Parents, pupils and teachers have described Teesside teacher Paul Hilditch, 55, as ‘dedicated and inspirational’ following his death on Sunday.
Headteacher of Conyers School, Louise Spellman, said they were ‘deeply saddened’ at the sudden loss of their colleague and friend.
Mr Hilditch taught engineering and technology at Conyers for four years and Ms Spellman said he was ‘a truly dedicated, caring and well-loved member of staff.’
His death comes as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the UK and parents and schoolchildren face further disruption after ministers announced plans to close primary schools in areas of England worst-hit by coronavirus.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also confirmed that most secondary school pupils will see the start of term delayed by a fortnight to January 18.
Paul Hilditch, 55, died just two days after Christmas following a two-week battle with Covid-19
Teaching unions have also criticised the Government’s handling of the pandemic as they called for greater risk assessments to protect staff from the virus.
Ms Spellman said: ‘Paul was a fantastic teacher who thought so much of his students and really gave his all to ensure they achieved their best,’ she said.
‘Paul loved our school and our students: he will be remembered as a kind, devoted and truly brilliant teacher.
‘All of our thoughts and prayers are with Paul’s friends and family at this time.’
The engineering teacher was described as kind, devoted and a true inspiration to pupils at Conyers School in Yarm, Teesside
Tributes were paid on social media. The parents of a pupil said: ‘My son really took to him and the way he taught – despite having only been taught by him since September.
‘Absolutely heartbreaking, thoughts and love to his family.’
Another wrote: ‘Such a terrible loss. My daughter thought he was a great teacher. My thoughts go out to his family.’
One shocked pupil said: ‘No way I’m reading this, he was one the best teachers in there. Rest in peace.’
Conyers School in Teesside paid tribute to the teacher, as unions call for greater risk assessments to protect staff as classes return in the New Year
Mr Hilditch’s death comes as the Government announced that Year 11 and Year 13 classes will return to school on January 11, with other secondary school pupils heading back a week later.
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the government needed to prioritise access to a Covid-19 vaccine for teachers and education staff.
He said: ‘It has been abundantly clear throughout the autumn term that the pandemic is seriously impacting on the ability of all schools to continue to operate normally and safely.
‘However, schools have faced continued and unnecessary uncertainty which has created huge anxiety for pupils, parents and staff which could and should have been avoided.
‘Risk assessment measures must be urgently reviewed and updated in light of the new dangers that have been identified by the Government.’
The Department for Education is racing to put a mass testing system in place, but has warned the curbs could need to be even wider than for primaries as older children are more likely to spread the disease. The situation is not expected to become clear until the next review date of January 13.
One parent said today that the situation is ‘totally ridiculous’, adding: ‘The school at one end of the street I live in will be closed while the school at the other end is open’. Another said their area had been ‘split in two’ with ‘schools on one side of the road closed, the other side open’.
Around two-thirds of schools in the capital will be shut for an extra fortnight from Monday – meaning there are many households where one child will be forced to stay at home while another will still go to school in a neighbouring borough.
With most secondary schools shut until at least January 18 – or even indefinitely – millions of children face weeks or even months of ‘inadequate’ virtual classes that the head of Ofsted believes sets back children ‘years’, particularly those from working class backgrounds.
Experts say that months at home during the first lockdown saw many youngsters regress academically, socially and developmentally with only vulnerable children and the children of key workers in the worst-hit areas allowed to return to their desks next week.
Jon Richards, head of education at the union Unison, said: ‘Everyone agrees it’s important for schools and colleges to open but it can’t be at any expense when infections are rising.
‘This delay for secondary schools is a sensible decision, giving more time to organise mass testing effectively to limit the spread. Primary and early years reopening should also be delayed because social distancing isn’t really possible.
‘Ministers should also ensure any moves to extend the vaccine priority list must cover all school staff and not just teachers.’