A school has banned the return of its pet chickens to fend off panic caused by the bird flu scare.

The chickens were kept in a coop at Pegasus Primary School in Blackbird Leys, Oxford, and used in school projects to help the youngsters learn how to care for animals.

Teachers took the chickens off the site in 2005 as a precaution at the height of the bird flu scare, as deaths were reported in the Far East.

The school was hopeful of returning the chickens to the children this month, as worries surrounding the outbreak began to die down.

But the recent bird flu scare at the Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Suffolk has ended any chance they might return.

Headteacher Jill Hudson said: "I don't think it is worth the hassle any more. It was a lovely project, but we have more than 460 children and with the chickens returning, if we had just one little cough or sneeze, there could be problems.

"It is not worth it at the moment. With all that is on the news, we thought it would be better if they were not on the site.

"We hoped it could be time to bring them back as things were dying down, but not now."

The chickens will now see out their days on a farm in Devon.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said the issue was a matter for the school. No guidance had been issued to teachers or governors.

Michael Waine, Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for schools improvement, said: "There is no advice on this issue from the county council.

"We would always encourage schools to be as creative as possible in what they offer children. By keeping animals, children can be in touch with the natural world.

"But no-one knows the families better than the schools, and if the school feels it is the right decision, we would support the school in that decision.

"It is very much down to the individual school."

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the Government did not have specific advice for schools, but added any premises which had more than 50 chickens needed to register them so they could be regulated in case of an outbreak.

She said: "The advice to schools in the UK is the same as for all poultry keepers. They should continue to keep a close eye on their birds for health problems and maintain good biosecurity measures as set out in the Defra guidance agreed with the industry.

"Stringent personal hygiene measures are recommended for those who regularly handle poultry.

"The risk is almost entirely confined to those who have close contact with infected domestic poultry."