SCHOOLS across York face a tense wait to see how many staff are unable to turn up for work at the start of the new term next week.

With Covid rates surging as the new Omicron variant spreads, both staff and students will be taking Covid tests between now and the start of term. But until those results start to come back, headteachers won’t know exactly how many teachers will be able to turn up on day one.

Many schools faced huge pressure from staff shortages due to Covid towards the end of last term. “Before Christmas, one of our schools had 27 per cent of staff off because of Covid - a quarter of staff,” said Adam Cooper, the interim chief executive of the South Bank Multi-Academy Trust, which includes Millthorpe School, York High, and four junior or primary schools.

Mr Cooper, who is also head of Knavesmire Primary, said that schools would have to ‘take stock’ as the result of staff tests came in over the next few days. “But there is going to be pressure,” he said.

He added that normally, when schools were faced with staff shortages, they could rely upon supply teachers. But they, too, may be affected by Covid, he said. And it wasn’t just teachers that could be affected, added Mr Cooper. “At Knavesmire last term, we had an issue with the cleaners and non teaching staff,” he said.

If there is a shortage of teachers at the start of term, it may be possible to teach year groups in larger groups, Mr Cooper said. “Or we may have to go back to remote learning if we can’t staff school adequately. Those are the options.”

All Saints head Sharon Keelan-Beardsley said both staff and students at her school had been asked to take tests both today and on January 3. Her school starts the new term on Tuesday.

Until the test results come back, there is no way of knowing how many teachers might be forced to take time off to isolate, she said. “At the moment we’re just having to play it by ear. We’re hoping that things will be OK!” she said.

If there are too many teachers who have to isolate, however, the school might have to consider a return to online learning, she said. The lower school had to do that in early December when there were problems with the boilers.

“So if we have to go to online learning, we know that we can do. But we would much rather the children were in school!”

One secondary school supply teacher, who did not want to be named, said he had been ‘completely busy’ towards the end of last term, because so many regular teachers were isolating.

Many of them weren’t even really ill, he said, but were unable to go to work because of having been ‘pinged’.

But he said it was vitally important that children did go back to school where at all possible.

They have already missed far too much schooling - and the important ‘socialisation’ that comes with it, he said.

Online learning seriously disadvantaged pupils from poorer backgrounds in particular, he added, because families may not have the internet access needed for children to keep up.

“If there are two siblings and only one laptop, for example, who gets the priority?” he asked.

City of York Council's executive member for children, young people and education, Cllr Ian Cuthbertson, said: “Whilst schools wait for new national guidance we will do everything we can to support them, as we have done throughout the pandemic.

"We understand how essential schools are and we will continue to provide them with help and support.”