A PRIMARY school has become the first in the North-East to close after five staff members tested positive for Covid-19.

Hemlington Hall Academy in Middlesbrough will completely close to all pupils from Monday, September 14 for two weeks.

It is the first school in the North-East to fully-close due to coronavirus, and among the first in the UK, The Northern Echo understands. 

In a statement, school bosses said it had taken the decision to close after a 'significant' number of key staff tested positive.

Four more cases among staff were this week confirmed following a staff member testing positive on Sunday.

The school told parents and guardians this afternoon as it confirmed no pupils had reported any symptoms to the staff.

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The school, which had already closed to some pupils on Monday, said it had been following all Public Health England safety measures and guidance since reopening.

Nick Blackburn, chief executive of Lingfield Education Trust, which includes Hemlington Hall Academy, said: “Our priority is always the safety and wellbeing of our pupils, staff and families, and the safety precautions have been strictly adhered to.

“I appreciate that this decision will have an impact on our families, and I want to reassure them that it has been taken in the interests of health and safety for everyone connected with the school.”

The school, which will also undergo a deep clean, said pupils and their families did not need to self-isolate in line with advice from Public Health England.

It did confirm that the five affected staff members were self-isolating. 

'Council fully supports this decision'

Councillor Mieka Smiles, Executive Member with responsibility for Education and Skills at Middlesbrough Council, said: “Current absence levels would have made it difficult to follow current guidance. The Council fully supports this precautionary decision.

“The school has contacted parents directly, offering information and advice they need to follow, and will now prepare for a safe reopening.

“All Middlesbrough schools have worked tirelessly to prepare for children to return safely and will continue to follow advice set out by the Department of Education and Public Health England.

“All decisions will be made with the safety of staff, children and their families in mind.”

The Department of Education said there had been a 'very small number' of schools across the country that were asking pupils to remain at home. 

A spokesperson said: “The very small number of schools that are asking some or all of their pupils to remain at home are following our clear published process following a positive case being confirmed in a school.

“If a positive case is confirmed, swift action will be taken to ask those who have been in close contact with them to self-isolate, and Public Health England’s local health protections teams are standing ready to support and advise schools in this situation. Children who are self-isolating will continue to receive remote education from home.

“We will continue to work with schools to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to keep pupils and staff safe.”

This comes as more than 20 schools from across the North-East have reported Covid-19 cases among pupils and staff.

Schools in Darlington, County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Teesside have confirmed new Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the week.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a change in the law reducing social gatherings from 30 to six. 

During a Downing Street press briefing, the PM said the measures would help to keep "schools" open.

He said: "These measures are not another national lockdown. The whole point of them is to avoid a second national lockdown.

"By bearing down on social contact we can keep schools and businesses open in the knowledge that they are Covid secure."

He said closing schools and colleges would now be "as a very, very last resort," adding: "The long term affect to children's life chances of not going to school are very significant and far great that the risks now of going back to school - far, far greater."

But in Darlington on Tuesday, a meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s children and young people scrutiny committee heard getting back to classes was proving challenging.

Councillors heard children were suffering stress after having been told to keep their distances, but had found it was not always possible.