CHILDREN across York were back at school today - as headteachers reported a small but so far manageable number of staff absences due to Covid.

Adam Cooper, the chief executive of the South Bank Multi-Academy Trust, which includes Millthorpe School, York High, and four primary schools, admitted that the situation felt ‘very knife-edge’. “But so far today we are looking as though we are OK across all my schools,” he said yesterday (Tuesday).

Staff and pupils alike were regularly testing, added Mr Cooper. “We will see how things develop. But the most important thing - for pupils and parents - is that we are back at school!”

York High head Rod Sims said that five members of staff - some teaching and some non-teaching - were off at his school. But that represented a ‘significantly better position’ than before Christmas, when 25-30 per cent of staff were off at one point, he said. Even so, before Christmas, the school managed to deliver every lesson as timetabled. That was partly thanks to some teachers volunteering to teach in their free periods, and also by using supply teachers and merging some classes into larger groups. “We’re very proud of that,” Mr Sims said.

Many York schools started back today, after a ‘training day’ for staff yesterday. But All Saints started back yesterday. “Staff levels are OK,” said headteacher Sharon Keelan-Beardsley. “We’ve got some staff off, for a variety of reasons, but we have covered all of our classes.”

In a letter to parents seen by The Press, Fulford School head Steve Lewis said his school had started the New Year ‘with a number of staff and pupil absences’. Staff absences would be closely monitored, he told parents, adding: “Whilst we will do all we can to keep children in school, we will not put at risk the safety of the site and if necessary we may need to send year groups home.” In that case, parents would be given ‘as much notice as possible’, he said.

A spokesperson for the Hope Sentamu Learning Trust, which has 15 schools across York, Hull and North Yorkshire - including Manor CofE Academy - said all its schools were opening as normal today. “We have contingency plans in place for staffing and also for remote learning some or all of our students. However, we are hopeful that this will not be necessary,” a spokesperson said.

Gail Brown, chief executive of the Ebor Academy Trust, which includes Park Grove and Osbaldwick amongst its York primary schools, added: “All our schools are open and children should be back in the classroom.”

York Press: All Saints RC pupils being tested for Covid-19 at the Railway Institute in York ahead of going back to school

Secondary schools, meanwhile, reported that pupils were responding well to the mandatory wearing of masks in classrooms - a measure announced over the weekend in response to the rising number of Omicron cases, along with on-site Covid testing at secondary schools.

All Saints head Sharon Keelan-Beardsley said her pupils all came in with masks on the first day. “They have done it before!” she said. York High head Rod Sims said that mask-wearing in class wasn’t great for learning. “Education is relationship-based,” he said. “It requires a lot of non-verbal signs to get a good quality of interaction.” But the most important thing was to have children back in school and learning, he said. “We are following all the guidelines.”