EDUCATION Secretary Charles Clarke visited the region to re-open a school which was destroyed by arsonists two years ago.

Mr Clarke reopened Sedgefield Hardwick Primary School, in Prime Minister Tony Blair's constituency.

The school has been refurbished following the blaze in January 2001, which has been extended with a nursery link, entrance and foyer.

At the school, Mr Clarke praised the staff, parents and pupils for pulling together after the devastating blaze.

He said: "It is a very emotional day for me to come here. I have known the Prime Minister for a long time and he talks often about the fantastic achievement here."

During another engagement in the region, he was heckled by more than 100 university students.

Mr Clarke was giving an invitation-only talk to Labour students at Durham University about his controversial White Paper on education.

But on arrival at Durham's Grey College last night, Mr Clarke was met by Students' Union members, who turned their backs on him in protest at his plans to introduce a £3,000 "top-up" on students' tuition fees.

Helen King, the Students' Union campaign officer, said: "We are completely opposed to these fees, which will mean students are leaving university with debts of up to £21,000."

Mr Clarke said: "I know there is a lot of discussion about the issue. Anything that encourages students from working-class backgrounds to go to university is right."

Mr Clarke visited Newcastle yesterday for a conference on higher education, to talk about reforms being introduced in the White Paper.

He also went to Murton Community Centre, County Durham, and opened two lifelong learning centres in Dunston and Felling, Gateshead, as well as a visit to Stockton.