MORE schools in County Durham are facing budget deficits amid concerns about growing financial difficulties.

Fifteen schools have requested to set budget deficits for the 2018/19 academic year.

Durham County Council says there are significant financial viability concerns at four schools –Wolsingham, Wellfield, Tanfield and St Bede’s, Peterlee – which have been allowed to set budget deficits.

The remaining 11 schools which asked the council to set a budget deficit have been told to revise their plans to ensure they can balance budgets by next summer.

Last November the authority started a review of its schools, sparked by concerns about financial viability.

The council has reported a growing number of schools with deficit balances, up from 16 in March 2017 to 20 in March 2018. The accumulated deficit increased by 35 per cent to £5.633m.

Deficit budgets had already been agreed for Wolsingham, Wellfield and Tanfield Schools – all of which have reported a worsening financial position to this time last year.

The council is currently consulting about the future organisation of education in Weardale and Wellfield

Next year, Wolsingham will have a deficit of £1.7m while Wellfield’s will be around £3.4m.

St Bede’s, in Peterlee, has also been given permission to set a budget deficit, with a forecast of having a deficit balance of £0.5m by March 2019.

Other schools which have requested to set a budget deficit next year include Seascape, in Peterlee, which has plans to restructure to enable it to balance the budget, and Sherburn Primary School, near Durham, which is planning to restructure following a decision to close its site in Sherburn Hill.

St Thomas More RC, in Belmont, Durham has requested to set a budget and is considering a merger with St Joseph’s RC in nearby Gilesgate because of concerns about the budget position.

School management at both the Croft Community School, in Annfield Plain, and Villa Real, in Consett, which are both special schools, are working with officers from the council because of difficulties in setting budgets and are reviewing whether pupil funding reflects the correct funding bands.

The council has also highlighted concerns about the number of of schools which have had to use significant amounts of their reserves to balance their budgets, and the number forecast to have relatively small balances by March 2019.