THE first group of rundown schools to benefit from a Government rebuild scheme has been announced after a contractor was appointed.

Six schools in the region will be part of phase one of the ‘priority’ investment- three in County Durham, and one each in Stockton-on-Tees, Gateshead and Sunderland.

The schools were among 27 in the region told last May that they would receive cash from a £2.4bn priority school building programme.

Those in more urgent need of improvements, including five of the six announced today (Thursday, January 31), will be fast-tracked with direct grants from the Department from Education.

The rest are to be rebuilt or refurbished through the private finance initiative (PFI).

But just last week concerns were raised about the future of the projects.

MP Bridget Phillipson called on the government to take action because PFI school projects in her Houghton and Sunderland South constituency were struggling to secure loans for the work.

Education Secretary, Michael Gove, pledged to investigate the holdup and the criticism was followed up by today’s announcement that Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd had won the £64m contract to carry out renovations at schools in the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside.

In County Durham it will work on Durham Trinity School and Sports College, West Cornforth Primary School and King James I Academy, in Bishop Auckland.

It will also work on Hill Top Specialist Arts College, in Gateshead, Ian Ramsey Church of England School, Stockton-on-Tees, and Usworth Grange Primary School, in Sunderland.

Company director, Boyd McFee, said: "Sir Robert McAlpine is delighted to have been appointed to deliver the first batch of schools.”

They will now work with the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and the schools on detailed designs and submit planning applications before building work begins in the spring.

Janet Sarsfield, headteacher at West Cornforth Primary School, said: “We’re over the moon that we have been included in the priority school building programme, it is just what our community needs.”

Schools minister, David Laws, said: "This programme will provide new or refurbished school buildings for the children being educated in those schools that are in the very worst condition.”

The Government said the remaining six capital funded batches are progressing well and will be put out to tender in the next few weeks.