How will heads deal with the student climate strike?

Heads' union warns that allowing pupils to take part in climate strike may be unsafe, but some welcome pupil activism

Catherine Lough

Climate change: How many heads will allow pupils out of school for the climate strike?

Thousands of pupils are expected to gather for protests tomorrow as part of a global climate strike, ditching classes to make a stand against catastrophic climate change.

The Global Climate Strike begins a week of action worldwide against climate change, with events held in at least 137 countries. It is expected that thousands of pupils will participate today through joining a “school strike,” popularised by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

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However, some headteachers have said it would be unsafe for pupils to take part in protests during school hours, and have advised schools to help pupils make their voices heard in other ways.

A spokesperson for the NAHT heads' union said: "It is every school leader’s first duty to keep children safe during school hours.

“They therefore cannot condone pupils leaving school premises to take part in protests. 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.

Climate change protests

“NAHT has provided guidance for school leaders to help them manage any requests to take part in protests and support pupils to express their concerns in other ways."

The NAHT has published a booklet of advice for school leaders about how to help pupils express their concerns about the environment in other ways; for example, through holding an on-site strike or protest.

However, some headteachers have been supportive of their pupils attending the protests.

For example, Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, East London, will take students off timetable in the afternoon so that they can engage in lessons on environmentalism.

Pupils active in the school’s "Eco Council" who attend the strike will not be punished for striking, and for those members of the council who have decided to attend school there will be placard-making workshops and other activities relating to environmental activism.

Headteacher Jemima Reilly said: “We’re declaring a Climate Emergency to see what tangible, practical things we can do as a school to minimise our environmental impact, but, importantly, this is also a way of raising awareness.

“We need to make sure that everyone at Morpeth understands the seriousness of the issue and sees how they can make a difference."

English teacher and Eco Council founder Amy Fletcher said: “We know that our role as teachers and educators is to prepare our pupils for the future world; in this case, that means they need to be prepared to stand up to stop a climate catastrophe.”

The school will hold a Climate Emergency launch week from 23 to 27 September, including a speakers’ corner in the playground and guest speakers from Extinction Rebellion. The school hopes its activities can be used as a blueprint for other schools to follow when teaching pupils about environmentalism.

Trade unions have also voiced support for pupils taking part in the strikes.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Trade unions congratulate school students for their climate crisis leadership. We are holding campaign actions in workplaces today to support them.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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