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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
Heather backs school campaign
Model and landmine campaigner Heather Mills McCartney is to ask Prime Minister Tony Blair to save her old school, which is earmarked for closure.

Heather Mills McCartney
Heather Mills McCartney proudly shows off her 'bump'

The former model and wife of Sir Paul McCartney, made a spirited defence of Usworth Comprehensive School in her home town Washington, near Sunderland, which is due to close.

She visited the school for the first time in 20 years on Tuesday night as guest of honour at the prize-giving event.

Education bosses want to close the school because of a crisis over surplus places.

Before the ceremony, the 35-year-old vowed to bring the closure to the prime minister's attention when she next meets Tony Blair.

Lady Mills McCartney, who is expecting her first child, was well versed in the arguments against closing the school, where she said she spent several happy years before she and younger sister Fiona moved to London in their teens.

She hit out at Sunderland City Council's Local Education Authority, which wants to close the school and backed the parents and teachers in their bid to make them think again.

As a keen swimmer, she was aggrieved that Washington's only secondary school with a pool was set to close.

And she was concerned about pupils having to travel across the new town to other, less well-equipped schools.

Special needs

Lady Mills McCartney said: "I think it's terrible that they have put this over the heads of the teachers and pupils that the school will be shut over a four year period.

"But they cannot tell them what will happen to them all when it closes.

"I will definitely mention this to the prime minister."

She felt officials had earmarked the school for closure because it was in a prime location for re-development.

She was particularly concerned as the school takes in special needs pupils from across Wearside.

Head teacher Kevin McDermid said the LEA needed to close a school due to falling pupil numbers, but he said a 7,500-strong petition had been raised by Usworth's supporters.

He said: "Heather and her sister have been very active from a distance in supporting the campaign and expressing their good wishes for the future of the school and we are overjoyed she has come up tonight for the awards evening to publicly state her support."

Earlier, she visited her former primary school at nearby Usworth Grange, where she joked: "I haven't really got a beer belly, this is a baby in here."

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