Cabinet ministers have refused to endorse children demanding action to rescue the Earth from looming catastrophe at today’s global climate strike, telling teenagers the cause did not warrant missing one day of school.
As children and young people across the country walk out of lessons and lectures, schools minister Nick Gibb said pupils should not miss any classes.
The Tory MP said the government “shares young people’s passion” for tackling climate change, but claimed even missing out on one day of school could affect activists’ GCSE results.
“We don’t think [protesting] should be at the expense of a child’s education because what we want is for the next generation to be as well educated as possible to tackle these kinds of problems, and you don’t do that by missing out on an education,” said Mr Gibb.
Kwasi Kwarteng, minister for business, energy and clean growth added his voice to the tacit condemnation, saying: “I am not going to endorse people leaving school because I think education, time spent in school, is incredibly important.”
The Conservative MP said he supported pupils’ “energy” and “creativity”, but suggested they should stay in school. “Their voices are being heard,” Mr Kwarteng told BBC Breakfast.
The Tory ministers’ views were in sharp contrast to the opposition parties: Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens have all backed the climate strike. Jeremy Corbyn is due to address a rally outside parliament, while more than 200 events are being held up and down the country.
Millions of people are taking to the streets around the world in what is expected to be the largest environmental protest in history, part of a movement sparked by teenage activist Greta Thunberg in Sweden.
Young people here and across the world are making it impossible to ignore the environment and climate emergency.
This is the wonderful youth #ClimateStrike in my constituency - now I'm on my way to the main London demonstration. pic.twitter.com/GI1AniUnpb— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn)September 20, 2019
Despite warnings from teaching unions to encourage pupils to stay in school, one head teacher said young people should make their own decisions about whether to attend the climate protests.
Suzie Longstaff, headmistress of fee-paying Putney High School, said adults cannot “pick and choose” what youngsters feel strongly about.
“I’m proud that Putney students have both a social and environmental conscience and I applaud them,” she said. “Those who feel strongly about protesting will be there.”
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The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said every school leader’s first duty is to keep children safe during school leaders.
“They therefore cannot condone pupils leaving school premises to take part in protests,” the union said.
“That said, it is important that young people are able to make their voices heard on the subjects that matter to them and schools can support pupils to do this in a range of ways.”
Guidance published by the NAHT suggests that schools which have concerns about pupils missing lessons could put forward alternatives, such as one-site strikes or protests, encouraging to actions taking place outside school hours or in the holidays.
The TUC congress voted to back the strike with a “workday campaign action”, encouraging members join young people for 30 minutes during the day.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Gibb said schools need to record protesters’ absences.
He added: “We share the passion, as a government, of young people for tackling climate change, and that is why this government and this country is committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gasses by 2050.”
Back in February, then-prime minister Theresa May has said the young people who left school to protest against climate change had increased teachers’ workloads and wasted lesson time.