It's the good life if you can afford it, Jerry

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Job-search: Where house prices are sky-high and teachers' pay-weighting low

Martin Whittaker goes looking for a jobin Surrey Hold on - are we talking here about jobs in teaching?

Now don't go getting a chip on your shoulder just because Surrey has high house prices. Granted, you may not get your foot on the first rung of the property ladder unless you marry a merchant banker or premier league footballer, but the county still has much to offer. The post-war years saw Surrey develop from an agricultural shire into the original stockbroker belt as rail links to London made it a haven for commuters.

But it's not all Reggie Perrin, from Coleridge Close in fictional Climthorpe, who delighted BBC viewers with his daily excuses for being late: "I somebody stole the lines at Surbiton"; "I escaped puma, Chessington North." Or Margo and Jerry Leadbeatter, the permanently affronted neighbours in The Good Life. The county is still mainly rural and has lovely countryside dotted with leafy towns and villages.

But are its schools short of teachers?

The county maintains 415 schools, including 323 primaries, four nursery schools, 53 secondaries, 24 special schools and 11 pupil referral units.

Surrey also has around 95 independent schools. According to Surrey education authority, the level of vacancies has dropped in the last year.

But some secondary school subjects are still difficult to fill, particularly maths, science, English and ICT. Keeping teachers is a huge problem, says the LEA. Its research shows that of those who left teaching jobs at the end of last year, only 19 per cent moved to other Surrey schools.

Affordable housing remains a critical issue. House prices are higher than in many London boroughs, but Surrey teachers only get pound;870 extra in salary weighting. "Research shows the real problem is with teachers three to five years into their career," says John White, the authority's head of management consultancy.

"These were people saying: 'It's very nice working in Surrey, but we can't afford to live here any more. We want to get on the housing ladder'."

Is Surrey a good education authority?

Its last inspection report from Ofsted and the Audit Commission said Surrey has many strengths and no weaknesses, and standards in its schools are high. Its inspection declared it a creative and innovative LEA. This creativity has helped bring about a radical privatisation deal. On April 1, the LEA launched a new public private partnership to take over education support and advisory services. The result is Four S, a joint venture company with education services provider VT Education, part of the VT Group, whose other concerns are defence and shipbuilding.

This will allow the authority to sail full steam ahead into offering services to schools and education authorities throughout the UK, which it says will provide extra income for investment in Surrey schools.

Phew! That makes up for not being able to afford to live there. But is there much to do when the marking is done?

Surrey has large areas of accessible green open space. The county council owns and offers public access to thousands of acres of countryside. The county's other great asset is transport and proximity to the capital. There are fast rail links to Waterloo, and thence to Brussels or Paris on Eurostar. Heathrow and Gatwick are also nearby.

And dare we broach the subject of house prices?

Go on then. The latest figures show the average cost of a semi-detached is more than pound;241,000, while a detached house would set you back nearly pound;440,000. Terraced houses average around pound;204,000, while a flat or maisonette would cost more than pound;170,000.

Surrey County Council has supported 157 first-time buyer teachers over the last three years under the Government's starter home initiative.

Any famous sons or daughters?

Rugby ace Jonny Wilkinson, composer Vaughan Williams, author PG Wodehouse, film director Sir David Lean. Lewis Carroll died in Guildford.

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