Many teachers in favour of kids missing school to protest over causes they believe in, poll finds

Students and young people take part un the the first ever UK-wide Youth Strike 4 Climate,  protest in Leeds at Leeds Town Hall in February. Picture Tony Johnson.
Students and young people take part un the the first ever UK-wide Youth Strike 4 Climate, protest in Leeds at Leeds Town Hall in February. Picture Tony Johnson.

Many teachers believe children should have the right to protest over causes they believe in, new research suggests, even if it does mean skipping school in order to do so.

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A row over students’ right to participate in action has deepened over recent months, as campaigns stepped up nationwide amid protests over climate change.

Students protesting over climate change in Leeds earlier this year. Picture: Gary Longbottom.

Students protesting over climate change in Leeds earlier this year. Picture: Gary Longbottom.

Now, a new survey has revealed that more than three in five teachers agree pupils should be allowed ‘explained absences’ to take part in a social activism activity, such as a protest, a march or volunteering activity.

“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,” said Sean Costello, head of schools engagement for the National Citizen Service (NCS), which carried out the research with 4,000 teachers.

“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?”

The NCS is trialling a 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.

School students with their banners on the Town Hall steps in Leeds at the Youth Strike for Climate strike in March. Image: Gary Longbottom.

School students with their banners on the Town Hall steps in Leeds at the Youth Strike for Climate strike in March. Image: Gary Longbottom.

In its survey, just eight per cent of responding teachers said that 10 or more pupils at their school had missed lessons last academic year to attend such action.

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

Protests planned for Yorkshire

The findings come ahead of planned youth action this week which will see protests across Yorkshire and nationwide over climate change.

In what is expected to be the largest global climate strike, more than 150 protests are planned in the UK for Friday, with an estimated 2,500 happening globally on the same day.

In Yorkshire, protests are planned in almost all major towns and cities, including Leeds, York, Hull and Sheffield, and all within school hours.

Organisers YouthStrike4Climate are urging adults to support striking children by taking the day off work as holiday, or protesting on their lunch break.

Planned protest action for Friday will be the third such strike over climate change this year, with thousands of young people having taken to the streets nationwide during protests in February and March.

As voiced by a pupil at a protest in Harrogate, students were “tired of sitting in lessons to learn about the problems”, and had decided to do something about it.

The global climate movement, inspired by Greta Thunberg’s weekly protests outside the Swedish parliament, has helped push climate and environment up the agenda.

There have been further protests under the Extinction Rebellion group, whose multi-day protest in July caused widespread traffic disruption in Leeds and cost West Yorkshire Police £197,928 to handle.

School leaders 'concerned'

School leaders have spoken out against children taking time out of lessons to participate in protests.

While they understand the strength of feeling about the issue, representatives from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) have said, they are concerned about the welfare of pupils and disruption to lessons.

“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,” said Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary.

“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.”