Strictly no riff-raff

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Martin Whittaker goes jobhunting in the town that John Cleese made famous

Don't mention Basil Fawlty. I mentioned him once, but... think I got away with it And I suppose you think that's funny?

Come now: poor old Torquay has had to work hard to live down the legacy of the 1970s comedy classic Fawlty Towers. Just imagine it - for the past 25 years practically every hotel and BB in this seaside resort has had to put up with smug visitors shouting "Manuel" at passing waiters and sniggering "Don't mention the War" into their beer.

Tsk! Typical!

Exactly. Needless to say the joke is wearing a bit thin. However, while it has had to reinvent itself as a tourist resort, Torquay and its neighbouring towns, Brixham and Paignton, really have something to offer teachers, according to Torbay education authority which covers all three.

But just hold on. Didn't Torbay have a run-in with some hotel inspectors a while ago?

I think you mean Ofsted inspectors. Three years ago, they led a withering attack on Torbay Council, formerly part of Devon, which became a unitary authority in 1998. Ofsted slammed it for weak strategic management, with no clear and agreed vision for education, plus lack of leadership.

Happily things have improved. The council is under a new Liberal Democrat administration and a new education leadership team is in place. A re-inspection last May found "most areas of weakness have been tackled with energy and vigour." Tony Smith, the local education authority's new director of learning and culture, who was parachuted in a year ago from neighbouring Devon, admits: "It's been pretty shaky, but we have now resuscitated the patient."

So what does it have to offer?

Well for starters, Torbay may be small but it has pretty much every kind of school going. The area has 33 primary schools, three special schools and eight secondaries - these include one co-educational and two single sex selective grammar schools, three community colleges, one ecumenical school and one bilateral school.

The ecumenical school, St Cuthbert Mayne, is a joint Roman Catholic and Church of England school while the bilateral - Westlands School and Technology College - has both grammar and secondary modern streams. Are you still with me?

Only just. What about quality of life?

Torbay is also known as the English Riviera because of its long hours of sunshine and mild climate. During the 19th century Torquay was considered a major health resort, and its tourist influx grew with the arrival of the railways.

Today its charms are somewhat faded, but the area still has much to offer, including pleasant countryside and good beaches. The village of Brixham is one of the few places left in the UK with a thriving fishing industry, and Paignton....well, Paignton has a really good zoo.

Surprisingly, Torbay has some of the worst poverty in the West Country - seven out of its 36 wards are in the 20 per cent most deprived in the country - and it has a very mobile population as people flood in to find casual labour in the summer.

But are teachers flooding in there too?

Tony Smith says the borough's schools have no recruitment problems. He believes the area's strong teacher training base - the College of St Mark and St John in Plymouth and the University of Exeter are right on the doorstep - coupled with its climate and natural beauty make it a popular choice with newly qualified teachers.

"I think we do a pretty good programme for our NQTs," he says. "And we have reasonably-sized schools, so there's the support within the school to induct people.

"Our schools are good - we have none in special measures or serious weaknesses. There is the odd challenging school, it goes without saying.

And it's quite a poor area, which belies its outward impression."

Torbay is also one of four local education authorities taking part in a project to get interactive whiteboards into schools, and all its primary schools now have them. "I think that will transform the way we teach in the next couple of years," says Tony Smith.

Can I afford to live there?

The house prices in Torbay are certainly below the national average of Pounds 175,000. According to the Land Registry, the average semi in Torbay is just over pound;166,000, a terraced house costs over pound;139,000 and a flat or maisonette would set you back just over pound;117,000. Detached houses average at around pound;238,500.

Any famous sons or daughters?

Quite a few as it happens. Comedian Peter Cook was born in Torquay, as was crime writer Dame Agatha Christie. Tennis player-turned sports commentator Sue Barker comes from Paignton, and Prince William of Orange landed at Brixham harbour in 1688 before going on to be crowned King William III of England.

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