PROPOSALS to merge two County Durham schools to tackle falling student numbers have been backed by council bosses.

Durham County Council’s (DCC) ruling cabinet agreed to launch a consultation to close Fyndoune Community College in Sacriston.

This forms part of plans to amalgamate Fyndoune with Durham Community Business College (DCBC) to protect the financial viability of both sites.

The move follows a request from the Department for Education (DfE) after the schools were rated as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2014.

As a result, the DfE ordered that they become academies – however efforts to find a sponsor were unsuccessful.

In 2018, the DfE agreed that the schools did not need to be converted into academies and could remain under council control.

However, this was dependent on DCC amalgamating the schools, in effect forcing one to close.

Although both schools have been upgraded to ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted, student numbers have fallen over the years.

Due to concerns about the financial viability of the two sites, which comprise the Durham Federation, council bosses are pushing ahead with the merger plans.

A cabinet report states Fyndoune had a year seven student intake in 2019 of 13 with a further decline expected for 2020.

DCBC’s year seven intake in 2019 was 44 with an expectation the school will be operating at less than a quarter of its capacity in 2020.

Under the new proposals, all students from Fyndoune would be educated on the DCBC site.

Council bosses also said they’re committed to retaining the Fyndoune site for “education and community use” with a consultation on its future with residents and stakeholders.

Sacriston division councillor, Heather Liddle, said she was “sad to see the school recommended for closure” but accepted it was the result of parental choice with children going to schools elsewhere in the area.

The councillor also raised concerns about transport arrangements for pupils travelling to the new site and whether there were sufficient places in other schools in the area.

Council bosses pledged to provide a response to her questions and to extra queries from Sacriston Parish Council.

DCC’s cabinet member for social inclusion, Angela Surtees, added: “Falling pupil numbers in the area and the cost of maintaining the school across a split site means that action is vital.

“The current and anticipated demand for school places in this part of the county means that consolidation of the schools is a priority.

“I welcome the emphasis in the report of the continued use of the Fyndoune site which is a key focus for us.

“If we’re able to preserve and strengthen educational provision in any part of Durham I would support recommendations that could bring this about.

“It’s clear to me that the proposals in this report are those most likely to do this.” 

The closure of Fyndoune Community College is subject to a six week consultation which will launch on April 20.

A final decision is expected in September 2020. If approved, the school is expected to close its doors the following month.