Edinburgh pupils can skip school for climate protest, council rules

Edinburgh school pupils will be allowed to skip school next week. Picture: SWNS
Edinburgh school pupils will be allowed to skip school next week. Picture: SWNS
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Pupils will be allowed to skip school in order to take part in a global climate crisis protest without being punished.

The City of Edinburgh Council has agreed to allow pupils to leave school after accepting a motion tabled by Green Cllr Mary Campbell at the authority’s education, children and families committee.

On February 15, an estimated 15,000 pupils across the UK took part in Youth Strike 4 Climate demonstrations - many going “on strike”. Events are being organised on Friday, March 15 including a planning youth protest outside the Scottish Parliament. The action is part of global movement, Schools 4 Climate Action.

Cllr Campbell’s motion called for “no punitive action” for pupils taking part in the strike on March 15. The motion added that the action should be classed as “an authorised absence from school” as long as permission is granted from a parent or responsible adult.

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The motion added that “school staff should support and engage with pupils who feel so passionately about climate breakdown”.

Cllr Campbell said: “Climate breakdown is the defining issue of our age. The future will depend on how willing we all are to listen to children and young people whose futures are most at risk, versus some politicians or vested interests who want to delay or do nothing.

“So that it is why I want Edinburgh to show a lead and recognise the importance of the climate strikes, and support the children and young people taking part. I am glad that the education committee passed this motion today, and I believe it shows how seriously we take both climate breakdown and the voice of our children.”

Conservatives said that they “do not accept in principle that it is appropriate for young people to miss classes at school to make their views known, but would wholeheartedly encourage other avenues of debate”.

The Tories called for a report on the impact to be drawn up before agreeing the action and highlighted that parent councils and teaching staff have not been consulted.

Conservative Cllr Jason Rust said: “We need far more information through a report on the impact and have clear advice on this.

“We’re disappointed we want to press ahead with this without actually taking into consideration the views of parent councils and our teaching staff.”

The global movement was sparked by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, who went on strike in September 2018, setting outside government buildings in Sweden, accusing leaders of ignoring the Paris Climate Agreement. Some families and young people have raised concerns about how schools and education authorities might handle absences for strikes amid fears that young people could be punished for being off school.

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The council’s young person champion, SNP Cllr Ellie Bird, said “We are politicians and we should be encouraging our young people to be political.

“This is about citizenship and it ties in with the curriculum for excellence strategy. We have a duty of care to the next generation.”

The EIS union said that although it welcomes students being actively involved and engaged with climate change, the impacts of pupils missing classes need to be considered.

Education convener, Cllr Ian Perry, said: “We need to be behind this and we are going to allow authorised absence on a global day to allow young people to express an opinion.

“We have to help them make that statement or nothing will change. We would not be doing our duty.”