Welcome to the second half of the year. I hope you enjoyed a relaxing half-term break.
The past ten days or so have been notable for the wonderful weather, which has been enjoyable for all of us but must signal irrefutably that alarm over climate change is justifiable.
I was slightly dismayed in the final week before half term to receive a communication from the National Association of Headteachers advising heads not to permit children to take time out of school to protest at climate change on Friday 15th of February.
For us it was a staff training day and children were on half term, but had it not been and had I been asked by parents or children if I would have permitted absence to take part in this event, I would certainly have said yes.
The spokesman for Number 10 said that such action “wastes lesson time” and “increases teacher workload”.
There was of course a great deal of debate in the media about the appropriateness of allowing active political engagement on a school day and the importance of being in school in term time, about the likelihood of children and young people being aware enough to be so engaged, and about whether permission to attend, if given, reflected a failure to fulfil one’s duties as Headteacher to ensure attendance and to present politics in an unbiased way.
So how would I respond were a roving reporter to come to St Michael’s Prep?
Well to the question of allowing political engagement on a school day I would say that it is a fact that learning takes many, many forms and is not restricted to “lesson times”. Of course I don’t believe that missing school is something that I should condone. Participation in concerts, foreign travel, local survey and mapping work, library visits, walking through forests, counting birds for the Big Schools’ Birdwatch, organising and running events to raise money for charity are all moments of intense and memorable learning for children at school in the 21st century and they all take place with everyone’s approval in “lesson time” and many of these are certainly not in school.
No one would say that in doing any of these activities that this “wastes lesson time” nor would they say that they shouldn’t take place because the child should be in school.
So yes, I endorse children participating in such a momentous collective protest because I know that there is a powerful sense of exhilaration and connectivity when you belong to a large crowd with a common purpose, whether it be cheering competitors in a football crowd, waving torches and singing at Young Voices concerts or marching towards a civic centre to meet those responsible for decision making in order to bring about change to protect the planet. It’s powerful stuff.
The second argument suggesting that young people cannot fully understand the nature of the predicament of the world or the appropriateness of peaceful protest fails to acknowledge the truth about the young people of today. The young people I work with are wise and savvy, creative and interested, passionate and engaged and they deserve to be heard by those at the very top of our political systems. In fact, I know that those at the top could learn a great deal from them. Failure to seek the views of young people or to give them any credit for their views is completely unacceptable.
Our national curriculum teaches children to respect leaders who changed the law through pursuing passionate protest to improve the world, whether Rosa Parks and her part in the Bus Boycott or Nelson Mandela’s fight for the end to apartheid in South Africa and many more besides. Pedagogically we know that powerful learning is learning by doing.
So I’m sorry we were already on half term that day and that I couldn’t officially join the ranks of those who encouraged and facilitated pupil participation in that action, not because it’s a party political issue but because it is a global issue of immense importance.
What more urgent issue is there to secure a successful future for our children than to make sure that the water and the air and the land remain able to support our population?
The children of today are struggling to understand how adults have let this happen. They are struggling to understand why world leaders permit pollution, the devastation of forests and habitats, the invasive presence of microplastics in all the elements. They are struggling to understand why, when scientists measure and evidence the impact of the melting of the polar ice cap, nobody has come up with a solution to stop this from getting worse.
And of course the only way that we will ever solve this problem that man has created is to work together with people in other countries, understand each other, connect with each other, make rules about how we should live and work together and look after our planet together and stick to these rules and teach values way, way beyond those currently called “British” and required by our inspectorate.
If I prevented pupils from engaging in any action that might make a difference, that is when I would be failing in my duties as a Headteacher.
I hope you have a wonderful weekend.