Pupils, teachers and VIPs celebrated in style today as South Tyneside marked the successful completion of a £200m transformation of school buildings.
Pupils at the new Keelman's Way School in Hebburn proudly hosted the celebration event, welcoming civic leaders with guided tours, home made snacks and a rousing performance from the pupils' own rock band.
The £10.5m school, which now offers state-of-the-art facilities for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties, is one of 14 local schools which have been transformed through the programme. The school's superb new facilities include hydrotherapy swimming pool, indoor and outdoor sensory spaces and a rebound therapy room with a 'trampoline' floor.
Councillor Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council, marked the achievement by presenting commemorative plaques to all 14 schools:
Councillor Malcolm said: "When Tony Blair outlined his Government's key priority as 'education, education, education', we were determined to rise to the challenge. After careful planning and a six-year construction programme, the difference is dramatic.
"Gone are the crumbling Victorian buildings of just a few years ago. In their place are hugely impressive, purpose-built schools, with features ranging from technology barns and first class sports facilities to swimming pools, and sensory rooms for children with special needs.
"14 local schools have been rebuilt or comprehensively refurbished to exceptional standards and that has brought a powerful new drive and focus to learning in the borough. These are world class new facilities that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, and they are already helping to raise standards and attainment.
"Ofsted inspectors now rate 89% of South Tyneside's secondary schools as good or outstanding, and we are seeing record exam results as well as a significant reduction in unauthorised absences."
Planning for the programme began in 2003, with South Tyneside joining forces with Gateshead Council in a joint venture which secured £175m from the Government's Building Schools for the Future programme. A further £25m was invested through the Transforming Our Primary Schools (TOPS) programme.
The schools programme is part of a series of major investments in the regeneration of South Tyneside. Following last year's completion of the pioneering hi-tech One Trinity Green business centre, work is nearing completion on Haven Point, a £16m seafront pool and leisure complex, and a £2.5m waterfront park at Harton Quays.
Ambitious plans are also moving ahead for regeneration of the borough's town centres through the South Shields 365 initiative, which aims to make the town an exciting place to visit every day of the year, and a planned multi-million pound community hub at the heart of Hebburn.