COUNTY education chiefs could spend more than £4.5 million writing-off school debts this year.

Bosses maintain a special reserve fund to cover the budget deficits of struggling schools which convert to academy status.

And with up to four schools in the county either set to switch or which have already completed their transition, Durham County Council could be forced to dip into savings to the tune of £4.769 million.

The state of finances on campuses was revealed in figures which showed eight county schools expect to end the year in the red.

Speaking at the council's cabinet meeting, John Hewitt, corporate director of resources, said: “In summary, six schools have been given permission to set deficit budgets and further information has been requested from two schools, prior to reaching agreement on whether that would be allowed.

“The council works extremely closely with schools on financial and educational support and we offer a service where financial concerns can be flagged.

“In terms of reserves, schools are estimated to use approximately £8 million of reserves to set their budgets for 2020/21, which would reduce available balances to £8.4 million.”

Among the struggling schools cited in a report for councillors is St Bede’s RC Comprehensive School, in Peterlee, and Wellfield Community School, in Wingate, which according to bosses both have a "legacy of long-standing financial issues".

This also showed 14 schools in the county had predicted they would end 2019/20 with a budget deficit, but of those six managed to end the financial year underspent.

Olwyn Gunn, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “It remains a deep concern that we’re again talking about school deficit budgets and the challenges some of our schools have in setting a balanced budget.

“Our headteachers and school staff have hard enough jobs, without the added worry of trying to make ends meet, year after year.

“They want the best education for the children and that’s what we want too.”