SUNDERLAND legend Niall Quinn was guest of honour at the official re-opening of a £7.5m school.
The former Republic or Ireland international, who is now a respected television pundit, saw first-hand the transformation at Wellfield Community School, in Wingate.
Under the guidance of headteacher Linda Rodham the school has undergone a £7.5m re-building and re-furbishment programme over the past two years.
The school has also been totally rebranded with a new uniform and GCSE results have improved year-on-year with a strong emphasis on English and Mathematics, which are now above national averages.
Four terms after the school was classed as “inadequate” by Ofsted, Wellfield recently achieved a judgement of ‘good’ with outstanding features for safety following the full inspection in March this year - one of the quickest turnarounds in the country.
Mrs Rodham said: “It has been a long journey but a lot has been achieved in a short period of time.
“The main driving force for us is no one should have to travel miles to attend a good school.
“The community deserve an outstanding educational environment on their doorstep with excellent opportunities for students.”
Quinn, who also spent time as chairman of the Black Cats after hanging up his boots, said: “This school is a wonderful success story.
“When you see what it was like a few years ago with morale low etc it is a little bit like a club that was down the bottom of the Conference making its way up to the Premier League.
“That is how it feels now and there is a great set of people here.
“It was great to visit the school and it is a big lift for the local area, what has happened here.
“There were a few Sunderland fans that I spoke to, although some of the younger ones had to be told about me!”
Quinn, who scored 61 goals in 203 appearances for the Black Cats between 1996 and 2002, spent the morning at the school to mark its official re-opening.
He spent time with the head, pupils, staff and governors and visited a number of lessons as well as watching an exhibition from pupils who have weekly coaching sessions in the Martin Gray Football Academy, based at Darlington College.
Mrs Rodham said: “We use the academy to raise sporting and educational aspirations.
“The students get to play football, meet the players, watch big games and receive professional coaching but, in return, they have to do their homework and behave positively.”
As well as the Martin Gray Football Academy, which offers BTEC football courses at four other schools in County Durham, Wellfield has a strong link with a project close to Quinn’s heart, the Sunderland AFC Foundation, of which the retired striker remains a patron.
The foundation also visits the school to provide weekly lessons and pupils are entering a national competition with the Foundation as part of the Enterprise Academy at Sunderland.