Children should be allowed to skip school to attend protests, say British teachers

Telegraph Reporters
Teenage activist Greta Thunberg rallies student activists in Washington DC, September 13 - Getty Images North America

A majority of teachers are in favour of pupils missing lessons to campaign and support causes they believe in, according to a poll.

The survey, commissioned by the National Citizen Service (NCS), found that more than three in five (61%) of those questioned agreed pupils should be allowed an "explained absence" to take part in a social activism activity - such as a protest, march or volunteering.

The findings come as young people prepare for what is expected to be the largest global climate strike, inspired by the Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

More than 150 protests are due to take place in the UK on September 20 as part of an estimated 2,500 events happening around the world on the same day.

The NCS poll found that 8 per cent of the teachers polled said that 10 or more pupils at their school missed lessons in the 2018/19 academic year to take part in national youth protests, such as those on climate change.

A further 12 per cent said that fewer than 10 pupils have missed class for this purpose.

The NCS is trialling its new one-day social action plan which allows students to take time out of the curriculum and learn more about topics such as how to make their voices heard and inspire change.

Sean Costello, NCS head of schools engagement, said: "Young people are passionate about many issues, including the environment, racism and mental health - they have important opinions and we must help them voice their views.

"If we don't provide a channel for young people to make their voices heard, how can we expect them to sustain that interest into adulthood and play a part in their communities?"

In relation to the ongoing climate campaign, school leaders have said they understand the strength of feeling about the issue, but said they are concerned about the welfare of pupils and disruption to lessons.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We understand the strength of feeling over the issue of climate change but missing school in order to take part in a protest is not the right approach and we urge pupils against this course of action.

"It is disruptive to lessons and learning, but the greatest concern of school leaders will be for the welfare of pupils who are off site and unsupervised.

"We would urge pupils to talk to their schools about activities which could take place in school to highlight the climate emergency rather than taking part in a strike."

The global climate movement, inspired by Greta Thunberg's weekly protests outside the Swedish parliament, has helped push climate and environment up the agenda, along with major UN scientific reports on the impacts of rising temperatures and the Extinction Rebellion protests.

Thousands of young people took to the streets in strikes in the UK in February, and in March as part of a global day of action.

The YouthStrike4Climate campaign is organised by the UK Student Climate Network, which has co-ordinated more than 550 demonstrations this year.