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Heads' union backs pupils’ strike over climate change

Day of action branded ‘truancy’ and ‘recipe for disorder,’ but union says it could be ‘important and valuable’ life experience. 

Thousands of children have walked out of school to protest over climate change

Day of action branded ‘truancy’ and ‘recipe for disorder,’ but union says it could be ‘important and valuable’ life experience. 

A headteachers’ union is backing controversial plans by school children to walk out of lessons on Friday over climate change.

The mass action, called UK Youth Strike 4 Climate, will involve thousands of pupils at around 30 towns and cities putting down their pens for three hours to demand action on the environment.

A spokesman for the NAHT headteachers’ union told The Sunday Express: “When you get older pupils making an informed decision, that kind of thing needs to be applauded.

“Society makes leaps forward when people are prepared to take action. Schools encourage students to develop a wider understanding of the world around them. A day of activity like this could be an important and valuable life experience.”

However others criticised the action, including William Wragg MP, a former primary teacher, who told The Sunday Express: “It’s far more fruitful to learn about climate change in school. The idea of a day of protest, I don’t see what learning will come out of it.”

Former headteacher and chairman of The Campaign for Real Education, Chris McGovern, said: “I’m 100 per cent with children caring for the environment, that’s very good. But this is misguided and slightly delusional.”

He added: “If head teachers are not in charge then the children will be. When children take to the streets or go on strike it is a recipe for disorder."

Former Ofsted inspector and education campaigner Margaret Morrissey OBE said: “I am very pleased there is a significant number of youngsters actively concerned about climate change. [But] you do not walk out of education, you find a way to get your voice heard outside your school gates.”

Toby Young, former director of the New Schools Network said: “This is just truanting." 

But Paul Turner, head of geography at Bedales School, in Hampshire, told Tes that more schools would soon need to negotiate large-scale strikes from students. He said: “Regardless of cuts in school funding and myriad other issues school face, climate change is beyond doubt the most significant and will have the longest lasting on the children we educate.”

Friday's action follows similar protests by pupils around the world. 

One of the UK organisers, fifteen-year-old George Bond told Tes: “People say it [climate change] doesn’t matter to me because I’ll be dead but, in reality, we have far less time than people think and that time is running out extremely rapidly.”

The Department for Education said this was a matter for individual schools but guidelines made it clear that pupils could only take term-time leave in exceptional circumstances, and when it had been authorised by the headteacher.

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