Martin Whittaker goes looking for a job in Telford
You mean the Midlands new town named after the famous nineteenth-century civil engineer?
The very same. Official guides to the area make much of the contrast between old and new: Telford, with its shiny shopping malls and hi-tech businesses, and nearby Ironbridge, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Of course, to do so here would surely be a cynical exploitation of a tourism guide cliche simply to broach the subject of Telford as an exciting place to teach.
Well, is it an exciting place to teach?
So glad you asked. The authority's schools are very well connected - Telford and Wrekin education authority is seen as a pioneer for ICT; most of its schools have advanced computer facilities. The authority has the potential to promote extensive curriculum development in schools. As a pathfinder National Grid for Learning authority, it invested heavily in a high-speed broadband network for its schools.
It maintains 65 primary schools, 13 secondaries, two nursery schools and four special schools. It has one of the country's most successful secondary schools, Thomas Telford, which made headlines last year for makingpound;6.7 million from its GNVQ computing courses. Of course, it is important to remember that Thomas Telford is a city technology college and not an LEA school.
What is the education authority like?
Telford and Wrekin was formerly part of Shropshire and became a unitary authority in 1998. The borough is in the top 10 per cent of local authorities in England and has been rated as excellent by the Audit Commission.
The education authority also gets good marks. According to Ofsted, it has many strengths and few weaknesses and supports its schools well. Following the split from Shropshire, the two authorities were clever enough to retain shared advisory and inspection services, as well as provision for pupils with special educational needs.
In response to the mounting cost of finding supply teachers, the authority also set up its own staffing agency, which has around 300 teachers on its books. The LEA says the sharing of advisory services with Shropshire means it can offer teachers a comprehensive continuing professional development programme. It is also well down the road with workforce remodelling - nearly a quarter of its schools are going through the process.
"The importance of work-life balance is fully recognised," says Lorraine Hughes, Telford and Wrekin's recruitment strategy manager. "There's a focus on teaching and learning while teachers are in school but, just as importantly, they have a life outside the school."
Talking of which, is there much to do when the marking is done?
Telford is billed as one of the UK's fastest-growing new towns. The borough has a population of 160,000 and covers around 112 square miles. Most of it is rural.
The town has seen much regeneration and investment and offers good access to services and leisure facilities. If shopping is your thing, it has a 145-store shopping centre under one roof. There is much local history on show, especially the famous Ironbridge Gorge museum, while leisure facilities include sports centres, an ice rink, a dry ski slope and the 180-hectare Telford Town park. Should the mood take you, you can escape to Birmingham 30 miles east, or west to Offa's Dyke and the Welsh hills. And the beauty of the Shropshire landscape is right on the doorstep.
But can I afford to live there?
The Land Registry website for Shropshire reveals that the average semi-detached house here costs around pound;129,000, a terraced house is pound;111,000, while a flat or maisonette is priced at nearly pound;94,000.
Any famous sons or daughters?
They can't claim Telford - he was a Scot. But they can boast Captain Matthew Webb, the Victorian army officer who became the first man to swim the English Channel. There's Olympic boxer Richie Woodall. And Carol Decker, lead singer from the 1980s band T'Pau.