Activism

Climate strikes just the start as pupils get lessons in protest and campaigns

Two thirds of teachers want children to be given time outside the classroom to fight for social issues they care about

Protest Julian Meehan hero Flickr
A group of children at a North London school are learning how to make their voices heard at a time when youth activism is more important than ever.

The National Citizen Service (NCS) worked with 60 teenagers at the Archer Academy in Finchley to give them a crash-course in protesting, fundraising and running an effective social action campaign.

The pilot took place ahead of what is expected to be a globe-spanning climate strike on Friday, when thousands of students will walk out on school to continue the youth response to climate change.

Pupils at Archer Academy took part in workshops on social activism – breaking down what it means to protest, raise awareness and volunteer – before young LGBTQ+ and mental health activist Ellen Jones challenged them to think about the social issues they cared about and what skills they had that could be used to argue their cause.

“You just need to look at the number of powerful youth voices out there now to see what an impact young people can make,” Jones said. “Equipping them with the information on the many ways they can affect change and more importantly the confidence to take their campaigns public is nothing but a positive step forward for our communities.”

The students were then tasked with coming up with a campaign of their own. One group opted to campaign for all plastic to be removed from school dinners; one wanted Barnet Council to install more streetlights to make green spaces safer; and another petitioned the school to end gender-segregated PE lessons.

Pupil Zohar Applebaum-Kahn, 14, said: “We hear all about young people making a difference so it’s great to be given an opportunity to do this in school and learn more about how to make a change.

“The group I was in has decided to do a campaign on raising awareness about mental health in schools and I’m really excited about the ideas we had from today’s workshop.”

Since the NCS worked with the school, head teacher Lucy Harrison has confirmed that the campaigns will be incorporated into the school’s citizenship GCSE courses.

“I’m incredibly proud of the students here,” Harrison said. “They have a belief that they can make a difference.” The workshops created an opportunity for pupils to “explore their passions and understand the many ways they can make themselves heard and make a genuine impact in the local community,” she added.

A NCS survey showed that nearly two thirds of teachers want their students to get time outside the classroom to campaign and raise awareness of the causes that matter to them – but there are truancy fears, with one in five saying they’ve had students ditch school to go to a protest despite safeguarding concerns making it impossible for schools to support.

Sean Costello, head of schools engagement at the NCS and a former deputy head teacher, said: “Young people are passionate about many issues, including the environment, racism and mental health. They have important opinions and we must help them voice their views.

“If we don’t provide a channel for young people to make their voices heard how can we expect them to sustain that interest into adulthood and play a part in their communities?”

The NCS say it will evaluate the successful pilot before starting work on rolling the programme out to 6,000 schools across the country.

Image: Julian Meehan

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