A school with just one pupil on its roll will close at the end of next month, council leaders have agreed.

The closure of the Forest of Teesdale Primary School on August 31 is the "only viable option", councillors were told.

It will enhance education in the area amid a dwindling population which makes it impossible to continue as before, argued Councillor Richard Bell.

A former pupil and governor of the school, he said he put forward the closure proposal "with some regret" at Durham County Council's cabinet meeting.

He said: "Forest has the lowest pupil numbers of any school in County Durham and serves the least populated part of the county.

"There is currently one child on roll although that child is not currently taught on site. No pupils started in reception in September 2021.

"This clearly indicates the school cannot remain financially nor educationally viable," said Cllr Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance.

"Back in September 1968 I joined this school and spent six happy years there. Though I didn't like the outside toilets in the winter, things have changed a bit since then. Back then the numbers were in the upper 30s.

"School closures are an area of concern as local communities often see a school as being at the heart of their communities."

But he said there was a "compelling case" for closing Forest of Teesdale.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Northern Echo.

"Schools need to be sustainable to manage challenges in a rapidly changing educational environment," he added.

"This closure is really a result of rural depopulation.

"It was clear that once the school got below a certain critical mass, parents did not feel their children had sufficient social opportunities in such a small school to adequately prepare them for the 800-strong secondary school in Barnard Castle."

He told how collaboration with other small schools in the Upper Dales Federation tried to tackle weaknesses found in a 2018 Ofsted report, which rated the school good, but it became clear pupil numbers would not rise to meet teaching and social needs.

He said the closure would enable children to go to a larger school with more social interaction and broader education: "Clearly educationally it is in the best interests of children and their families.

"The objectives of this proposal are said to significantly enhance the quality of education provision for children within the community, while ensuring choice of provision and curriculum breadth are enhanced.

"The teaching and pastoral support at Forest has always been excellent and I would thank all staff, past and present, for their work there."

John Pearce, director of children and young people's services, said there had been a consultation on the closure in the wake of "long-standing challenges with pupil numbers".

He added: "The council understands the importance of our small rural schools and has made every effort in recent years to sustain the school, including collaborating with other small schools in the area.

"Despite this Forest of Teesdale currently only has one child on roll and no applications for places in September 2022, with no likely demographic changes in the area in the near future.

"In conclusion, officers believe the recommendation provides the best option for the future education provision of children living in the area."

The school's governing body had voted unanimously to consult on the closure, and 17 of 22 responses agreed with the proposal.

Cllr Paul Sexton, cabinet member for adults and health services, said: "Closing the school is the only means of providing a sustainable future of education in the Upper Durham Dales area.

"Closing a school, especially in a remote rural area, is not a decision that can be taken lightly, but having considered all the factors... there is no alternative."

Darlington and Stockton Times: Cllr Paul Sexton. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Paul Sexton. Picture: Durham County Council.

He said it would save £115,250 per year which would be used better elsewhere in the education system.

The cabinet agreed with the proposals.