PUPILS who will attend two new special schools saw their future classrooms taking shape at ceremonies to mark the £11m building project.

Children joined Durham County Council vice-chairman Ernie Foster as he lay commemorative stones at their new schools - Evergreen School, Bishop Auckland, and The Oaks School, Spennymoor, yesterday.

Evergreen, which is being built in the grounds of Warwick Road School, will cater for up to 160 youngsters aged from two to 11 years old.

The Oaks, being developed in the grounds of Whitworth School, will take up to 200 secondary pupils aged 11 to 19.

They are to replace the four special schools in the area - Warwick Road and Murphy Crescent, in Bishop Auckland, Whitworth, in Spennymoor, and Rosebank, in Ferryhill - as part of a shake-up in the county's schools.

Coun Foster said: "A school is much more than its buildings. It should be a vibrant learning community that draws on and contributes to the lives of the people it serves.

"I'm confident that the staff and pupils who come together to give them life will continue to achieve the high standards of the schools they are to replace and take them even higher with the benefit of new, state-of-the-art premises.

"We believe that high-quality special schools such as these play a vital role in providing a broad and flexible range of services to young people with learning difficulties.

"To this end, we have endeavoured to provide two well-designed and well-equipped schools better able to meet a wider range of complex special educational needs well into the 21st century."

Councillor Neil Foster, Durham County Council's cabinet member for education and lifelong learning, said that the plans for the purpose-built schools for youngsters with special education or behavioural needs have been 14 years in the making.

He said: "The schools will provide enhanced facilities for children and young people and promote inclusion.

"The two new schools will provide the best possible educational opportunities for young people, while maintaining the building on the high standards achieved in the four existing schools."