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Cabinet asked to support school's MAT decision

Published November 06, 2019 10.31am

Councillors are being asked to support a County Durham school's decision to join a multi-academy trust in order to safeguard its future.

The proposals to be considered next week follow on from our Cabinet meeting in March 2019, which considered the outcome of a review of education provision in the Weardale area that had been carried out due to the unsustainable financial position of Wolsingham School and Sixth Form. By August 2020, the school is forecast to have a deficit of £1.967m, with this figure expected to remain at nearly £2m by the end of the financial year 2023-24.

The review had previously concluded that there were only two sustainable models for the future of education for Weardale, either Wolsingham entering into a multi-academy trust or a federation of schools.

A report to the Cabinet meeting next Wednesday 13 November sets out how the idea of a federation did not have the support of enough schools, with officers concluding the savings it would create would not be enough to eliminate Wolsingham's debt or provide a solid enough foundation for the future.

The option of the school joining a multi-academy trust has been considered and approved by the governing body of Wolsingham School and Sixth Form, which has been undertaking detailed discussions with the Advanced Learning Partnership (ALP). ALP's governing body has agreed in principle to Wolsingham joining, provisionally in September 2020.

Only alternative to closure

The report states that as an alternative to closure, the multi-academy trust is "considerably more preferable," although the decision to join the trust is the governing body's and not ours.

Cllr Olwyn Gunn, our 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." 

Cllr Alan Napier, our 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."

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