Young people should make their own decisions about whether to attend the climate protests, a leading headmistress has suggested.
Adults cannot “pick and choose” what youngsters feel strongly about, Suzie Longstaff, headmistress of fee-paying Putney High School, told the PA news agency.
Children and young people across the UK are expected to miss lessons and lectures to take part in today’s action – originally sparked by teenage activist Greta Thunberg’s school strikes outside the Swedish parliament.
State school leaders have urged youngsters not to take part in the week-day protests, saying they understand the strength of feeling around the issue, but have concern about pupil welfare and disruption to classes.
But Ms Longstaff told PA: “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.”
Putney High School is a private school which educates girls up to age 18.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said every school leader’s first duty is to keep children safe during school leaders.
“They therefore cannot condone pupils leaving school premises to take part in protests,” the union said.
“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.”
Guidance for members published by the NAHT suggests that schools which have concerns about pupils missing lessons to take part in the action could put forward alternatives, such as one-site strikes or protests, encouraging students to form campaign groups or directing students to action taking place outside school hours or in the holidays.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told PA: “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.
“Missing school to take part in a protest disrupts learning time, and most importantly it raises welfare concerns if pupils are off site and unsupervised.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb said the Government “shares young people’s passion” for tackling climate change, but said children should not miss school to protest.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said the UK is committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gasses by 2050.
He added: “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.”