Schools minister Nick Gibb has said he does not support pupils missing school to join the Global Climate Strike today.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Mr Gibb said that while he understood young people’s passion in wanting to prevent climate change, this should not come at the expense of their education.
Climate strike: ‘Do not punish climate strike pupils,' says union
He said: "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.
"We don't think it 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."
Climate strike: 'Pupils show an environmental conscience'
Mr Gibb said that even missing one day of education might affect a pupil’s GCSE results.
Thousands of pupils have gathered today at protest events across the UK as part of a “school strike” against climate change. The UK Student Climate Network (UKCSN), which is predominantly made up of under-18s according to its website, has called on the government to declare a “climate emergency”. It has also called on the government to implement curriculum change to reflect the climate crisis.
However, the NAHT heads' union has warned that allowing pupils to miss school to take part in the strike may be unsafe.
It has published guidance about how pupils can express their concerns about environmentalism in other ways; for example, through holding an on-site strike or protest.
In addition, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "It is great that young people want to highlight the climate crisis, but we have consistently said that pupils should not miss school to take part in protests and should instead talk to their teachers about activities which can take place in school."
But some headteachers have been supportive of their pupils’ decision to join the strike.
Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, East London, will take students off timetable in the afternoon so that they can engage in lessons on environmentalism. The school has decided not to punish pupils from the school’s “Eco Council” who miss school to take part in the protests.
And Suzie Longstaff, headmistress of Putney High School, a private girls' school, said: "Every day we are educating the young people of the future to speak out and make their own decisions.
"We are trying to provide a modern and relevant education, which includes connecting to topics that they feel passionate about. We can't pick and choose what those are.
"I'm proud that Putney students have both a social and environmental conscience and I applaud them. Those who feel strongly about protesting will be there."