PUPILS are set to be restricted to missing just one school day a year to protest against the climate emergency – amid officials warning “there is no appropriate exemption in the law” to give permission.
Following two separate emergency motions by Green councillors earlier this year, pupils were allowed to attend climate emergency demonstrations with parental permission on a one-off basis. But now education officers have told councillors that “potential for adverse risk to children who are absent and unsupervised is high and runs counter to child protection and raising attainment.”
The warning, in a report to the council’s education, children and families committee, comes after it was revealed that there was an “inconsistent approach” to permission from parents for the original strike actions.
The report adds that “almost all headteachers were not in support of children’s absence being authorised” by councillors as it had “devalued the hard work they had undertaken in working with parents who did not value good attendance at school”.
But the SNP-Labour coalition will table a motion on Friday, agreeing to give pupils “a single day of action per year” and that “the pupil’s absence will only be considered authorised with parental consent” in advance.
Education, children and families convener, Cllr Ian Perry, said: “Having discussed this with a number of people, there’s a consensus we should support the young people with climate change – this is one of the most important issues that’s facing them. However, there needs to be a balance and if we allow them more than one day, the issue will be they are missing school.
“We are confident that one day won’t affect their education. This is an authorised day. If they feel really strongly about it and they strike and say that climate change is more important than their education, that is up to the pupils and their parents and could have the potential to harm their education.”
Conservatives will put forward a proposal that all incidents where pupils miss school to attend a protest are recorded as an “unauthorised absence”.
Tory education spokesperson, Cllr Callum Laidlaw, said: “The Conservatives recognise that many school pupils are concerned about climate change and want to help address this but we don’t believe that skipping school is the best route to achieve this.
“If pupils wish to protest then this should be outwith the school day. Missing lessons impacts not only those not attending but also a teachers’ lesson plans and the teaching of those who are still in class. We are pleased that this is recognised in the report and, like most headteachers, support its findings.”
But Green councillors said “now is absolutely not the right time to be preventing young people from taking part in climate strikes”.
Cllr Steve Burgess said: “So far, over the last six months, that has amounted to two Friday mornings and Greens will be bringing a proposal to allow school students to support the climate strike on 20 September in the run up the United Nations Emergency Climate Change summit on 23 September. That is a tiny part of the school year and entirely in line with the values which schools are meant to endorse such as listening to young people and celebrating citizenship.
“The council should be proud that it was one of the first to support climate strikers and should continue in that vein.”