Don’t punish children and young people

Youth Climate Strike outside Sheffield Town Hall. Picture Scott Merrylees
Youth Climate Strike outside Sheffield Town Hall. Picture Scott Merrylees
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Have your say

Molly Meleady-Hanley

Chair of the Sheffield Young People’s Equality Group

A number of adults have been complaining about the fact children and young people in Sheffield took part in the coordinated action to force action on climate change policy, which resulted in students skipping classes at schools and colleges across the country, as part of a worldwide campaign, which was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish girl who launched a solitary protest outside the Swedish parliament in the run-up to their elections.

Children and young people in Sheffield took part, alongside thousands of others in The Youth Strike 4 Climate Change demonstration. These children and young people will soon be heading back to their schools and colleges after the half-term break, some to face the consequences of their actions in their schools, across the City, as letters were sent out by some schools to parents complaining about their children’s unauthorised absence, even though the national headteachers union backed the strike to stop schools telling students that going to the demonstration would be seen and marked down as an authorised absence.

The Government’s National Curriculum and the British values that schools and colleges have to teach, are based on the idea and requirement that schools should be supporting young people to become responsible citizens and every school student in Sheffield who took action during the school walk-outs and demonstration did so exactly for this reason. They protested against the climate crisis and called on the Government to lower the voting age to 16.

Because of this, we believe strongly that the student protestors should not be getting punished and certainly not for defending the earth’s future and for calling for better democracy in the UK.

We hope that when these students return to their schools and other education places, after this holiday period, that they will all have the support of their teachers, schools/education places and the Sheffield Local Authority for doing what the Government and schools have been teaching them to do i.e. to be active citizens who can think critically and who can stand up for their beliefs and against injustices.

A ‘Children’s Strike’ here in Sheffield, is nothing new. In fact in 1914, the children of Sheffield at that time went on strike, for better conditions for children in the city, joining in a national strike. The children at that time to, did not stay in lessons but took to the streets demonstrating. Did this improve things for the children? Yes, it did. They were given more breaks in school time, and pencils to write with. Disruption to the school day, made adults look at what was concerning children then, adults today need to do the same.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) gives children and young people the right to express themselves and as the students today point out, it was their right to speak up as they did on the things that are concerning them now and for the world’s future.

Having a demonstration during the holiday period would not have drawn the attention needed to the issue, as much as having the demonstration during term-time did, as the news coverage proved this point.

We ask the heads of all schools in Sheffield to see the children and young people from their schools and colleges as good citizens and to not punish them for going to the demonstration by marking them down as being on an unauthorised absence and/or by giving them detentions or any other punishment…after all, Sheffield’s children and young people were only following the city’s tradition, of standing up for what is right.