Scottish school climate strikers limited to one day off for protests annually

A spokesperson for the council said the move would widely be regarded as a “reasonable compromise”

Earlier today (16 August), the local authority’s education committee met to discuss plans to limit the number of authorised absences which children at primary schools and secondary schools could take per academic year, for the purpose of joining the #Fridays4Future movement.

Started by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg last year, the movement has grown from a one-person protest to an international movement. The biggest school climate strike to date, on 15 March 2019,  garnered the support of 1.4 million students in 112 countries – including Scotland.

However, that strike is soon due to be eclipsed in size by a week of international action – led by children and young people but backed by business leaders and politicians as well – beginning on 20 September.

In preparation for this week-long event, Conservative councillors at the City of Edinburgh Council had proposed an alteration to its school attendance policy, to forbid pupils from taking any time off for climate protests – regardless of whether they had signed permission from a parent or guardian.

The motion was heavily criticised by the Scottish Greens, who argued that it would result in young people being “treated like truants” rather than feeling “listened to”.

In response to this clash, the coalition of Labour and SNP councillors who run the Council proposed a compromise – that primary and secondary school pupils should be allowed just one day off per academic year to take part in climate protests, and that they must provide signed permission to do so. 

The motion was passed this morning at an education committee meeting, meaning that the parents or guardians of those who do choose to skip lessons for more than one day for climate protests could be fined.

“We support the young people making their voices heard regarding climate change as it is one of the most important issues that’s facing the world,” The City of Edinburgh Council’s education convener Cllr Ian Perry said.

“However, there needs to be a balance struck and if we allow pupils more than one absence, the issue is that they could be regularly missing school which affects their education.”

A spokesperson for the council added that the move would widely be regarded as a “reasonable compromise” – but the Scottish Greens have disagreed.

“Instead of taking this backwards step, the Council should recognise that these actions are not only admirable but that they are entirely in keeping with the Curriculum for Excellence and the objective of developing responsible citizens,” Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said.

Brewing debate

The debate over whether politicians and local authorities should support school climate strikers has been building for several months.

Earlier this year, then-Prime Minister Theresa May argued that school climate strikers were increasing teacher workloads and wasting lesson time by leaving class to protest. She urged them to, instead, stay in school and study STEM subjects, that they might go on to develop environmental solutions in the future.

In contrast, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the protests were an “inspiring” display of passion. Moreover, several senior Conservative Party politicians have publicly spoken out against May’s views on the matter, including Michael Gove and Claire Perry.

Sarah George

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