By Adam Hughes
Today, thousands of students across the world will be standing up and making their voices heard about an issue that is of critical importance to their generation. This is something that all of us who work in education should celebrate.
At the English Schools Foundation (ESF), we actively encourage our young men and women to look beyond the classroom and to understand, analyse and attempt to tackle issues that affect their world. Equipping our students with a global outlook is a critical part of what we do in our 22 schools each and every day. It is one of the main reasons why the students who benefit from our education achieve so much in their lives.
However, nothing matters more to us than the safety and wellbeing of the children who have been entrusted into our care by their families. And it is for that reason that, although we support the principle behind the student strike, we cannot, in practice, give our consent to students taking an authorised absence from school.
We would be turning our back on our most important responsibility if we gave out a message that it was okay to leave school, unsupervised, to attend an event – regardless of its importance or relevance.
This is something that I know our principals and their staff have been discussing with their students in recent days. It is something, I believe, that is understood and accepted by the young people and their families.
Our challenge is to find ways that allow our students to make a stand on issues that matter to them – but to do it in a safe way.
Our students in their last year of primary school are currently making the preparations for their final project before they make the move to secondary school. The Year Six Exhibition sees students working together, or by themselves, to examine an issue of significance to them – and to present solutions to that issue.
In doing this, they get a really in-depth and authentic understanding of the topic, how it affects them and what they would like to see done about it. For many of the students, the Exhibition becomes the starting point of a relationship with an issue that lasts well beyond their time in school.
While this may not have the immediacy or potency of a global day of action, it does open students’ eyes to what they can do to change the world that they are preparing to lead.
We do live in challenging times. Our responsibility as educators is to give our young people the skills – and the confidence – to understand that they can make a difference, that no problem is insurmountable and that change is possible. At ESF we work hard to do that – and to make sure that it is done in a safe and supportive environment.