The movement Youth Strike 4 Climate is planning a number of activities to draw attention to the issue of climate change and to call on governments globally to take action.

Young people are showing their deep concern about the climate crisis and are showing their wish to shape and influence decisions taken now which will impact on their future.  Education has an important role to play in responding to climate change.

Heads and principals must follow usual procedures and government guidance in responding to any requests to authorise absence, considering exceptional circumstances and ensuring liaison as necessary with parents/carers

This guidance for members who are affected by the action is applicable in England and Wales unless otherwise stated.

  • Do I have a statutory duty to ensure that pupils or students attend school or college?

    You don’t have a statutory duty to ensure attendance. Pupil and student attendance is the responsibility of parents/carers rather than staff. Parents/carers are under a statutory duty under section 7 of the Education Act 1996 to ensure that their children of compulsory school age receive efficient full-time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude, and to any special needs they may have.

    For maintained schools, academies, independent schools and local authorities In England, the DfE issued guidance in September 2018 on School Attendance. The guidance says that the government expects schools and local authorities to ‘promote good attendance and reduce absence, including persistent absence’. This is non-statutory guidance; it does not place a legal duty on school or college staff to ensure that pupils or students attend school or college.

    In relation to schools in Wales, members are directed to the Guidance on School Attendance Codes which sets out how absences are to be recorded.

  • What if a pupil or student asks for permission to attend a climate change strike event?

    Only authorised staff can permit absences. For schools in England, authority may be given in line with the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 and in Wale under the Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010.

    In most cases, the authorised person will be the headteacher or principal. And absences can only be granted lawfully where permission has been sought by the parent/carer of the child. For this reason, if a pupil or student asks a member of staff for permission to attend any climate change event during school or college time, permission should be refused. The child should be advised that authorisation can only be given to a parent/carer; staff cannot give permission direct to a pupil or student. They should be encouraged to participate in any activities being arranged on site.

    If a pupil or student is absent without the head or principal’s permission, the absence should be recorded as unauthorised. Parents and carers should be informed of absences in line with usual procedures.

  • What if a parent/carer seeks permission for their child to be absent to participate in climate change action?

    As we have stated above, only an authorised person may give such permission to a parent/carer. They will usually be the head or principal.

    In England, the permission must be sought in advance. The authorised person may grant the absence if they ‘consider that leave of absence should be granted due to the exceptional circumstances relating to that application [Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006]. The accompanying DfE non-statutory guidance does not prescribe when permission should be given but advises broadly that:

    Only exceptional circumstances warrant an authorised leave of absence. Schools should consider each application individually taking into account the specific facts and circumstances and relevant background context behind the request.

    In Wales, the Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010 state that, save in exceptional circumstances, a pupil must not be granted more than ten school days leave of absence in any school year.

    In England or Wales, the head or principal should as always exercise their professional judgment in line with government, employer and school or college guidance. This will involve considering all the circumstances, including the age and maturity of the child and the steps that the parent/carer will take for appropriate communication, supervision and safeguarding. An alternative to granting requests for absence might be to offer some opportunity within the school day for discussion of the issues involved within the classroom or assemblies.

  • How should absences be recorded?

    A record of attendance for each pupil or student must be made at the beginning of every morning session and again at some stage during the afternoon session. Pupil and student attendance registers should be completed as normal, in line with government, employer and school or college guidance.

    If a pupil or student is absent without the head or principal’s permission, the absence should be recorded as unauthorised. Parents and carers should be informed of absences in line with usual procedures.

  • Can I respond to climate change concerns raised by pupils or students in the classroom?

    Yes, it is legitimate to discuss the campaign around climate change and in particular the movement and actions of young people to raise their concerns.

    Staff should be careful not to dismiss a student’s genuinely held belief the climate change is a real threat. Teachers and educational professionals are under a duty not to discriminate or harass pupils or students on grounds of protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Caselaw states that ‘a belief in man-made climate change ... is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief’; treating a colleague or pupil or student less favourably because of their belief could amount to discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.

    This does not of course require schools to give students permission to strike for climate change; including the issues in class discussions and assemblies and in other appropriate activities on site will enable schools and colleges to facilitate and moderate safe and appropriate discussions.

  • Our school has been forced to close on Friday afternoons due to the school funding crisis. What is the position of students who want to strike on Friday afternoon?

    If a school or college is closed early on a week day due to lack of funds, pupils and students will not be required to attend. Parents/carer would need to make arrangements for the care and safety of their children.

Further action and advice

If you interested in how you can get involved collectively within the NEU to highlight the need to incorporate climate change awareness into curriculums and increase profile via campaigning to get governments to take more action on reducing carbon emissions, please speak to your NEU workplace rep and get in touch with your NEU local district. You will find contact details here https://neu.org.uk/contact-us

Should you need further advice please contact your NEU workplace rep in the first instance. If there is no NEU rep in your workplace, or the peripatetic nature of your employment makes contact with a workplace rep difficult, contact the NEU AdviceLine, or the Wales office where appropriate. Their details may be found at https://neu.org.uk/contact-us.