Friday 15 February will mark a significant and highly unusual event in this year’s school calendar. An organisation called UK Youth Strike 4 Climate have called a mass action that will involve thousands of pupils from schools in 30 towns and cities walking out of lessons over the issue of climate change.
The notion of pupils going on strike is alien enough in this country. However, what will make the action completely unprecedented is the fact that the NAHT headteachers’ union have come out in support of the striking students.
Mass action is an ‘important and valuable’ life experience
A spokesman for the NAHT told The Sunday Express: “When you get older pupils making an informed decision, that kind of thing needs to be applauded.” Backing the pupils who will put down their pens for three hours in a demand for more action to save the environment, the argument was made that we should be encouraging students to develop a wider understanding of the world around them. In what is being described as an ‘important and valuable’ life experience, the NAHT spokesman explained: “Society makes leaps forward when people are prepared to take action.”
Unsurprisingly, opinions are split on the merits of a pupil strike. Others have labelled the proposed action as a ‘recipe for disorder’, and pure and simply as plain ‘truancy.’
Ultimately, this is one of those issues that is always going to divide opinion. There will be those that see it as a really positive sign that young people are prepared to take a stand on an issue as vital as climate change. There will be people that say that a topic such as the environment is far more important than a couple of GCSE lessons on a normal Friday in school – and in the big scheme of things, of course, they are probably right.
Others firmly believe that school should be about learning and if pupils are out of lessons protesting then their learning will suffer. The counter-argument to that is the NAHT’s view that the action will be provide a valuable life experience.
In some ways, the debate is similar to the age-old issue of pupils being taken out of school in the last few days of term to go on family holidays. Yes, of course – strictly speaking – students will miss out on learning (although how valuable the last few days of term are could be questioned) but is the opportunity to go on a holiday and spend quality time with their family a more valuable experience for a young person?
Others will argue about how seriously some of the pupils intending to walk out of lessons actually support the call for action against climate change. There will be those who claim that some pupils will jump on the bandwagon and see it purely as a great way of getting out of lessons. The truth is that this might be the case for a few, but it is also pretty insulting to the young people who are passionate about the issue to say that all the kids are like that, or that they can’t walk out of lessons because not all those involved might be taking it completely seriously.