MORE than 100 pupils had to be sent home from school after thieves stole lead from its roof, causing a ceiling to flood and partially collapse.

The theft at St James CE Primary School in East Hanney, near Wantage, was discovered by staff.

It is the fourth school in southern Oxfordshire to be targeted in recent months.

Headteacher Janice Peacock said she had no choice but to send all 128 pupils home as she did not know if the classroom with the damaged ceiling was safe.

She added that two other classrooms were also affected, with rain pouring in.

Mrs Peacock said: “About 30 pupils use the classroom and a surveyor will have to come in to decide if it is safe or not.

“We hope pupils will be back in school today but if that is not possible we will have to contact other schools in The Vale Academy Trust to see if pupils could be accommodated on a temporary basis.

“Of course we are insured but this is incredibly disruptive – our job is to teach and we can’t do that if the classrooms are not available.”

Mrs Peacock said a review of security would now take place.

Mum-of-three Dawn Hutcheon, 37, a parent at the school, said she had to work from home to look after daughter Annabel, six, and son Oliver, five.

The clerk to West Hanney Parish Council said: “It’s a lovely school and a lovely village and I’m sad this has happened – whoever did this must be desperate.”

Long Wittenham Primary School near Didcot, and Clifton Hampden and Culham primary schools, near Abingdon, have also been targeted.

Alison Mountain, headteacher of Long Wittenham Primary, which has 92 pupils, said the lead theft had damaged a newly-created library area which had been converted out of a cloakroom.

She said: “We spent the summer holidays creating a bigger library space and then a couple of weeks ago we had a huge leak there.

“That was when we discovered lead had been stolen from above a classroom door.

“We think the bill will be more than £2,500 to repair the damage with felt and a lead substitute.

“We can claim on the insurance but it has been distracting for staff who are trying to concentrate on teaching.”

Lisa Horton, headteacher of Clifton Hampden and Culham primary schools, said thieves struck earlier this month at Clifton Hampden and at Culham in August.

She added: “At Clifton Hampden they stripped an entire section of lead from the roof covering a cloakroom, which has led to flooding.

“The theft of lead from the roof at Culham also led to flooding – repairs are likely to cost thousands at each school.”

Thames Valley Police spokesman Jack Abell said there were no arrests so far.