A PIONEERING federation school once lauded as the most improved in the country is in crisis, after a damning Ofsted report triggered the closure of its sixth form, the resignation of its chair of governors and its emergency conversion to an academy.

Inspectors from the schools watchdog condemned Durham Community Business College (DCBC) in Ushaw Moor and Fyndoune Community College in Sacriston, together known as the Durham Federation, as failing and placed them in special measures in a bid to turn them around.

Dozens of year 12 pupils just weeks into their A-Level studies were told to find new schools after bosses moved to shut the sixth form and chair David Bell said he had no choice but to quit after the watchdog described his governing body as an obstacle to improvement.

Durham County Council has launched a rescue plan, parachuting in two leading headteachers - but the Department for Education is pressing for the schools to become academies and has already begun looking for sponsors.

The overhaul marks the end of a whirlwind fall from grace for a school that was County Durham’s first federation in 2006 and just two years ago was named the most improved secondary in the country and was pioneering vocational education with the region’s first Studio School sixth form.

Since then, the school has plummeted into chaos, losing three headteachers within a year and a surprise Ofsted inspection, conducted in mid-September but only disclosed today (Friday, November 7), found both DCBC and Fyndoune to be inadequate and in urgent need of improvement.

The watchdog has banned the schools from recruiting new teachers and ordered independent reviews of how they are governed and how they spend the Pupil Premium, extra money aimed at the poorest children.

Inspectors said DCBC’s leadership was in turmoil, teacher morale was low, leaders at all levels had an inaccurate view of how wells students were progressing, achievement had been falling “for some years” and the £650,000 sixth form was inadequate.

Urgent improvement was needed in maths and science in particular, they added.

Fyndoune leaders were accused of holding an “inflated view of the quality of teaching”, its middle management was said to be inadequate, its SEN provision lacked focus and inspectors found the relationship between governors and senior management had broken down.

Urgent improvement was needed in governance, leadership, humanities, science and pupil behaviour, they said.

Trevor Dunn, the Federation’s principal, was not available for interview but issued a statement saying he was saddened at Ofsted’s findings but the reports provided sound advice on what the school needed to do to improve rapidly.

“Students, parents and the wider community can be assured that we will work tirelessly to ensure we live up to our mission and provide students with a fantastic standard of education,” he said, adding the school was looking forward to a very positive set of GCSE results next year.

Councillor Bell resigned at an emergency governors’ meeting this morning (Friday, November 7).

“I’m disappointed at the outcome. I’ve always had the interests of the school and students at heart,” he said.

Vice-chair Betty Gibson will deputise until a new chair is chosen.

One parent, who asked not to be named, said: “A lot of parents are angry and have complained. Our son has been let down.”

Caroline O’Neill, head of education at Durham County Council, said its primary concern was the education of the pupils and it had drawn up improvement plans which would secure rapid progress.