Councillors have agreed 'in principle' to a controversial shake-up of the education system in Dorset.
The county council is proposing an overhaul of middle schools in Purbeck by introducing a two-tier structure.
The authority says it has a surplus of 1,000 places and must close schools, including Swanage First School. But governors have criticised the plan.
Councillors said a further consultation will be held in Swanage and Wool with a final decision due in July 2010.
Councillor Toni Coombs, the member for children's services, said: "This is a very sensitive and emotive issue that involves children and young people's education.
"We have a serious problem on our hands with pupil numbers in Purbeck falling.
"If we do nothing, we will end up with schools being forced to close because they will not be able to survive."
She admitted a number of issues still had to be worked out over the plans for Swanage and Wool and forums will be set up for people to express their views.
The council also said £20m had been set aside to invest in primary education in Purbeck.
Members added they hoped to secure funding from the government's Building Schools for the Future programme to go towards secondary provision.
Mrs Coombs said: "We want to invest in the schools in Purbeck but can't spend money on schools with uncertain futures and falling numbers.
"Having heard all the representations, I believe that a move to two-tier is the right way forward, but it is vital we understand the impact of our decisions on local communities".