind to Sheffield. As early as 1724, Daniel Defoe wrote of "the houses dark and black, occasioned by the continued smoke of the forges". In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell called it "the ugliest town in the Old World". The 1997 film The Full Monty depicted the post-steel industry council estates, where it seemed that the only way to escape the dole queue and restore your dignity was to become a male stripper.

Despite economic upturn and a range of urban renewal initiatives, Sheffield still has some of the poorest housing estates in the country. But England's fourth largest city has worked hard to shake off the down-at-heel image and today it portrays itself as a vibrant, cosmopolitan university town.

"Sheffield has a new heart," says the leaflet it sends out to teachers.

"And it is beating strongly in education."

Stirring words! But does it have good schools? Sheffield education authority maintains five nursery schools, 147 primaries, 27 secondaries and 14 special schools. Eleven of them have been awarded beacon status, 12 secondaries have won specialist status and it has two fresh start schools.

There are five education action zones involving 61 schools. The city's GCSE results are below the national average but broadly in line with similar authorities and are improving: 43 per cent of pupils gained top-grade GCSE passes in 2003, up 2 percentage points from 2002 when the England average was 52 per cent.

What is the local education authority like?Following a history of financial difficulties and poor budget management, Sheffield LEA is improving. In March 2002, Ofsted and the Audit Commission called it a well-run LEA, where strengths significantly outweigh weaknesses. The authority offers all teachers and heads coming to work there what it calls "the Sheffield guarantee" - a strategy for entitlement to continuous professional development, backed by the General Teaching Council England and Department for Education and Skills. The authority also runs its own supply teacher agency, set up at the height of the recruitment crisis. Sheffield city council advertises teaching vacancies on its website, www.sheffield.gov.uk.Is there much to do when the marking is done? There has been massive investment in Sheffield in recent years, bringing new life to the city centre. The city's two universities have more than 40,000 students and it offers them a range of bars, pubs and clubs, as well as galleries and museums. There are three theatres, the Studio, Lyceum, and the famous Crucible, which hosts the world snooker championship. Sheffield boasts some of the best sports facilities in the UK. And, for those who enjoy the great outdoors, it has 150 woodlands and public parks. One-third of the city lies within the boundary of the Peak National Park.

"I think Sheffield is certainly seen as a city on the up," says Genny Bradley, the city's head of education human resources. "The Full Monty was a good film, but it made people think of the old Sheffield. And I think it's fair to say that that's no longer true."But can I afford to live there? House prices are much cheaper than in London and the South East, making Sheffield an attractive proposition, particularly for younger teachers. The average semi-detached house costs around pound;105,000 while a detached property will set you back pound;193,000. The average flat or maisonette goes for just over pound;94,000.Any famous sons or daughters? Sheffield has produced its fair share of bands and musicians including Pulp, Def Leppard, the Human League and Joe Cocker.Any other interesting trivia? The first football rule book was produced in Sheffield in 1857.

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