SCHOOLS in York are “out of their depth, out of options and out of time” as they plan a phased return of pupils from June 1, according to a union boss.

Michael Kearney, the National Education Union (NEU) secretary for the City of York district, said he has been contacted by an “overwhelming” number of members who work at local schools about safety concerns and working conditions ahead of reopening next month.

"The things I have seen have shocked me," he said. "The union has never seen this level of engagement from members for many years."

He claims teachers and teaching assistants are being told in some York schools that they are supposed to undertake the deep cleaning.

He also said risk assessments at some schools are not being shared with all their staff.

Mr Kearney said: "Risk assessments are due to be carried out by all schools and consulted on with their staff. This is simple good practice as staff will know their workspace and students better than anyone.

"However, many schools are not sharing their risk assessments and those that do are simply using generalised statements such as 'cleaning will be more frequent'. Cleaned where? And by who?

"Schools are out of their depth, out of options and out of time. They are risking the lives of their students and staff just so they can reopen on the 1 June."

Mr Kearney criticised York Liberal Democrats for providing no reassurances that they have the science to say that schools are safe to reopen.

He said: "Their national policy is that 'schools should not be reopened until we see scientific evidence from the Government that it's safe to do so. Now is the time to be transparent, cooperative and proactive'.

"That science has not been given so why are the local party ploughing ahead with this wider reopening plan?

"I've spoken to the Lib Dems about this and yet they decided to sit on their hands and do nothing. They know that schools leaders need concrete plans - not vague platitudes."

He said Liberal Democrats councillors have said to him that they want schools to make the decision to reopen dependant on their workplace circumstances.

"But some academy chains in York are not allowing schools to do this," he claimed. "They are providing blanket reopening plans for all their primary schools - this does not suggest following school-based circumstances."

Mr Kearney believes staff and students at schools in York and across the country should be asked to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

"Almost every other country in the world is now demanding that their students and staff must wear PPE whilst in school. Why are we not getting the same protections?"

Maxine Squire, assistant director for education and skills at City of York Council, said schools in York are currently completing a risk assessment to determine whether it is safe to widen attendance from June 1.

She said: "This will mean allowing sufficient time to introduce staff and pupils to new ways of working during week beginning June 1 meaning that schools will be spending some time on planning and preparation before gradually increasing the number of children on site.

"City of York Council is working with the York Schools and Academies board to support schools through this process, ensuring that children and young people return to school, only when the school has declared it safe for them to return."

She said most schools have remained open throughout the lockdown to provide childcare for key workers and vulnerable children and there has been a gradual increase in numbers of children attending over the last few weeks.

"Plans to open for additional year groups will be determined by the number of available staff and physical space, to ensure social distancing requirements can be met, and the safety of pupils and staff upheld," Ms Squire said.

“We will continue working with representatives from the maintained schools and all the city’s academy trusts, through the York Schools and Academies Board, to ensure that schools can open safely.”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Ian Cuthbertson, executive member for children, young people and education, said: “We would like to reassure parents and school staff that no school in York will be forced to open if the school believes that it cannot be done safely for staff, children and parents, and no action such as fines will be taken against any parents who do not wish to allow their children to return to school.

“Schools are currently carrying out risk assessments to identify whether they can open safely for an increased number of pupils beyond the children of key workers by the June 1.

"The council is assisting the schools partnership board, led by head teachers, and individual schools in the development of these assessments. If school leaders and governors believe that they can gradually open safely and follow national guidance, then we would support them in doing so, particularly given the importance of education after a long period out of school.

"The council is following the guidance set out by the Government and Public Health England and is supporting schools to open in a way that is measured, limits the amount of contact between different groups of children and uses additional protective measures to reduce any potential risks.

"Since lockdown restrictions were implemented, the council has provided parents and families a variety of learning and play activities online, along with further learning opportunities provided by our schools and organisations like Oak National Academy. In the coming months, we will continue to support parents and carers by signposting them to a variety of online resources that can help with home learning.”