AN education chief is to be appointed to drive up standards in Darlington schools.

Under the proposal, the super-head will work with headteachers of secondary schools with 'an unrelenting focus on raising standards' - in the first experiment of its kind in the country.

The plan is to place top-performing Hurworth School at the centre of the partnership and use best practice from other schools in the town.

Eamonn Farrar, the man who turned around the fortunes of Hurworth School as headteacher, has been earmarked for the job, which will start in September.

The plans have been approved by the local education authority and the Department of Education and Skills - and were put to Darlington headteachers on Friday.

The authority is seeking approval from Hurworth School's governing body and headteachers before it gets the final go-ahead.

The news comes after the council outlined plans to close Hurworth School and Eastbourne Comprehensive and replace them with a £20m school called Hurworth, on the outskirts of Darlington.

The poor performance of schools in the town was underlined at the council's Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee meeting on Monday. Members heard that in 2004 the town's 16-year-olds failed to achieve the minimum standard set by the Department of Education. More than 50 students left school without one GCSE pass.

The national threshold - which all education authorities are expected to achieve - is 38 per cent of pupils achieving the five A* to C grades at GCSE. In Darlington it was 37 per cent. There is also a worrying gender gap which sees girls outperforming boys at every stage.

This week Mr Farrar, acting headteacher of Eastbourne Comprehensive following the suspension of head Karen Pemberton, said the new role required a good working partnership with Darlington heads. He said: "There are excellent headteachers in Darlington, who have inherited huge and deep-rooted problems.

"There is huge potential for significant improvement in attainment and standards.

"But we don't want to do this to anybody. The headteachers have to want it and realise there is a model which will help them improve."

As the school closure debate rolled on, Terry Bladen, negotiating secretary for union the NAS/UWT, warned the revelations could damage Eastbourne's future.

Mr Bladen, who teaches at Eastbourne, said: "People feel undervalued, some teachers have been working here for 20 years and have devoted their professional lives to Eastbourne. We all want the best for the children and my colleagues have worked really hard.

"We are going to have teachers who naturally leave. Who is going to replace them? Who will come here if they may not have a job in a few years? This has undermined Eastbourne and the authority needs to act quickly to rectify the situation. Parents may now be thinking, I am not going to send my children there."

Hurworth parish council met this week, after the Advertiser had gone to press, to debate the plan. Hurworth's governors meet tomorrow.