A PUBLIC meeting has been called after parents condemned proposals to relocate top-performing Hurworth School Maths and Computing College to the outskirts of Darlington.

Opposition has grown since the shock announcement last Friday and more than 100 people attended Tuesday night's parish council meeting.

They vowed to fight borough council plans to build a new £20m school at the top of Yarm Road in Darlington and merge Hurworth and Eastbourne Comprehensive.

Campaigners squeezed into the Grange Community Centre to attend the parish meeting but scores were left standing on the stairs and in the car park.

The public meeting will be held on Thursday to hear residents' views, and councillors agreed to write to the governing body, calling on them to reject the scheme.

The new school would be known as Hurworth School and have about 1,200 pupils from both catchment areas.

Hurworth councillors accused borough council officials of having kept the truth about their proposals under wraps for a considerable length of time.

Coun Peter Foster said neither he nor fellow borough councillor Rod Burtt had received prior warning.

He said the community successfully defeated school closure plans by Durham County Council, the former education authority, ten years ago.

"This time it's worse. This time we'll have a bigger fight and I hope we can turn it round like we did then," he said.

Coun Clive Bullock, who withdrew his membership of the Labour Party over the proposal, urged villagers to wage a sustained campaign and form a committee.

On Monday, Middleton St George Parish Council also agreed to write to Robin Mair, chairman of governors at Hurworth, pledging its opposition to the plans.

The governors of Hurworth Primary School branded the proposed scheme as "damaging and ill-thought-out".

A statement circulated at the meeting by Lewis Taylor, the school's vice-chairman of governors, said: "Our young people's pride in going to the school where their older brothers, sisters, cousins and even parents went, has been replaced with a dread of what the future holds.

"The local education authority appears to have given little or no thought to the effects of such a closure on our rural community."

Terry Bladen, an Eastbourne teacher and negotiating secretary for the NASUWT teaching union, warned that teachers might start leaving the school and pupil numbers could fall because of the uncertain future.

"This has been very badly handled and I think it is outrageous that the council has outlined these plans when we may not get the funding until 2011," he said. "You are talking about a full circle of pupils before then."

Eamonn Farrar, acting headteacher at Eastbourne and former head of Hurworth, tried to reassure parents by claiming the proposal was not for closure but relocation.

"Naturally, the villagers will feel the loss of their school but when they have time to consider it, the children will be going to the same school, with the same staff, standards, uniforms and ethos.

"Hurworth hasn't always been top performing and the size of a school doesn't matter. It is the quality of leadership and staffing.

"There are good children at Eastbourne and many parents opted for Hurworth as their first choice school. Now they may be able to send their children to a new and bigger Hurworth."

The public meeting takes place in Hurworth Village Hall on Thursday at 7.30; doors open at 7pm.

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