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Education bosses will not sanction pupils skipping school in Lochaber to attend climate protests in the run up to November’s UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow.
Highland Council’s statement comes despite a plea to every council education director in Scotland from Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson to support youngsters taking part in last Friday’s global climate strike events and those planned ahead of COP26.
‘It is important that when children and young people in the Highlands – as well as all over Scotland – take these peaceful and powerful actions, they are not silenced, discouraged or punished,’ he wrote.
Asked for its reaction, a Highland Council spokesperson told the Lochaber Times: ‘Highland schools and The Highland Council as education authority cannot sanction unauthorised absence from school, no matter how well-meaning the intention.’
Local politicians were sympathetic but said it was a matter for schools and education authorities.
Councillor Allan Henderson, Caol and Mallaig, commented: ‘While I have every sympathy with everyone’s views on climate change and am supportive of Highland Council’s efforts to reduce our carbon footprint, I cannot agree with children taking more time off school.
‘Covid has caused so much disruption to learning that all available school time is vital to allow our teachers to deliver the curriculum. We cannot be sure that more time will not be lost so the point they are making can be done on a Saturday morning.’
His fellow ward councillor Denis Rixson added: ‘This a decision for children and their parents. HC [Highland Council] has a statutory duty to provide an education.’
And constituency MSP Kate Forbes commented: ‘I am pleased a number of young people across my constituency are actively engaging on the issue of climate change, but student absence is a matter for individual schools to consider.’
However, some climate action campaign groups, parents and their children, took a dim view of the local authority’s stance.
Well-known teenage climate action campaigner and Lochaber High School pupil Holly Gillibrand, who was in Glasgow for Friday’s global climate strike event, told the Lochaber Times: ‘School is meant to be about our future and the Highland Council’s refusal to support the attendance of young people to the strikes demonstrates its disregard for this future we are studying for.
‘We wouldn’t have to be striking in the first place if adults in the Highland Council and elsewhere were doing their absolute best to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.’
Her mother, Kate Willis, added: ‘Holly had my full support to ‘skip school’ on Friday to attend the Global Climate Strike in Glasgow. I constantly hope the Scottish Government and regional councils will start listening to the school strikers and will act soon so that my daughter and her generation have a future to look forward too.’
A spokesperson for the local branch of the Extinction Rebellion environmental pressure group said: ”To deny them their right to protest by striking is fundamentally immoral, myopic and misses the point which is clear to anyone who bothers to listen to them – that, through their engagement, these young people are learning a huge amount about how the world operates. Can the same be said for the school curriculum?’
Climate action protests have been regularly staged every Friday outside Lochaber High School. Picture Iain Ferguson, alba.photo