It's north, it's not rich, but don't give it the red card

25th May 2001 at 01:00
Middlesbrough, the industrial town in the North-East with a Premier League soccer team?

The same. Perched on the banks of the River Tees, Middlesbrough has suffered from the decline of traditional industries. It is often mentioned in the same breath as words such as "urban deprivation".

True, unemployment is twice the national average and the numbers of children who have free school meals is higher than average. And its football team has been trying to avoid relegation. But hey, give the place a break!

The locals are working hard to overcome the town's gritty image. The council's website says (one imagines in a seductive voice with a hint of a North-East accent): "Welcome to Middlesbrough, we think you're in for a surprise."

But is it a pleasant surprise?

Teesiders like it. The population is fairly stable: local people tend to stay. Most Middlesbrough teachers will have grown up there; few come in from outside.

"We need to be a bit more proactive in recruiting from elsewhere," said a local education authority spokesman. "We need to promote Middlesbrough as a nice place to live and work.

"It has very affordable housing, and it's only 30 minutes from Heartbeat country."

Heartbeat country?

Where the hit television series was filmed. A bit like James Herriot country, or Last of the Summer Wine country. It's marketing speak for lovely countryside, basically.

By the way, this is also Captain James Cook country.

Oh! Are there many teaching jobs?

The number of teaching vacancies on Teeside has increased over the past year, reflecting the national picture. Secondary schools need teachers in maths, English, languages, the sciences and technology. Primary schools tend to be fully staffed, though te LEA has had difficulty covering absences.

To address the shortage, Middlesbrough is encouraging schools to get involved in graduate teacher programmes and is looking at a scheme to help teaching assistants gain qualified teacher status.

What is the LEA like?

Middlesbrough Council was part of Cleveland County Council until it went unitary in 1996. It inherited a culture of low expectations and attainment in schools. The Office for Standards in Education inspection in 1999 found the LEA had made less progress than might have been expected, though there had been a council management shake-up.

The LEA has 11 secondary schools, 47 primaries and four special schools. Now standards in the town's schools are rising above the national trend, says the LEA.

The East Middlesbrough area, containing 20 schools, is an education action zone.

Much to do when the school bell goes?

Get into football. Middlesbrough FC opened a 35,000 capacity stadium six years ago and the team has a large and loyal fan base.

The town's population, and hence restaurants, are quite diverse, and there are music venues and a theatre. You're not too far from Durham, Newcastle and York; there are the Cleveland Hills, the Durham Dales, the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors - you could ride the Esk Valley line - and some lovely stretches of coastline. Whitby is about 30 miles away.

Are house prices affordable?

I should say so. The average three-bedroom semi-detached house in Middlesbrough costs pound;52,000 and you could rent one for pound;400 a month.

Famous sonsdaughters?

Explorer Captain James Cook, footballers and managers Brian Clough and Don Revie, comedian Bob Mortimer.

Martin Whittaker www.middlesbrough.gov.uk


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