HUNDREDS of Oxfordshire pupils turned up to school on the first day of an unprecedented shutdown.

As classrooms across the nation fell silent yesterday, most schools remained partially open to care for key workers' children and vulnerable pupils.

They will stay partly open despite the stricter lockdown announced by the Prime Minister last night.

Teachers and parents were given just two working days' notice to prepare for the changes, which have been rushed in to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Lynn Knapp, who leads Oxfordshire's biggest primary school, said the past week had been 'the most challenging in my 24 years as a headteacher'.

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At her workplace Windmill Primary School in Headington, 40 of the usual 630 pupils still went in today as they could not be cared for at home.

Mrs Knapp said: "We've organised them into four classrooms to try to keep the numbers small.

"We already had plans in place as we knew it [the closure announcement] was coming, making sure resources were available for online learning and how we were going to deliver that."

Oxfordshire County Council said just 15 schools in the county were completely closed yesterday, most of which had teamed up with neighbouring schools to pool provision for children in need.

The authority did not specify how many children still attended, but the Oxford Mail understands that the figure is in the low hundreds at least.

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A spokesperson said the number was 'low', adding: "The council is pleased that parents and carers are working out local solutions and following central government advice to keep their children at home."

Windmill School is still managing to run a breakfast club and after-school club, and pupils are keeping busy with a range of online learning activities as well as tasks involving craft, games and sports.

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Extra cleaning measures at Windmill

Mrs Knapp said: "It's a balance - it's a mixture of childcare, which is what has been asked of us really, and learning and fun activities."

Like many school leaders, Mrs Knapp and her deputy head spent all weekend in communication with each other and parents to sort out which pupils should still attend.

She said: "The lack of clarity about who was a key worker caused us some problems. There were mixed messages.

"I've been a headteacher for 24 years and it was the most challenging week of my career."

There were concerns nationally on Friday that, due to the extensive list of people whom the government considers to be key workers, schools could be as busy as usual come this week.

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However, most families heeded warnings over the weekend and kept children home as asked.

Key workers were urged to only use provision at schools as a last resort, despite Boris Johnson's speech on Wednesday causing some confusion to the contrary.

Parents of more than 100 pupils at Windmill initially requested that they continued attending, and Mrs Knapp had to send out a letter on Saturday explaining that it would be too many to ensure safe social distancing.

As well as the logistics, staff and pupils had to deal with the sudden arrival of what might have been the last day of school before September.

The government has not confirmed when schools will reopen, but many doubt it will be before the summer holidays start in July.

For children in Year 6, Year 11 and Year 13, who would have been due to move elsewhere, it was a sudden end to years of study.

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Online learning at Windmill

Mrs Knapp said: "We had parents crying at the gate, children were crying, I sobbed.

"I've promised that we'll get them back in, but there is uncertainty as to when.

"I feel a bit lost - my diary is empty!"

She credited her staff for their 'absolutely brilliant' response to the rapid change in situation, adding: "I've been bowled over.

"Everyone has just pulled together."

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Schools are still setting lessons and work for pupils to complete at home, with supervision from parents.

Many are utilising their social media pages and online learning portals to facilitate communication, and sent pupils home last week with 'learning packs' full of resources.

Teacher and musician Ed Finch, who works at Larkrise Primary School in Oxford, has been playing original songs via Twitter to cheer people up.

He told his 13,500 Twitter followers that the videos, which he has collectively called the Pandemic Music Challenge, would consist of 'a very poor but brand new song every day for as long as it ruddy takes'.

In one uplifting song, played on a ukelele and kazoo, he sings amusing lyrics about the importance of having thumbs.

Meanwhile at Bartholomew School in Eynsham, staff in the PE department have created an online learning resource called NetFlex.

They spent all weekend compiling more than 240 fitness videos and challenges for pupils to try out from home, to make sure they stay active.

Headteacher Craig Thomas said: "The way staff have responded under these circumstances has been fantastic, I am so proud.

"The whole school community are really rising to the challenge."

Of almost 1,300 pupils usually in school, 35 continued to attend in person yesterday.

At John Mason School in Abingdon, head Sarah Brinkley said a small number of pupils were attending and just 10 per cent of staff.

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In a tweet, she also thanked Waitrose for providing bread, to feed pupils eligible for free school meals.

The government is rolling out a voucher scheme for such children, which will provide e-vouchers and gift cards for supermarkets to ensure they do not go hungry.

Rose Hill Primary School, which serves some of Oxford's more disadvantaged areas, is providing food for parents to come and collect if their child needs it.

Headteacher Sue Vermes said her staff had been 'fantastically, cheerfully resilient' despite the challenges.

At Sutton Courtenay CE Primary School, near Didcot, headteacher Rachel Hornsey said the atmosphere on Friday was 'very unreal'.

In a letter to parents, she wrote: "It was normality mixed with the knowledge that things are not in any way normal.

"Suddenly it was the final assembly - we reminded the children that the school is very much still here and they are still part of it even though they won’t be wearing their uniform for a while.

"And then we said goodbye to each other for a while."