CHURCHFIELDS School is to remain closed to most pupils today as investigations continue into an illness, thought to be norovirus.

The school, in Salcombe Drive, has 24 members of staff absent with a flu-like illness as well as vomiting and diarrhoea symptoms.

The problem has been heightened by the fact that a further 12 members of staff are also absent due to other illnesses, school trips, training and paternity leave – making a total of 36 absentees.

Deputy headteacher Sharon Kirwan said they were disappointed that they had been forced to take the decision to close the doors to most pupils.

She said: “This does not leave enough staff to run the school safely which means we are only open at present to Year 11 pupils and this will remain the situation until the end of Wednesday at least.

“The clear advice from the health professionals we are dealing with is for those staff to remain off work until they have recovered, to prevent the illness from spreading further.”

On Friday night a number of staff attended an event at the De Vere Hotel, in West Swindon, to celebrate their successful examination results, where they ate together, and that is not being ruled out as a cause.

Andrew Spink, general manager at the hotel, said: “We are working closely with environmental health at the moment.

“There are a lot of norovirus infections in the area at the moment but we do not know of any staff who have been affected.

“We’re keeping a close eye on the situation and working with the environmental health team.”

However, Ms Kirwan said the school had been treating the infection as a virus.

She said: “Although council’s environmental health team is investigating the illness, all the indications at this stage are that it is a virus, such as norovirus, which is the problem and which has caused illness at other schools in the area.”

It is not yet known if the school will be opened tomorrow and the parents’ evening planned for the evening has already been cancelled and re-scheduled for early 2011.

No pupils are thought to have been affected by the bug and the results of the investigation into the cause are expected in a fortnight.

Six other schools – Grange Junior School, East Wichel Primary School, Colebrook Junior School, Colebrook Infants School, Seven Fields Primary School and Catherine Wayte School – have also had staff and pupils off sick with a suspected flu virus in the last week.