Summer term and the living is easy

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
Or is it? Working by the coast is many people's dream. Phil Revell finds out what it's really like beside the seaside

Winter term. Wind rattling the classroom windows and rain-disrupted playtimes with all the kids indoors. Setting off for school in the dark, teaching with the lights on all day and driving home to a cold flat.

There's more to life than this.

What about a job by the sea? You're close to the beach in summer and at least the winter weather would be dramatic.

"I woke up one morning and knew I had to get away," says Ruth Fletcher who used to teach in an 11-16 London comprehensive. She'd been to Cornwall on holiday and then, suddenly one morning, an advert in The TES caught her eye.

"Colleagues told me that Cornish schools didn't employ outsiders," she says, " and I was stunned when the school offered me the job. I'd just bought a house in London."

Ruth found herself teaching history at St Ives school, a secondary. It lies is at the top of a hill on the edge of a cliff.

"There are beautiful views from some of the classrooms," she says. "At the interview they said 'It's not this lovely all year round.' They're right: it's wind and gales all winter. But I've settled down quickly. When I go into town 100 people say 'Hello'. You don't get that in London."

Ruth was lucky - her partner has been unable to get a teaching job in the area, but they sold their London property just before the south-west prices hit the roof. The house in Carbis Bay they bought for pound;80,000 is now worth pound;150,000.

Laura Carrotte was raised in the Welsh hills, in the Brecon Beacons. But she trained near the coast - in Plymouth - and the call of the sea took her to St Michael's junior school, Lyme Regis in Dorset. She lives in neighbouring Bridport.

"When I drive to school I get a view of the Cobb and think 'I live in a great place' - that starts me off in a good mood. I can see the sea from my classroom and on stormy days you can see what the weather is doing from the water."

No one could live there without being aware of the best fossil-hunting territory in the UK. The school uses the locality to good effect.

"We have booked a trip in the summer to go rock pooling and the children were in the TV programme about dinosaur hunters," says Laura. "They can all spell ammonite."

After three years at Lyme, Laura is considering a move. It's not just the desire to gain more experience: she'd like to get started on the property ladder and Lyme is too expensive.

"Houses are hideously expensive," she says. "The biggest mortgage I could get would be pound;80,000, but a tiny, two-bed house would cost over pound;100,000. But I'm thinking of moving to north Devon. It gets to you - living by the sea."

It doesn't get to Sian Smith, but then she doesn't really see Southend as a seaside town.

"It isn't like a resort," she says."It isn't a ghost town in winter, it's a normal place. Lots of people commute to London."

What attracted Sian to Essex's premier seaside town was the reputation of Temple Sutton primary school. "I chose the school not the town," she says.

Temple Sutton is a big school with more than 800 on roll. But the size didn't worry her. "It has a really nice atmosphere. There's a nice ethos at the school. People tend to stay for a long time. That's down to the head."

Sian lives in Westcliff, just up the coast from the Kursaal and the longest pier in England. She's another teacher trapped on the bottom rung of the housing market. She bought a two-bedroom flat but she can't afford to move.

"The next step on the ladder would cost anything between pound;120,000 and pound;250,000 and that's for a small two-bedroomed terraced house," she says.

Sian is thinking of returning to her roots, to Cumbria. But she is in no desperate hurry to leave Temple Sutton. Jobs in Cumbria aren't quite as common as jobs in the South-east.

As an economics and business studies teacher, Jonathan Bird is only too aware of these inevitable results of the laws of supply and demand. He trained in Liverpool and lived for a while in Southport, but for his first job he looked to his roots.

"I set out to apply to schools in the North East, as close to Newcastle as I could get," he says.

He's teaching at Whitley Bay high school, a 13-18 place with an excellent reputation. Whitley Bay has undergone something of a transformation in the past 20 years.

"This used to be a major resort," says Jonathan. "It was very popular with Glaswegians - there would be 1,200 deckchairs for hire."

The beach is still there but most of the holidaymakers have gone. Today, the town is best known for stag and hen parties and for weekenders. Locals often have the beach to themselves - and there's enough of it. It stretches to Berwick on the Scottish border.

"I walk my dog on that beach every day," says Jonathan. There are other attractions in Whitley. It's become a young persons' town with plenty of restaurants and a nightlife to rival Newcastle. The city itself is just half an hour away on the light railway. The town has become a desirable place to settle and house prices reflect that.

"It's one of the 10 fastest growing house price areas in the country. A three-bed semi costing pound;140,000 two years' ago is now going for pound;190,000," says Jonathan. But the North-east is still cheaper than many other areas and, in the less desirable areas of Tyneside, an undiscriminating buyer could pick up a three- bedroom property for less than pound;20,000. "There's no way I would live in London," says Jonathan.

"I couldn't afford to."

Seaside towns do have their downside. Largely caused by you and me - visitors. Car parking in St Ives and Lyme can be a pain, as can dodging the hen parties in Whitley. Favourite pubs and restaurants are taken over by outsiders at the weekend. But kids are kids and none of the teachers thought that seasiders were radically different from children anywhere else.

"Some could be better motivated," said Ruth Fletcher,"And there are lots of surf kids who take days off when the waves are coming in."

For those who would combine affordability with scenery, the North East looks the best bet.

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