Schools

Keegan ‘deeply concerned’ as children miss school to join pro-Palestine protests

Education secretary says 'missing school for activism is unacceptable' as groups stage school strikes

Education secretary says 'missing school for activism is unacceptable' as groups stage school strikes

17 Nov 2023, 17:40

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Gillian Keegan

Gillian Keegan has intervened after children attended pro-Palestine protests during the week, stating: “Missing school for activism is unacceptable.”

The education secretary said this afternoon that she is “deeply concerned” amid reports some youngsters have missed class to attend demonstrations in recent days.

She also voiced fears youngsters could be “exposed to antisemitic chants”. The Jewish News reported a 10-year-old was seen standing with parents chanting ‘From the River to the Sea’ in London, which is widely interpreted as calling for the destruction of Israel.

Left-wing group Stop the War Coalition also published guidance online on “how to organise a school strike”, along with a template absence letter to send to headteachers.

Concern as kids attend pro-Palestine demos in school day

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Keegan said: “I’m deeply concerned that some children are attending political protests during the school day.

“Even more so if they’re taking part in, or being exposed to, antisemitic chants.

“This should be treated with the utmost seriousness – missing school for activism is unacceptable.”

Stop the War Coalition has helped to organise school strikes in Tower Hamlets, Bristol, Manchester, Harrow, Redbridge and Burton over the last two days.

Group issues advice to activist parents

Its advice told activists to “gather a group of dedicated parents/teenagers in your area and create a WhatsApp group”. It added that demonstrators should “pick a central location in your area to have a rally on Friday morning”.

A notice on Stop the War’s website said it has been “assured by those working in schools that whilst this would count as an unauthorised absence, a child can have up to four days in a row unauthorised”.

It stated that a fine would not be issued unless 10 days were missed “in a short amount of time”. Despite this it advised parent to “check your own school policy”.

Schools are expected to be politically neutral on such issues. Government published guidance last year which included advice on covering the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Shabbir Lakha, an officer for Stop the War, argued pupils “organising collectively to add their voices to the call for peace in Gaza is their democratic right and something to be applauded, not denigrated”.

“It is shameful that the education secretary would choose to attack young people in this way instead of celebrating their courage,” he added.

“There is zero evidence that there have been any antisemitic chants at any of the school strikes and for Gillian Keegan to claim this is a baseless lie.”

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