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Protests over war seen as truancy

Heads are becoming less tolerant of pupil demonstrations against the conflict in Iraq. Adi Bloom reports.

SCHOOLS are clamping down on pupil protesters as demonstrations against the conflict in Iraq escalated this week. Pupils across the country were continuing to plan protests despite official warnings. As The TES went to press, classroom walk-outs were taking place in London, Birmingham and Oxford.

Heads are becoming increasingly intolerant of anti-war action during school hours, with the Secondary Heads Association saying it must be classed as truancy. Thirteen pupils were suspended for three days from Calder high, in Calderdale, after more than 150 pupils joined a peace vigil.

Chris Ratcliffe, whose 14-year-old son, Morgan, was suspended, said the punishment was disproportionate. "The head's gone completely over the top.

These are intelligent, well-behaved children. They even picked up their litter afterwards. This was a completely inappropriate action."

But David Scott, head of Calder, said the large number of student protesters required several members of staff to provide supervision.

Mr Scott has since sent a letter to parents, advising them that if pupils wish to participate in organised protests this week, they should remain at home.

At Blatchington Mill school, in Brighton and Hove, six Year 11 pupils were suspended until the start of their GCSE exams in May, after a classroom walk-out.

Neil Hunter, the head, said that he had advised pupils that leaving the school site would break health and safety regulations. "They were not prepared to listen. Some had strongly held views, and some just wanted to exploit the opportunity to miss lessons."

He said the protesters who were suspended had already been given final warnings.

In some cases, police have monitored student action. In Leicester, patrols were set up outside schools, in response to proposed classroom walk-outs.

Kate Connelly, a 17-year-old pupil at Hills Road sixth-form college, in Cambridge, was arrested and held in solitary custody for six hours, after organising an anti-war march. Police said the march was illegal. Ms Connelly was released without charge.

Bob Carstairs, SHA assistant general secretary, said: "If pupils wish to demonstrate, they are perfectly free to do so outside of school hours. A major issue is the responsibility of all teachers for the safety and welfare of our students."

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