The Department for Education has stressed that children should be in school and not missing out on lessons after hundreds of schoolchildren staged walkouts in pro-Palestine protests, organised by a far-left group.
But in a statement to Jewish News, the DfE also said it recognised “young people should be able to peacefully express their views”, as anti-Israel protests took place across several cities in the UK over the past week in response to Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza.
Jewish News has been made aware of a child under the age of 10 who was seen standing alongside parents chanting From The River To The Sea at a “school strike” in one London borough.
The hardline Stop the War Coalition is responsible for helping organise this week’s national school strike for Palestine walkouts in London, Bristol, Manchester, Glasgow and Burton.
After an initial response from the DfE, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan later 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.”
Senior members of the group include John Rees, a hard-left ex-Socialist Workers Party leader, who in 2009 said he was a “supporter” of Hezbollah and Hamas, saying that such “resistance” groups are “a legitimate part of [our] movement”, likening them to French and Italian partisans fighting the Nazis in the Second World War.
Other senior figures in Stop The War include deputy president Jeremy Corbyn, and Lindsey German, who has repeatedly faced criticism over comments on Israel, and on antisemitism.
Stop The War issued a template on how to organise a school strike, which included the claim the group had been “assured by those working in schools” that pupils taking part in the Palestine demos would “count as an unauthorised absence.”
It added:”A child can have up to four days in a row unauthorised.”
In Tower Hamlets, in East London on Thursday hundreds of schoolchildren and adults marched chanting “Israel is a terror state” as pupils from several schools joined early afternoon protests.
Later, Jewish News was told that at one school in the borough, girls left the building without permission through fire exits to attend a protest.
Teachers were unable to stop the girls attending, so followed them to ensure that safeguarding measures were in place.
It is understood that parents have been contacted and asked to attend interviews with headteachers, with detentions booked for Saturday.
Sources said the protests had been allowed in respect of the fact that pupils had stage similar actions of solidarity in support of Ukraine, and on climate change.
Shabbir Lakha, an official in the STWC, filmed video of children on the protests and posted the footage on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Tower Hamlets students now marching to @rushanaraali’s office after she shamefully refused to vote for a ceasefire last night. #SchoolStrikeForPalestine #FreePalestine ???????? #CeasefireNOW pic.twitter.com/MGGpeNlPo6
— Shabbir Lakha (@ShabbirLakha) November 16, 2023
Meanwhile in Redbridge, around 500 children took part in protests on Friday morning, which began at 10am meaning many pupils did not even attend school.
Police officers attended the protests, which saw banners and Palestinian flags waved, and chants including “From The River To The Sea” were again heard.
Redbridge Labour councillor Lloyd Duddridge, the cabinet member for children, young people and education in the borough told Jewish News:” In Redbridge you don’t get to play politics with children’s education. Every child today should be in school. No ifs, no buts.”
In Haringey council leader Peray Ahmet issued a statement in response to earlier school strikes in the borough, saying:”I know that events in the Middle East is having a profound and direct effect on many of our residents here in Haringey. I also know that many of us are worried about the increasing antisemitism and Islamophobia here in the UK.
“We’re really clear here in Haringey that we have zero tolerance for antisemitism, Islamophobia or any kind of hate.”
A number of students of Hornsey School for Girls have been either expelled or temporarily excluded over a series of incidents, including pupils painting Palestinian flags on their hands and staging a walkout of an assembly.
Asked to comment on concerns raised by Jewish parents about the impact of the protests on their children a DfE spokesperson said: “Children should be in school. While we recognise these young people should be able to peacefully express their views, we do not condone them missing out on their education.”
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