AN Oxford headteacher has told parents that 'student led' action can happen at school as a compromise over a planned 'strike'.

A demonstration tomorrow is set to see university, sixth form, secondary and primary students – some as young as four – walk out of classes over climate change, as part of a nationwide day of action.


Writing jointly with the Chair of Governors at Cherwell School, head Chris Price emailed parents to say the strike creates 'a real dilemma' for the school as he understands that many students are 'rightfully very concerned' about the climate.


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Adding that he could not endorse the strike because of 'safeguarding' worries, he continued: "During lunchtime we will be organising some events in school to allow our students to express their concern over the issue and learn more about it. These will be student led but supported by school staff.

Oxford Mail:

"This will mean students will feel part of the wider event without leaving school or missing lessons."

One Oxford environmentalist and parent declared themselves 'disgusted' at the stance, explaining: "The point about this strike is that children have worked out for themselves that adults have abandoned them to an uncertain future, and so are striking.

"We environmentalists are not forcing it upon them. But neither should Cherwell school manipulate the children into believing they are having an effect by gathering on the playground at lunchtime, like they would have done anyway." 

They are unlikely to be impressed by the hardline approach of Caroline Jordan, the head of Headington Girls, who said parents' 'failure' to tell the school that pupils would be absent would 'trigger our truancy proceedings which, as you will be aware, has serious consequences'.

Also encouraging an on-site action, she added: "I regret that we will not be authorising any requests for absence to take part in the strike tomorrow... We cannot condone missing important learning time."

The strike has proved highly divisive, with various high profile members of the Oxford community having their say on the national event which could be the biggest student demonstration since the tuition fee protest in 2010. 

Mr Price – who added that students will need parental permission to attend the demonstration between 11am and 2pm in Bonn Square – is not the only head to discuss the issue.

Lynn Knapp, from Windmill Primary, is backing the strike and even taking a delegation of as many as 40 students to the demonstration and organising a day of learning about global warming.

She told the Oxford Mail that students would be holding banners at the front gate all day and added: "As a school leader, I believe very strongly that we have a responsibility to educate children about world issues which affect both them and other children around the world.

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"Global warming is an issue which will undoubtedly affect children currently in our school. It is essential that we allow them to look at the facts and think how they can create positive change."

Citing the example of Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who is widely credited with sparking the action, Mrs Knapp continued: "By showing them footage of young people who have been proactive in taking a stand against what they see as the establishment not taking effective action, we are providing positive role models to follow."

The idea of the day being educational has been endorsed by some in the sector, though there appears to be an unwillingness among those opposed to it to speak out for fear of the response from supportive parents.

Former teacher Chris Church, who is now an environmental campaigner, added: "Every young person across the world today is going to be affected by our changing climate. A day spent talking and acting on climate change is likely to be a valuable part of anyone's education to help them.

"I welcome the new energy and commitment that we are seeing in so many young people. As the late great US politician Robert Kennedy said, we should applaud and support young people "who attack life with all their youthful vision and vigour".

And today, a letter in The Guardian signed by six Oxford academics – from the city's two universities and Ruskin College – including professor Danny Dorling, say the children involved are 'inspiring'. 

READ AGAIN: Profile - Danny Dorling

Other schools in Oxford where students are striking have not commented publicly but the issue has exercised Oxford's two MPs. Former teacher Layla Moran – the Lib Dems' education spokesperson – has strongly supports the action. Anneliese Dodds has taken a more nuanced approach, saying it is 'difficult' for schools but declaring herself 'impressed' by the students.

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Ms Dodds' stance perhaps reflects the problem for those concerned by the climate, but worried about publicly backing action that could, in theory, see parents prosecuted for unauthorised absences.

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City Councillor Tom Hayes, the board member for environment, has taken a similar position at greater length. While sympathising with their aims, he asked what students actually hoped to achieve and who they were trying to influence.

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Oxford Mail commenters were far less sympathetic and roundly criticised the action - as did Mark Bhagwandin, the deputy chairman of Oxford Conservatives, who condemned Ms Moran's comments.

He said: "Dragging children away from classrooms on a strike achieves nothing for the environment. That time could be better spent teaching them about the environment and how to protect it."

Praising the government's environmental record, he name checked a £10 million programme for 'Nature Friendly schools', the plastic bag charge, and marine protection efforts, before concluding: "The government recognises how important it is to protect and enhance the environment for future generations."

Oxford Mail:

But for those going on strike, climate breakdown needs far more urgent attention. The cynical might suspect that students see tomorrow as an excuse for an extra day off before half term, but numerous students have put eloquent cases to the Mail.

One is Olivia Navarrete Zur, 17, from Cherwell School, who wrote: "I want to show people that team efforts makes seemingly impossible tasks a lot more tangible. If others see students near their age taking action, they are more likely to feel empowered and join the movement.

"It is more urgent than it has ever been and all of the increasing climate disasters are warnings and a call for action, whether small or big."

  • This article initially stated, incorrectly, that Chris Price is the head of Cheney School, not Cherwell.