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Pupils' union vows not to walk out

Secondary pupils will have their own union by the end of the year if Rajeeb Day has his way - but do not expect it to go on strike.

The English Secondary Students' Association will be opposed to industrial action and is unlikely ever to call on the nation's 11 to 18-year-olds to walk out.

"We want what is best for education and we don't believe that striking would be the way to go about that," said Rajeeb, an 18-year-old grammar school pupil. "We want schools to listen but we are not going to encourage students to rebel."

Rajeeb has been given a pound;5,000 grant from the Millennium Commission to help set up the association, which aims to become pupils' answer to the National Union of Students. The pupil at King Edward VI grammar school in Chelmsford took a break from campaigning this week to revise at home for A-levels in maths, economics and geography.

After his exams he will organise the association's first conference, scheduled for the autumn and expected to attract hundreds of pupils from across England to decide how it would operate.

School student councils are likely to act as the association's foundation and it will work alongside the UK Youth Parliament, but focus solely on education. Funding is expected to come from charities, but there could be membership fees at a later stage.

Rajeeb believes the association will give pupils a voice on education nationally and mobilise students in individual schools if it felt that teachers were failing to listen to their opinions.

Typical issues he expects members to have strong views on include the changes to the 14 to 19 curriculum, policies on uniforms, and the introduction of random drug tests by headteachers.

Nearly every other European country already has representative bodies for their secondary students. Pupils in Ireland established their Union of Secondary Students in 2001 and it has regular meetings with education ministers and teaching unions.

The union initially decided not to use industrial action but lifted its ban on striking in April. Emer Ni Chuagain, its president, said that pupils would only strike "as a defensive weapon".

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said heads would be impressed by the maturity the English association was already displaying by opposing industrial action.

"I think heads may be a little bit cautious at first, but in general it will be something that will be welcomed because it will give pupils a voice," he said.

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