A GROUNDBREAKING schools partnership has been awarded £20,000 to develop management as a new era in education takes shape.

The windfall was awarded by the National College for Children and School Leadership to a cluster of schools working together on the east side of Darlington.

It will be used to develop business and management structures in the schools as they face up to new responsibilities as local authorities take a back seat in the way that children are schooled.

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Nursery, primary and secondary schools in Darlington have been strengthening ties, sharing experience and working together to cement a bright future for the borough's children.

Working with education experts from Avec Partnership, they have been drawing together the range of expertise that exists in schools and governing bodies as support from the local education authority reduces.

A conference, staged at St Aidan's Academy recently, attracted scores of headteachers and governors who were told of the benefits of tackling collectively the new era of austerity.

Headteachers in the borough are already carving a reputation as leaders nationally in collective working.

They have been successful in attracting millions of pounds worth of funding, overseen improvements in infrastructure and secured finance for special projects.

The partnership involves Nick Blackburn, of Heathfield Primary School, Alison Appleyard, of St Aidan's Academy, Joy Venning, of Hurworth Primary School, Alfie Lindley, of Firth Moor Primary School, Christine Large, of St John's Primary School, Janine Gleeson, of St George's Primary School, Bob Mellard, of Dodmire Primary School, Neil Parker, of the Federation of Bishopton and Heighington Schools, Lynn Millar, of Borough Road Nursery, Eamonn Farrar and Dean Judson, of Hurworth Maths and Computing College, and Liz Hemingway, of The Bridge.

Avec School Services director Julie Sowerby said: "This partnership really is paving the way."

Nick Blackburn, headteacher of Heathfield Primary School, said: "Collaboration is a critical skill for heads now.

"We are now a commonwealth operating in a climate of trust and support, looking beyond our school boundaries and immediate community."