A SPECIAL school in Oxford has been shut to protect pupils' safety after an asbestos ceiling was damaged.

Northfield School in Blackbird Leys, which teaches boys aged 11-18, closed on Tuesday and will not reopen until after the Easter holidays.

Oxfordshire County Council confirmed an 'asbestos ceiling' in a corridor was damaged on Friday and the area was sealed off on safety grounds.

A spokesman said: "Specialist contractors are in the process of making the school safe.

"In the meantime the school has remained closed as a precaution, and also as an opportunity to address other issues relating to the school buildings maintenance and condition.

"We are sorry for the inconvenience and concern this has caused."

Until the 21st century, when people realised it was harmful, asbestos was used in many building and decorating projects - for example, many ceilings were covered with textured paint containing asbestos. 

Though safe when left alone, asbestos can be lethal if it is disturbed and its fibres become airborne, as they can then be ingested or inhaled.

The council spokesman added: "We would like to reassure parents, pupils and staff our highest priority is the safety of all concerned and the continuation of education for all pupils."

Northfield School in Knights Road has been in need of improvements to its building for some time.

In January Bob Price, then Oxford City Council leader, revealed land belonging to Northfield School was being considered for additional parking at Kassam Stadium.

He said at a meeting: "It [the school] is in bad need of being refurbished, replaced, relocated or even rebuilt."

Parents raised concerns about the potential impact of the closure.

One mother wrote on the school's Facebook page: "This does have a big impact on them in every way possible.

"I hope the local authority assesses this situation and repairs the matter to the best of their ability.

"If you cannot repair the matter then shut the school down and find alternative schooling for the boys as they are missing out on their education, which is vital for them."

The school has also apologised to parents for the inconvenience.

A statement released by deputy headteacher Tristan Powell said: "The difficult decision to close the school to students was not taken lightly and has been made on health and safety grounds.

"I wish to apologise to parents and carers for the inconvenience and impact that this may cause but please rest assure that all efforts are being made to rectify the situation.

"In the absence of students, staff will be working hard to further develop what is offered at Northfield and to plan for a successful summer term."

The council also thanked staff for their 'prompt response' to the problem.