A FINANCIALLY-troubled school in County Durham is seeking to join an academy trust under a proposal which could see its £2m deficit written off.

Wolsingham School, in Weardale, which suspended sixth form admissions in 2018 because of funding problems and is forecast to have an almost £2m deficit by the end of this school year, is seeking to join the Advance Learning Partnership Academy Trust, which operates four other schools in County Durham.

Durham County Council, which launched a review of education in Weardale in 2017, will discuss proposals to write off the deficit at a meeting next week.

A report to be debated by councillors says the multi-academy trust (MAT) would not agree to take on a school with such a large deficit unless it was written off by the council.

Councillor Olwyn Gunn, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “We have worked very closely with the schools in Weardale and the local community on this review and our aim has always been to provide a sustainable model of teaching while maintaining the high standards of education local children enjoy.

“Along with pupils, parents, staff and the governing body we want to keep Wolsingham School open. Because of government legislation conversion to a multi-academy trust is the only way to do that.”

The trust also runs Parkside Academy in Willington, Whitworth Park Academy in Spennymoor, Staindrop Academy and Hartside Primary School, in Crook.

Another possible option had been to create a federation of schools in Weardale, which would see their resources pooled, but only six of the 10 schools were open to the proposal.

If neither option goes forward, it would mean the likely closure of Wolsingham School, the council said.

Weardale councillor John Shuttleworth said: “Steps to assist Wolsingham School not being in deficit should have been taken some two or three years ago, but then no one at Durham County Council ever accepts responsibility, when things go wrong.

“The best way forward to ensure all the pupils receive the best possible education is to join the MAT, ensuring the future of the school.”

The council is also considering whether to take on responsibility of community leisure services currently provided at the school.

It’s culture and sport department wants to take over services, which currently cost about £40,000 a year to run.

Cllr Alan Napier, the council’s cabinet member for finance, said: “We know all schools face funding challenges but these are particularly pronounced for those like Wolsingham in rural areas with fewer than 600 pupils – the Department for Education threshold for financial viability.

“We have looked at the possibility of creating a federation of schools to provide a sustainable model of education in Weardale however there was just not enough support to make this a financially viable option.

“Wolsingham School’s desire to join a multi-academy trust really is the only option now to safeguard the site’s future.”