A MULTI-MILLION pound experiment to build the UK's first education village in a North-East town is being hailed a national example, before it has even opened.

More than 30 local education authorities have contacted Darlington Borough Council to visit, or find out more about, the £33m Education Village, which is under construction in the Haughton area of the town.

The new building is not due to open until November, but there has already been unprecedented national interest.

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) is recommending education chiefs visit the construction site, before they build new schools in their own authorities.

And now council bosses in Darlington say they are struggling to cope with demand.

Kevin Duffy, Darlington council's education premises development manager, said: "This is a national exemplar, we can't keep up with the demand for site visits, so the DfES is going to host a national conference on building schools for the future here in December."

The first furniture is due to be moved into the Education Village next week, and the key stage two wing is nearing completion.

The village brings Haughton Community College, Springfield Primary School and Beaumont Hill Special School together, with facilities for children with special needs alongside classrooms for mainstream children.

The school has been designed to let in as much natural light as possible, corridors are glass lined and classrooms branch off what is known as an indoor broken-back street.

Many teaching spaces open out into fresh air for outdoor learning.

There are also two ponds, a shingle beach, a pool, a hydrotherapy pool, drama and dance studios, set around a village green.

Dame Della Smith, the village's chief executive, gave a presentation on the site to Darlington Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee earlier this week, in which she described the building as "the most wonderful thing to come to Darlington".

The village will have a £7m budget and is to open after the half-term break during the autumn term.

It is funded through the Government's private finance initiative. Private company Kajima will pay for the building and the upkeep for 25 years.

Darlington council will pay Kajima money every year and, in 25 years, will take over ownership.