Should children be allowed time off to strike? Thoughts from the Head

A message from Toby Spence, Head teacher.

Sibford School pupils on a Climate Change march in Oxford

I was recently asked to contribute to an article in the Guardian relating to teenagers involving themselves in campaigns and indeed, strike action.  In particular I was asked to consider my views upon the recent ‘school strike’ for climate change initiated by Greta Thunberg and the impact any absent pupils would have on school data.  I would add that a number of staff indicated a desire to take part.

As a school we put great store by our pupil voice and we welcome the views of all members of our community in both our morning meetings and throughout the school day.  Our pupils are encouraged to take a lead and get involved – they never cease to amaze me with their initiatives, drive and determination be it for a charitable, political or other cause.  The Quaker values that underpin all that we do guide us towards a simple life and respectful stewardship of the earth.  To this end I was not the least bit surprised when a group of students approached me to ask whether I would support them in taking part in the climate change strike on 15 February.  This is the full article I wrote for the Guardian:

Every pupil who I knew of who took part in the recent ClimateChange strike (last Friday) was an authorised absence. There were two ‘groups’ of pupils here – those whose parents had contacted me to let me know that they wanted their child to join the strike (some went to London or Oxford) and another group who went as part of an organised school trip to Oxford.  These pupils had come forwards themselves and asked to take part in the strike.  As a Quaker school who takes its responsibility towards the environment seriously I believe that it is incumbent upon us to support the children of today in making their voices heard. Quakers believe that : We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. (Advices and Queries 42)

Personally I agree with one of the fundamental drivers of this campaign which asks ‘What is education all about’?  If we do not have a planet to live on and live in then there is not a lot of point in learning about Pythagoras or Shakespeare. I also agree that, whatever the debate about climate change there is clear and troubling scientific evidence which cannot be ignored. Many children rightly have a sense of urgency and they absolutely should have a voice. I sense a great deal of exasperation from school children that political leaders of the world today seem to be unable or unwilling to take decisive and unilateral action on climate change.  Instant gratification and myopic political point scoring blindly trumps all.  Going on strike on a school day sends a message and I believe that a day out of lessons is a small price to pay for a greater cause.

The Guardian article can be found here:


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