A COUNCIL has been accused of systematically diverting pupils from a rural school following a decision to suspend sixth form enrolment for two years.

News that college admissions at Wolsingham School have been suspended due to funding problems has shocked residents across Weardale.

It will mean many teenagers will be forced to trek miles to colleges such as Lanchester, Consett, Bishop Auckland or Durham further their education.

Governors and Durham County Council say the sixth form could be revived in future, but many believe this is unlikely, arguing that once a service is taken away it is usually lost forever.

The move came as the council reviews the management of education across the county in the face of mounting school budget deficits, funding formula changes and, in some areas, falling admission numbers.

Former governor Anita Atkinson, whose three children attended the school, has accused the council of “systematically diverting” pupils away from Wolsingham by removing free school transport from nearby communities.

“It’s a disgrace,” she said. “Wolsingham School has offered continuous education for five centuries.”

However, Sheila Palmerley, the council’s strategic manager for school places, said this was not the case, adding: “Historically, there were some communities across the county that benefitted from free transport to specific schools, this included families who lived in the Crook area.

“These ‘special’ arrangements for all communities across the county stopped in 2012 when there were a number of changes to the council’s home to school transport policy.”

Phil Hodgson, the council’s head of education, said the decision to temporarily suspend admissions to sixth form had been made by the governors, adding: “We fully support this decision as a prudent measure at a time when all schools are having to look very hard at their budgets.”

He said choosing to suspend rather than close meant post-16 courses could return to the the site in the future, and said the council will support the school to ensure year 11 students find suitable sixth form places from next September.

Weardale County councillor John Shuttleworth said: “The last thing anyone wants is for that sixth form to close, and that is what will happen. When a service is stopped it is usually lost for ever.”

North West Durham Labour MP Laura Pidcock blamed the Government and has vowed to tackle education spending cuts.

“A scenario where there will no longer be sixth form provision at Wolsingham is a terrible prospect,” she said.

“The alternatives, because of the rural location and poor transport links, are really unpalatable.”