Children’s Commissioner urges education leaders: don’t punish youth climate strikers


The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland has advocated blanket support for young people participating in this week’s protest from education authorities

  • In a letter to Scotland’s directors of education, Bruce Adamson expresses concern that some pupils have been “threatened with detention or other punishment” for taking part in the 20-27 September global climate strike
  • The commissioner argued that participating in the strike was a human right for those young people involved, and would represent a “part of their broader education”
  • Intervention follows release of a survey which found a majority of UK teachers support the right of pupils to miss classes for political protests
  • Global climate strike on Friday [20 September] is expected to see millions of people across the world walk out of their schools and workplaces

THE Children’s Commissioner of Scotland has urged the nation’s education leaders to reject punishing school pupils for participating in the planned global climate strike on Friday, arguing that their “courageous actions” should instead be supported.

The strike will take place between 20 and 27 September, coinciding with an emergency United Nations climate summit, and is expected to see millions of people across the world walk out of their schools and workplaces to demand action against the growing climate emergency. In Scotland, marches and other events will be taking place in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and elsewhere.

In an letter sent to the directors of education for every local authority in Scotland and published online yesterday, Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, wrote: “While a number of schools have taken a positive approach to this issue and enable students to exercise their right to freedom of association, peacefully, we have been concerned to hear that some students have been threatened with detention or other punishment for undertaking ‘climate strikes’. I urge you to reject this approach.”

READ MORE: Analysis: Thankfully, #YouthStrike4Climate’s hysterical critics have no power over the next generation

Reaction from Scottish schools and local authorities to the participation of school pupils in the strike has been mixed. Dundee City Council confirmed on 11 September that pupils at all schools across the city could miss classes in order to join the strikes so long as they provided proof of parental permission, while Perth & Kinross said it would “respect” pupils’ right to protest.

However, not all schools have granted this permission, and Edinburgh City Council warned last month that youth climate strikers could only take part in protests on one authorised day throughout the year (although councillors made clear pupils or parents who choose to strike over a longer period would not be punished).

Last week, councillor Ellie Bird, interim leader of Edinburgh Council’s SNP group, apologised to youth climate strike organisers after they were told that they would face arrest if they made an unauthorised march down the capital’s Princes Street during the strike, saying: “We know that they will be exercising their right to protest under human rights legislation, so it is unhelpful that they are left feeling vilified.”

“We have been concerned to hear that some students have been threatened with detention or other punishment for undertaking ‘climate strikes’. I urge you to reject this approach.” Children’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson

Addressing concerns over the effect the strike could have upon schooling, Adamson made a forthright defence of pupils’ human right to take part in political protest, saying: “Choosing to strike will undoubtedly have a short-term impact on children and young people’s school-based learning. However, their actions as human rights defenders in bringing attention to the threat of climate change and their demands for those in power to take radical action is part of their broader education. It is important that we support those who choose to strike. They must not be punished for doing so.”

In support of his argument, Adamson quoted UN Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who last week stated: “The world has never seen a threat to human rights of this scope. This is not a situation where any country, any institution, any policymaker can stand on the sidelines. The economies of all nations; the institutional, political, social and cultural fabric of every State; and the rights of all your people – and future generations – will be impacted.”

READ MORE: ‘Not acceptable’: Youth climate strikers hit back at Edinburgh Council proposal to permit school strikes to one per year

Adamson’s intervention follows this week’s release of a survey commissioned by the National Citizen Service (NCS), which found that a 61 per cent majority of teachers are in favour of allowing pupils an “explained absence” to take part in political protest.

Ahead of the last climate strike in March, the Scottish Greens called on councils across Scotland to support all young people taking part, following a successful Green motion saw Edinburgh Council veto all punishment for pupils missing school to take part in that month’s protest.

Speaking at the time, the Scottish Greens’ education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP said: “Local councils should support young people who chose to strike for the climate – after all, they epitomise what it means to be responsible citizens. They should certainly ensure that there is no threat of any form of punishment.”

Picture courtesy of Magnus Hagdorn