Student Voice - Shore thing: union for school students could be created

Teenage political activist wants diverse range of people on board

Stephen Exley

Luke Shore has always been politically active. Somewhat precociously, he wrote to Tony Blair, who was UK prime minister at the time, to express his views on the Iraq war - when he was 5.

Now a seasoned activist at the ripe old age of 16, Luke (pictured) is spearheading a new campaign: he is calling for the creation of the UK's first union for school students.

While the National Union of Students (NUS) represents about 7 million students in the higher education and further education sectors, there is no equivalent organisation for those attending schools. In this respect, the UK differs from many of its European neighbours. In a bid to rectify the situation, more than 20 national unions for school students, in countries from Lithuania to Luxembourg, have teamed up with British teenagers to form the Pan-European Working Group for School Student Democracy.

In the wake of discussions with the UK's children's minister Edward Timpson, senior figures at the European Commission and teaching unions, Luke hopes to organise a conference in London this autumn to kick-start the process of forming a union.

"The UK is lagging behind the rest of Europe," said the student at Toot Hill School in Bingham, Nottinghamshire. "Some countries have multiple unions for school students; Finland has three. But it has never spread across the Channel. There's a different culture in schools here, there is less of a community and more apathy among students. We want lots of people to get involved. We need to ensure that people coming forward are from wide and diverse backgrounds, not just academic high-achievers who want something to put on their CV."

The union would campaign on issues such as the changes being made to A-level qualifications, student bursaries and private sector involvement in state education. But while the biggest teaching unions in England are gearing up for national strikes in the autumn term, there is no suggestion that their students will follow suit if they do not like what they hear.

Mr Timpson said establishing a union "could be a positive and effective way" to represent students' interests. A further meeting at Westminster is planned, and organisers hope the union could eventually spread to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

While other organisations have previously been set up with the aim of representing young people, such as StudentVoice and the British Youth Council, Luke - who is hoping to join the board of the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions later this year - believes that the lack of a union "constitutes a democratic deficit in education".

NUS president Toni Pearce backed the campaign. "Students deserve representation at every level of their education," she said. "It is vital that students themselves lead their own representation at every level. With effective representation students can drive the changes needed to ensure that they can thrive."

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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