Headteachers across the country will this week be faced with a tricky dilemma: should they allow their pupils to go on strike? The Observer reports.
Thousands of schoolchildren are expected to absent themselves from school on Friday to take part in a series of coordinated protests drawing attention to climate change.
At a time when politicians fret that young people are failing to engage with the political process, a headteacher’s decision to take a hard line against the strikers could be counter-productive. But equally granting permission for a day off could set a dangerous precedent and lead to safeguarding issues, it is feared. Parents could be fined for taking a child out of school.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said the decision was a matter for individual schools. “However, we are clear that pupils can only take term-time leave in exceptional circumstances, and where this leave has been authorised by the headteacher.”
Supporters of the UK Student Climate Network, which so far has pupils in about 30 towns and cities signed up to the day of action, argue that the “exceptional circumstances” excuse is applicable when it comes to Friday’s day of action.
A template letter drawn up by Youth Strike 4 Climate, one of the groups supporting the network, for parents of striking children to give headteachers, states: “I’m aware of UK law that permits parents to only give permission for their child to miss school on medical grounds or in a few other cases, one of which is under ‘exceptional circumstances’. My view is that having only 12 years left to cut CO2 emissions by 50%, as per the latest UN IPCC report, is pretty dire and exceptional circumstances to find ourselves in. And it in this light that I’m giving my child permission.”
The letter is part of a cache of documents being shared with potential protesters ahead of Friday’s strike as the pupil-led grassroots movement gains momentum.
Similar protests have been held in individual UK cities and other countries, including Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands, where tens of thousands of children refused to attend school so that they could take part in rallies to raise awareness about threats to the environment from global warming. But Friday will be the first nationwide day of action.
How many children will take to the streets on Friday is open to debate. More than 10,000 students skipped school to protest in Belgium. A similar number went on strike in the Netherlands.
Supporters suggested they expected a turnout in the low thousands for this Friday’s protest in the UK but believed a second day of strike action – on 15 March and in coordination with similar protests in other countries – would be considerably larger as the movement took hold.
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