Tributes have been pouring in for a popular secondary school teacher who died from COVID-19 two days after Christmas.
Paul Hilditch, 55, who taught engineering and technology at Conyers School in Yarm, North Yorkshire, lost his fight against coronavirus in hospital on 27 December after two weeks of treatment.
Conyers headteacher Louise Spellman said they were "deeply saddened" at the sudden loss of their colleague and friend.
The popular teacher had no known underlying health conditions.
Tributes were paid on social media after Teesside Live reported the news on Tuesday.
One reader said: "Devastating news for everyone that knew this teacher colleague, family or friend."
The parents of a pupil said: "My son really took to him and the way he taught - despite having only been taught by him since September.
"Absolutely heartbreaking, thoughts and love to his family."
Another wrote: "Such a terrible loss. My daughter thought he was a great teacher.
"My thoughts go out to his family."
A shocked pupil said: "No way I’m reading this, he was one the best teachers in there.
“Rest in peace."
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Hilditch taught engineering and technology at Conyers for four years and Spellman said he was "a truly dedicated, caring and well-loved member of staff".
"Paul was a fantastic teacher who thought so much of his students and really gave his all to ensure they achieved their best," she said.
"He was a true inspiration to many and, for our students, he worked tirelessly to ensure their success.
"His passion for electronics in particular has had a powerful impact on our students, many of whom have gone on to successful careers in engineering.
"Paul loved our school and our students: he will be remembered as a kind, devoted and truly brilliant teacher.
"All of our thoughts and prayers are with Paul’s friends and family at this time."
Spellman said services would be on hand to support students and staff and a book of condolence was being set up which would be shared with Hilditch's family.
His death comes as schools across England face increasing pressure as the new variant of COVID-19 rapidly spreads across the country.
The higher infectiousness of the new variant as led to fears that even Tier 4 restrictions might not be enough to bring the R below 1 across the country.
Scientists have estimated the new variant increases R by up to 0.4.
With schools one of the few places where any amount of mixing is allowed under Tier 4, there has been increasing pressure to close them again like in the first UK lockdown in spring.
On Wednesday, the government announced the reopening of secondary schools in England will be delayed, and in some of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 primary school pupils will also not return to their desks as planned next week.
The changes to the start of the new term means students in exam years will return to secondary schools a week later than intended, from 11 January, while other secondary and college students will go back full-time on 18 January.
The National Education Union has been calling for all education workers above the age of 45 to be given equal priority to health and social care workers for COVID-19 vaccinations.
On Thursday, the chair of the education select committee said teachers should be made a priority for vaccinations now that the UK has approved the Oxford vaccine.
Robert Halfon MP told BBC Breakfast: “What I also want to see is teachers, especially now that we’ve got the Oxford vaccine, that teachers and support staff are made an absolute priority for vaccinations because if we can make sure that they’re vaccinated and they’re safe, it’s less likely that schools will have to close.”
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