A MULTI-MILLION pound public private partnership is to build five new schools on Teesside.

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council has been given the all-clear from the Government to proceed with a £60m education improvement programme.

A private contractor, yet to be chosen by the council, will design and build the new schools, and construction work is due to start in the summer of 2004.

Mindful of recent teething troubles with public finance initiative hospitals, the council was keen to stress it has learnt from problems experienced by health trusts.

The school fund is made up of £48.9m PFI money and a 100 per cent grant for voluntary aided schools.

A total of £6m will be spent over the next three years.

Split into seven main schemes, work will include three new secondary school buildings for Sacred Heart RC in Redcar and two community schools for Bydales, Marske and Gillbrook Technology College, South Bank.

Due to falling pupil numbers, some primary schools will be amalgamated and the money will pay for new buildings.

The schools to be amalgamated are St Albans and St Dominic's in Redcar and Beech Grove and Cromwell Road in South Bank.

Laurence Jackson in Guisborough and Nunthorpe Secondary School will be extensively remodelled.

Coun Ian Jeffrey, the council's lead member for lifelong learning, said: "We are aware that PFI hospitals have had difficulties and I share some of the public's concerns over them.

"But we have learnt a lot and private involvement is now a reality. And in terms of getting that amount of money to improve our schools, there is no alternative."

The council had already won approval from the Department of Education and Skills, and now the authority's outline business case has been endorsed by the Government.

Mr Jeffrey said: "We have seen evidence that pupils learn better in modern, clean spacious environments. There is nothing worse than teaching and learning in old, dark buildings.

"The plans for amalgamated schools reflect the demographics of the Tees Valley and the North-East in general where people are looking for jobs in the South-East."

The council will choose a private contractor in the next 12 months and it is hoped the schools will be open by September 2006.