CONCERNS are mounting over a sharp rise in the number of families that are choosing to educate children at home, despite “an incredibly strong return to schools” following the latest lockdown, a meeting has heard.

In the face of safety concerns raised by teaching unions, the fourth return to school since the start of the pandemic has seen some 97 per cent of primary-aged pupils attend classes across the North Yorkshire this week. North Yorkshire County Council director Stuart Carlton said as secondary schools were returning on a staggered basis, there was no return to school figure for older children.

In addition, following fears being raised in the county that children would side-step “unpleasant” Covid tests, headteachers have reported high levels of take-up of lateral tests as well as compliance with new rules on wearing masks in secondary school classrooms.

A national survey by the ASCL head teachers’ union of more than 700 secondary schools found take-up of Covid tests as being between 90 per cent to 100 per cent in more than half of schools, but in about one in 20 schools, take-up for testing was below 60 per cent of pupils.

A meeting of the council’s executive heard its deputy leader Councillor Gareth Dadd state while teaching unions had prevaricated over the return to schools, teachers in North Yorkshire had “moved heaven and earth to get kids back in the classroom as they recognise that’s the best place for them”.

Mr Carlton told the meeting: “Schools have worked incredibly hard to be ready to receive children. I am delighted to see the vast majority of children from primary schools return.”

He said the council would examine reasons behind why three per cent of pupils had not returned to primary schools and encourage them to do so.

However, the meeting also heard the three months to December had seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of children in elective home education from the previous year, rising to 806 children across the county.

The executive was told the rise in elected home education in North Yorkshire was below that in many other areas. In November, a survey of 151 local councils by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services found the number of home-schooled children in England had risen 38 per cent over the previous year, sparking safeguarding concerns.

Mr Carlton said: “I am worried about the numbers of elected home educated children. One of the primary reasons for the rise seems to be Covid-related and parental worries around Covid.”

The meeting was told the council had contacted all elected home education families and as concerns over the virus drop off, the authority was optimistic it could encourage children to return to school-based education.

Councillors heard the authority was working with partner agencies to ensure home-educated children do not miss out on universal and targeted services, such as the Healthy Child Programme. Mr Carlton said people were rightly concerned over the virus, but all that was possible to make schools safe had been done.