The outbreak of foot and mouth has forced several schools to close, Amanda Kelly reports.
HUNDREDS of schoolchildren from farming communities were forced to stay at home this week in a bid to prevent the further spread of foot and mouth disease.
While the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was keen for as few lessons as possible to be disrupted, it advised schools at the heart of infected exclusion zones to close. In the north-west of Devon, where there have been several confirmed outbreaks of the disease, four primary schools shut for the week.
The 36 pupils at Highampton village school close to Burdon Farm, where the county's first case was identified, were among those who found themselves with an unexpected week off. Half of the school's children and one of the two teachers live on a farm.
The Department for Education and Employment was referring anxious headteachers to MAFF for advice on whether to stay open and what precautions to take, but it confirmed that a handful of schools in Northumberland, Herefordshire and Devon had already taken the decision to close.
In Essex, however, where the disease was first discovered at a Brentwood battoir, education bosses were determined to keep their 600 schools running as usual.
A spokesperson for the county said: "Although we are advising parents and pupils to stay away from the countryside, we are determined to keep schools functioning as usual.
"Unlike other parts of the country that have been affected, we are basically an urban county with relatively few pupils being educated in rural areas."
But schools all over the country were putting off planned farm visits and other activities that would have brought children into contact with livestock, while the National Trust announced that it was postponing all school visits to its rural properties.
Children from farming families were also being urged not to wear clothes that had been in contact with animals to school.
Further north, meanwhile, the crisis was being compounded by the worst weather the winter has brought so far, with some northern and eastern parts of Scotland receiving more than 10 inches of snow.
Thousands of children were able to spend the week playing outside, as hundreds of schools, from the Orkney Islands to Edinburgh and Northumberland closed their doors.