Port of call for the defiant

29th June 2001 at 01:00
Plymouth, the port associated with Sir Francis Drake?

Yes. It's also where the pilgrim fathers, Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin set sail from.

Plymouth is in a lovely part of the UK, perched on the River Tamar bordering Devon and Cornwall. In recent decades the city has suffered from the demise of the naval industry and unemployment is higher than average.

It still makes the most of its nautical history and references to Sir Francis Drake abound, especially to that game of bowls which, tradition has it, Drake played on Plymouth Hoe as the Spanish Armada approached. You can also visit the church where he carved graffiti into the walls.

Hasn't Plymouth been invaded recently?

The education authority has, yes, though Drake's spirit of defiance lives on. It was all hands on deck when the fleet from the Office for Standards in Education came sailing up Plymouth Sound, cannons blazing, barely 17 months after the city became a unitary authority.

The inspection report in January last year said the LEA had begun well and there were several areas where it had been effective. However, inspectors said significant weaknesses outweighed the strengths, because they particularly affected school improvement.

In its own defence, the LEA fired back at the fact that the inspection had come too soon after the authority's creation.

Many teaching jobs?

Plymouth doesn't have anything like the problems some areas have recruiting teachers. "There have been no reports of classes being suspended due to shortages of teachers," said a spokesman. "But there are areas where schools would like to see more applications - particularly the sciences." The LEA posts vacancies on www.pgfl.plymouth.gov.uklifelong The city has 70 primaries, 15 secondaries, three grammar schools, eight special schools and three pupil-referral units. Ofsted records show Plymouth's schools do well: the quality of teaching in its secondary schools was better than national standards.

And after school is out?

Plymouth regularly comes near the top in quality of life listings because of its proximity to Dartmoor and the wonderful south Devon and Cornish coast. It is also handy for trips to France.

Although parts of the city centre are less than attractive, it is a bustling place with a good theatre, concert venues, galleries and clubs.

Can I afford to live there?

Three-bedroom semi-detached houses range from pound;60,000 up to pound;180,000 in the leafier areas. A two-bedroom flat overlooking the Hoe would cost pound;650 a month.

Any interesting trivia?

As it happens, yes. Plymouth University researchers surveyed children from a host of European countries and the United States and found they have a very negative image of maths teachers. They portrayed a scruffy person, often bald and bearded, with wrinkles in their forehead from thinking too hard, and no social life.

Martin Whittaker

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