A review of school provision in two East Durham communities to ensure there is a mix of high-performing and financially sustainable schools looks set to be launched.
Durham County Council’s Cabinet discussed a report recommending the review initially focuses on the Wingate and Horden areas – where schools are experiencing the most significant financial challenges.
Councillors will hear how school budgets across County Durham have come under increased pressure due to factors such as government funding, changes to funding regulations and reductions in admission numbers.
This has led to some schools operating with a deficit budget in order to avoid a detrimental effect on educational standards for pupils.
The report emphasises the need to consider a range of options, such as shared management structures, the creation of federations and conversion to academies, when undertaking any reorganisation of schools as a result of the review.
Pupil numbers at Wellfield School, Wingate, had been falling, but 2013/14 saw an increase and they have been rising ever since. This upturn is predicted to continue, with an expectation that by 2019/20, the school should be able to set a balanced budget.
The report states that a review of provision is necessary as the school’s ability to pay down the accumulated deficit is uncertain and is dependent on the school maintaining an increase in pupil numbers.
Linda Rodham, headteacher at Wellfield School, said: “In 2012, Wellfield’s budget deficit was destined to rise substantially as a failing school with a previously declining roll.
“Well supported by a strong staff and governing body, I have been able to transform standards within the school. Consequently, pupil numbers have increased since 2012 and our initial first choice applications for 2018, show that we will be oversubscribed for 2018. This adds further strength to our financial deficit recovery plan ensuring that a balanced in-year budget will be achieved by 2019 at the latest.”
In addition, Horden has also been identified as a priority area for review as pupil numbers across the village’s nursery, infant, junior and primary schools are falling significantly.
The schools have undertaken staffing reductions in order to balance their budgets but are now facing financial difficulties.