A FEDERATION of schools, pooling their resources together, has been proposed as one of the ways to ensure the sustainable future of education in a Durham dales community.

Following the review of school provision in the Weardale, Durham County Council’s cabinet will be told next Wednesday that a federation is a model of education for children up to the age of 16 that is financially viable. A second alternative is that Wolsingham School becomes part of a multi-academy trust.

Education chiefs carried out the review of education provision in response to “significant financial difficulties” being experienced by some schools across the county as a result of reductions in admission numbers and national changes to how individual schools are funded.

Councillors will be told that if funding rates had kept pace with inflation since 2009/10, the amount available for schools in County Durham would be 15 per cent higher than it is now. For County Durham this is equivalent to £46 million.

The council prioritised three areas for review with Weardale chosen due to the financial position of Wolsingham School, which will have an estimated deficit balance of £1.7m at the end of this financial year.

Responding to the proposals, North West Durham Labour MP Laura Pidcock said: “The council have had to do this review and I have been waiting and worried, because I know the scale of cuts to their budget in education.

“I am pleased at the commitment that Durham County Council have to keep Wolsingham School open. It would be catastrophic if that school ever closed and I would certainly fight vociferously to keep it open.

“My preference out of the two options would be a federation and the schools working together.

“I would certainly not be in support of a multi-academy trust. The reason is I have seen across the country how academies are struggling because of budgets, because they are not in a collective with s local authority.

“I want to stress that we could not have been in this situation if it had not been for the catastrophic (Government) cuts.”

A report to the meeting sets out how education in schools in the dale is of a high standard, with all having being judged good by Ofsted.

Cabinet will also be told that had the council insisted on the school balancing its budget, this would have seen up to ten teaching posts having to be cut and that this had not been demanded due to concerns over the impact this would have had on educational standards whilst other options were being considered.

However the meeting will hear that while there has been an increase in numbers of children going to Wolsingham and some financial savings achieved under a new headteacher, the current position at the school is not sustainable. Cabinet will also be told that by law the council is not allowed to provide it with funding.

The review has seen the council consulting with leaders and governors from Wolsingham and also Weardale’s primaries to consider ways of creating a 0-16 model that is viable for years to come.

Under government regulations, it is for the schools to decide.

Under a federation schools would choose to come together to pool resources with agreed shared governance. This pooling of resources would allow all the schools involved to make savings – allowing the federation to be financially sustainable and Wolsingham to pay back its deficit over a number of years.

The meeting will hear Wolsingham becoming part of a MAT would have to be agreed by the Regional Schools Commissioner and that a deadline of 31 July has been set for the schools to decide which option will be taken forward.

A further report on which option will be taken forward will be considered by cabinet in the autumn.

Councillor Olwyn Gunn, the council’s Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “We have been thorough in looking at all of the options.

"We have worked with schools all the way through this review and we know how important it is to have viable schools in Weardale. But leading the review doesn’t mean we make the decisions on the options.

"We are committed to supporting leaders and governors at all the schools to consult further on these options but under government regulations it is for the schools to decide.”