Over 4,000 pupils are enjoying a very long weekend after nine schools closed across the capital – due to Britain’s most poisonous spiders.
But experts and parents have criticised the closures in east London as “over the top” reactions to the slightly venomous arachnid, the False Widow.
Today John F Kennedy Special School became the ninth school near Newham, east London, to close due to spiders.
They have shut both campuses in Stratford and Beckton for the foreseeable future to allow for treatment.
A statement on the school’s website said: “Both sites are closed to students until further notice while treatment to address the presence of false widow spiders is completed.”
Pupils are set to return to Rokeby School and Star Primary School, both in Canning Town, and Ellen Wilkinson Primary School, in Beckton, on Monday, after exterminators controlled the menace.
Pest control expert Shane Jones, who owns Ridtek in Basingstoke, Hampshire, said: “If I’m going to be totally honest I think it’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction.”
Shane, originally from Melbourne in Australia, said: “If you put it into perspective if you had this situation in Australia then no one would go to school ever.
“But here, if they find a spider anywhere inside a school then they get into the Health and Safety mode where there’s no other option.
“I think what they are doing is literally going through it with a fine tooth comb, trying to find any evidence of these spiders.
“If there are female spiders in there with egg sacks that hatch out you can go from one to a couple of hundred very quickly – that could be why.
“But can you imagine all the working parents? It’s a huge disruption.
“Spiders in Australia are a lot more deadly and poisonous than they are here but saying that there’s an issue and it has to be dealt with.
“But it’s quite normal at this time of year and we should point out this spiders have been in this country for a long time.
“It’s the change of weather that makes them come in. It’s not unusual but we had a very good summer so the insect population has increased so there’s more food for spiders.”
Shane, who has lived in the UK for 11 years, added: “If we see a spider in Oz what you do with it in squash it.
“You hit with your shoe and it’s normal but when you live with it – here it’s a different story.
“In the UK, people’s tolerance to spiders is very low, whereas in Australia it is very high.”
Explaining how to get rid of the arachnids, he said: “First of all you have to identify they are False Widows.
“Then the decision has to be made by the headteacher on what course of action has got to be taken.
“Some schools will say just sort out that room or that area but others will evacuate the whole site and the whole places gets a fumigation.
“Then it’s a matter of getting everybody out and going in, then a full inspection to make sure they are no spider there. You can just hoover them up and incinerate them.
“We’ve done a school recently and they were only in a couple of isolated places in some storage sheds.”
A 39-year-old mum whose son goes to Godwin Junior School in Newham, east London, slammed her local authority’s response to the spiders after it was closed due to the infestation.
Walking past the school with her young son, she said: “I think it’s a bit over the top.
“I don’t want my son to be scared of spiders.
“Spiders are in the world – we are humans, we live in a world with animals and insects.
“We need to learn to live alongside each other.”
Another mum-of-two who had children at the school said: “It’s a big thing to close for two days.
“If they are UK’s deadliest spiders I think they have to take measures on it.
“They sent everyone a text yesterday on the phone and an email on Wednesday.
“My husband was angry – he just made a fleeting comment, ‘well you can’t close the school for two days’ and my take on that is that they haven’t taken it lightly.
“It’s an inconvenience on us parents but it’s health and safety.”
False Widow Spiders, the UK’s most poisonous arachnid, are dark-coloured with globular bodies and range from 9.5 to 14 mm in size.
Although named because of its physical similarity to the killer Black Widow spider, the species’ bites can be very painful but are generally harmless.
The false widow spider is not deadly, but can deliver a similar bite to its antipodean cousin, the potentially deadly Black Widow spider, which dons devilish black and red markings across its body.
Symptoms from a False Widow bite can include severe pain radiating from the bite and fever.
Spider bites can become infected too, as when we reported squaddie Matt Clarke, 32, suffering a puss-filled wound that went down the muscle after he was bitten by a spider with False Widow markings in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.
Bitten as he lay in bed, the army man said he woke up from a deep sleep with a “tingly sensation,” saw the spider on his leg and thought nothing of it. Despite not being life-threatening, the wound left him unable to walk for a while.
The Steatoda nobilis, commonly known as the False Widow spider, is native to Madeira and the Canary islands, and is believed to have arrived on British shores via a cargo transporter in the 19th Century.
By Ben Gelblum and Berny Torre