Sorry about the late reply
We're nestled between Durham and Newcastle (marginally closer to Durham). I know which comp you'll be referring to in Durham (I presume, anyway, there is only one that I'm aware of that ranks very highly) but we're WAY out of the catchment area for that one (and with the house being in negative equity it looks set that we'll not be moving any closer anytime before DD reaches that age).
I've attended a few open days and visited a few independents in the area (mainly Durham, a few in Newcastle) but they all pretty much said the same thing - bursaries go to the older children so they can tell whether they're going to excell at the school or not - which is a totally fair enough point). When I enquired it was before my DD had started in Reception so I fully understand where they're coming from. Paying for the fees in full is out of the question unfortunately so it would be dependent on us being granted some form of bursary.
The nearest comp that actually achieves well and that we are in the catchment area of is St Bedes RC in Lanchester but alas we're not Catholic (don't have any religion in fact). The two nearest comps are both getting merged into one in 2012 to become one huge Academy. Academically things might improve but ultimately my worry is its the same teachers, same attitudes, same kids (until they all leave!) .... so I really worry that things won't improve much at all. They boast about results that I consider embarrassingly low, year in, year out, they're in the local papers boasting about results that I would be ashamed to admit if I ran a school (seriously!
The only other alternative that I've been contemplating would be to move her out of junior school half way through (age 9) and apply for a Middle School in our border county - Northumberland (which currently runs on a three tier system). There are some wonderful Middle Schools which I would be more than happy for her to attend in the hope that they "fed" her into Q.E. High School in Hexham (although again, academically the school doesn't fair as well as the independents in our area, it is a far nicer school with many outstanding qualities and certainly boasts higher achievers than those attending the two local comps/soon to be huge academy).
Mystery, can I ask which good comprehensive(s) you are aware of in Newcastle? The only one I'm aware of (with no religious affiliations anyway) is in Durham. I'm not native to the North East though so any local knowledge would be much appreciated!