‘We need to listen to our children’s climate change concerns’, says Sheffield teacher

Last week in the centre of the city I had one of the most inspiring weekday afternoons since becoming a teacher at a Sheffield school, writes our secret teacher.

Saturday, 28th September 2019, 8:10 am
Youth for Climate Protest, Sheffield City Centre…..Pic Steve Ellis
Youth for Climate Protest, Sheffield City Centre…..Pic Steve Ellis

In a controversial move, hundreds of children walked away from classes and gathered on Devonshire Green to protest about the lack of action being taken to stop climate change.

I know how important it is for children to attend school and be in as many lessons as possible, so wouldn’t normally condone such action – but I could not help being enthused by their dedication to the environment and inspired by the momentum generated from the strikes started by one person in Stockholm.

I work part time as a teacher and so followed the lead of my teaching union, going down to give them moral support as they marched towards Barker’s Pool and held a rally.

You may have seen them gathered there, joined by many parents and other adults who sympathise with their cause. University students and lecturers were also out in a separate event as well.

Whether you fall on the side of the debate of those supporting the action of our young people or you think that they should have been back in the classroom working hard last Friday afternoon, you could not fail to have been impressed by the level of their passion or their ability to argue their point.

It wasn’t simply a case of holding up cleverly worded banners – here were children from many Sheffield schools standing in front of a microphone with a prepared speech, addressing a crowd of well over 1000 in a passionate, effective way.

I got a feeling that these young people – who attend schools in our city – could well be the leaders of tomorrow and I felt a warmth in my heart at the prospect because we’d be in safe hands.

It was also wonderful to see children of all ages engaging with their MPs and MEPs at specially arranged surgeries at the side of the demonstration, urging for their collective voice to be listened to.

Plenty of people disagree with their subversive actions, but this was a ‘money can’t buy’ experience in citizenship.

Yet, as well as being morally boosted by the ability of Sheffield state school kids to hold their own at a political event, there were a lot of things that concerned me last Friday – mainly concerning how our children and the topic they feel so strongly about are being sidelined.

The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, accused the families involved of being irresponsible and said the kids were ‘bunking off.’ Ironically, if he had attended he would have seen that these were the kids least likely to skip school.

It would have been nice to see Gavin Williamson develop the point by addressing the children’s concerns and highlighting some of the positive work they have done, rather than dismissing the biggest youth protest in history in just one sentence. Kids can learn out of school, you know.

What’s perhaps more concerning is the way in which large chunks of the media simply ignored the voice of children and the action they took.

Walking up to the shop on Saturday morning to look at the front pages of the newspapers, you would have been forgiven for thinking the protests – in every town and city in the country – never actually happened.

Only one of the newspapers featured the demonstrations on the front – in a very small photograph – and the others gave it a wide birth.

Some things children were mentioning during their speeches were fairly alarming, not least the Y12 from a school in Rotherham who told us about her teacher being a climate change denier.

Other children explained how they get taught very little about climate change in the curriculum – something which much surprise those who think our kids are being indoctrinated to protest.

It’s not something children should do every Friday, but as a society we should be taking their concerns more seriously. Just because they can’t vote doesn’t mean they don’t count.