School pupils across Portsmouth area plan to walk out of classes in environmental protest strike

12 March 2019

By Neil Fatkin

School pupils are being encouraged to walk out of lessons and take part in a demonstration against climate change.

Organisers say around 200 young people and children are set to protest at Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square on Friday in the first demonstration of its type in the area.

Head teachers across the area have been split on whether or not to give youngsters permission to attend – and dozens of News readers have split views on the strike.

Dedicated Jack Thorpe a Year 10 pupil at Brune Park Community School took part in a similar protest in Southampton last month and will now attend Portsmouth’s later this week.

Jack, 15, said: ‘We only have one planet – we don’t have a planet B in reserve.

‘It’s our generation and future generations who will suffer most. It’s our future and it is down to us to make a difference.’

He added: ‘The point of a strike is to cause disruption and to make people take notice. To hold the demonstration on a Saturday simply wouldn’t have the same attention or impact.’

Fellow campaigner 16-year-old Joseph Dawson, in Year 11, added: ‘Politicians have not been listening to our concerns. Just because we aren’t old enough to vote, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a say.’

The protest is being hosted by activist group Extinction Rebellion with Youth Strike 4 Climate, which is putting on rallies across the globe.

Nicholas Day from the Portsmouth branch of Extinction Rebellion said: ‘These are valid strikes as it is the future of young people and future generations that need to be safeguarded.’

The protest follows on from last month’s national demonstrations which saw 10,000 pupils walk out of lessons. 

Head teacher at The Cowplain School, Ian Gates, said the protest would be better held at the weekend.

He added: ‘Young people are often accused of not engaging with social, political or environmental issues so it is encouraging that they are interested in making a difference.’

Head teacher at St Edmund’ s Catholic, School Simon Graham, warned absences for the protest would be unauthorised.

Mr Graham said: ‘Whilst the school acknowledges that such actions give publicity to this important topic, it questions why the organisers are asking young people to truant school and miss out on their education.

‘Surely it would be more powerful to arrange a bigger demonstration outside of school hours and enlist the support of our whole community. 

‘Under the guidance given to schools, absence for this would be unauthorised.’

Protesters believe weekend demonstrations would undermine the essence of strike action.

The Gosport Fareham Multi-Academy Trust, covering hundreds of pupils at Bay House and Brune Park schools, has taken took a less rigid approach.

Executive headteacher Ian Potter said: ‘Democracy is a fundamental British value.

‘The right to peacefully protest and to withdraw one’s labour are democratic rights we have protected.

‘Although it is not a statutory obligation to attend work, the law requires parents to send their children to school.

‘If parents have authorised their child to exercise their rights then schools, in my view, should respect the view of the parent.’ 

What do councils say about the protest?

Schools must record pupils taking part in the strike as having an authorised absence, a senior official has said.

Alison Jeffery, director of children's services at Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘We know that many may sympathise with the young people but we would expect them to mark the absence as unauthorised given the nature of the protest - as this is a strike, not a school sanctioned outing.’

Cabinet member for education, Councillor Suzy Horton, said the student strike is  one of the ‘loudest demonstrations of student opinion’ but added: ‘I absolutely understand the challenges that teachers and schools may have with these strikes, especially given the important emphasis on school attendance.’

What do the public think?

The prospect of pupils going out on strike has certainly spilt public opinion – and even families.

Abbie Docherty, 17, said: ‘I thinks pupils should be allowed as it is their future which is going to be most affected.’

Abbie’s grandmother Mave Henson said: ‘I support their right to demonstrate but it should be in their own time and not at the expense of education. Some children will abuse the idea because they want to be out of school.’

Jane Henderson, from Havant, said: ‘I’m all in favour. One day out of school won’t affect their future but climate change will.’

Sales manager Alan Johnson said: ‘I think they have a valid reason and the first strike allowed them to make their point. However, further action is not acceptable and schools should certainly not be endorsing children missing school.’

Science teacher Marion Adams said: ‘A lot of children are desensitised to political issues and so it’s great to see them so interested in global concerns.

‘A weekend protest wouldn’t have the same impact – strikes are meant to cause disruption.’

Parents on The News’ Facebook page have mixed views.

Jason Trevellick said: ‘Giving up using their smart phone and recreational technology for a month will do more to save the environment than skiving off school.’

Stu Ford said: ‘Well done the kids! They realise that climate change is the biggest killer of all worldwide. There is no planet B.’

Richard Javed said: ‘As long as the parents get fined for the kids absence as would happen in any other circumstance.’

Graham Webb said: ‘I don’t see the harm of them having a day off as it's their future environment that they are caring about.’

Originally published by The News, Portsmouth.