Size makes a difference

9th July 2004 at 01:00
Martin Whittaker goes jobhunting in the county that refused to be abolished

Where? I thought they did away with Rutland years ago.

They did, but it refused to lie down and die. This tiny county was swallowed up by Leicestershire during local government reorganisation in 1974. Those with a leaning towards trivia may recall that Rutland subsequently found fame through the fictitious television comedy Rutland Weekend Television (creation of Monty Python's Eric Idle) which in turn spawned the spoof rock band The Rutles. But the area has never lost its own identity and, after a long campaign, Rutland became a separate county again in 1997. Today, measuring just 16 miles by 16 miles, the authority remains the smallest county in England. It has a population of just under 35,000 and is relatively affluent. Its motto is Multum in Parvo - Much in Little.

It sounds lovely. Where is it again? Slap bang in the centre of the East Midlands. You can't miss it! Wedged between all those much bigger counties.

Oh for God's sake, go and look at a map!

Touchy! But, hey - size isn't everything!

Try telling that to the inspectors. A year ago, Ofsted and the Audit Commission found Rutland to be a satisfactory authority. But, they said, since its previous inspection, "problems associated with its small size have become more evident". It had not made as much progress as it should have done, the inspectors said. Senior officers had been stretched to meet school needs and there were difficulties in communicating directly with schools. Despite this, Rutland's director of education, Carol Chambers, insists the county's smallness is an advantage for its teachers.

"The size of the LEA means that there are much closer working relationships between LEA officers and schools than you would find anywhere else in the country," she says. "I'm proud of the fact that individual teachers, headteachers and governors are able to access officers, including me, very easily, and we're not remote from the community."

What are its schools like? Rutland has just 21 schools, which include 17 primaries, three 11-16s and one special nursery school. Its results at key stages 2 and 3 and at GCSEGNVQ are above average for England. But the proportion of schools judged to be good or very good by inspectors is below national average. The percentage requiring special measures or with serious weaknesses was above average.

Last year the county emerged as the area that produces the most enthusiastic learners of European languages. Eighty nine per cent of 15-year-olds in Rutland took at least one language at GCSE, while it also had the highest percentage of pupils learning German: 48 per cent.

Because of its rural setting and good quality of life, the county has some of the highest house prices outside London and the South East, which does make an impact on teacher recruitment.

"High house prices mean that sometimes people live further away than they would like to. But we certainly don't have the recruitment issues that many other areas of the country have," says Carol Chambers. "Certainly, in primary schools the recruitment fields are much smaller, but usually we are able to fill vacancies."

The authority devolves all education personnel matters to schools, which buy in the service from a private company.

Please tell me more about that good quality of life.

Rutland is a beautiful place with 256 square miles (412kms) of rolling countryside dotted with villages and two old market towns: Oakham, its administrative centre, and Uppingham, home to the well-known public school.

More than three decades ago the Gwash river valley was flooded to create Rutland Water, the biggest man-made lake in western Europe, which draws a huge influx of tourists each summer.

So let's have the bad news about those house prices.

According to the latest figures from the Land Registry, the average price of a house in Rutland is pound;197,335, a semi goes for pound;154,475, a terraced house costs pound;120,990. A flat or maisonette averages at pound;107,375.

Any famous sons or daughters? Veteran reporter Kate Adie is a resident, while the late television gardener Geoff Hamilton came from Rutland. The county also lays claim to former Uppingham pupils Stephen Fry and Johnny Vaughan.

Any other interesting trivia?

Another of the county's famous sons was Jeffery Hudson, who in common with his native borough was very small - just 3ft 6in tall - but who still managed to fight against the Roundheads during the English Civil War.

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