Parents could be fined or prosecuted if they allow their children to skip school to take part in pro-Palestinian rallies, Gillian Keegan has warned.
The Education Secretary told children that “missing school for activism” is unacceptable after thousands of children skipped class to take part in the protests.
The Education Secretary said she was “deeply concerned” after the organiser of the demonstrations, campaign group Stop the War Coalition, told parents their children would not be punished.
School Strike for Palestine rallies have taken place across the UK, including in London, Bristol and Glasgow.
In a post on Twitter, Ms Keegan expressed concern about the protest and warned it should be treated with the “utmost seriousness”.
A video showed children marching through Bristol behind a boy wearing a keffiyeh around his neck and chanting through a megaphone: “One, two, three, four, occupation no more. Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terrorist state”.
Ms 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.
— Gillian Keegan MP (@GillianKeegan) November 17, 2023
A government source warned that parents could be fined or prosecuted for allowing their children to skip school for political rallies.
“Our guidance is clear: children should only miss school for exceptional circumstances – and political protests are absolutely not one of them,” she said.
“Children should be in school. We have been clear that school leaders and local authorities should be enforcing attendance policies and they should take immediate action where these policies have been breached.
“In the most egregious cases, this can mean fines or prosecution.”
The Stop the War Coalition’s “school strikes” will also run next week.
Guidance issued to activists by the group instructs them to “gather a group of dedicated parents/teachers in your area” and use WhatsApp group chats to “pick a central location in your area to have a rally”, The Times reported.
Graphics, posters and a template letter to head teachers informing them of a child’s absence are being provided.
The group told parents: “We’ve 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 and would need 10 in a short amount of time to be fined. Please do check your own school policy.”
Hundreds of students at protests
Schoolchildren handed in a petition calling for a ceasefire to representatives at Bristol’s City Hall.
The signatures, many written in felt tip pen, were collected by youngsters who have attended the school strike for Palestine outside over the past three weeks.
Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party and councillor for Clifton Down ward in the city, collected the petition during the event on Friday morning.
Speaking in Bristol, Ms Denyer told pupils and protesters: “Thank you for taking a stand for Palestine and for calling for a ceasefire. The abhorrent situation in Palestine and Israel must end.
“I know we are all horrified by the Hamas attacks and we all want the immediate release of the hostages.
“Those atrocities do not in any way justify the level of bombardment of civilians, including many Gazan children, that has shocked the world.”
Hundreds of students and parents from Ilford, east London, gathered outside Redbridge Town Hall “to make their voices heard”, with young children seen jumping excitedly as they joined chants of “free, free Palestine!” in a call and response led by an adult.
In Glasgow, thousands of young people shouted “ceasefire now” as others held up a large banner that read: “Students say: end Israeli apartheid.”
On Thursday, hundreds of young students took similar action in east London and gathered with placards and loudspeakers outside the office of a local MP.