Wednesday saw hundreds of teachers across Brighton and Hove take industrial action over changes imposed by the government. Yesterday – true to their word – more than 100 pupils did the same. Reporter Ben James spent the morning with them at Churchill Square Shopping Centre.
More than 100 students bunked off school yesterday in protest against proposed changes to their education.
Youngsters from Varndean, Dorothy Stringer, Blatchington Mill, Cardinal Newman and Patcham High, gathered outside Churchill Square Shopping Centre from 10am.
The majority of year nine and ten pupils chanted, sang, banged drums and danced while their morning lessons went on without them.
While some may have been taking advantage of the Facebook organised event to get the day off school, others spoke at length of their fears for the future of their education.
Scarlet-Luna Clementson, 13, said she wanted to “stand up for student’s rights”.
The Varndean pupil added: “I don’t want to be ignored anymore. I don’t think it is fair and Michael Gove can get away with all of this.
“I think we need to stand up for what we believe in. He wants to lengthen our school day and shorten the holiday and it should not be happening.
“He has made year 11 study for an exam they aren’t even taking – it’s just a waste of their education which he’s supposedly trying to improve.
“I think it is ridiculous. If everyone else has the right to strike then so should we.”
Plans for the action appeared on Facebook last week.
Reacting to the then upcoming plans for the national NUT teacher’s strike, the organisers called on fellow pupils across the city to meet up for the protest.
The main issue on most students’ lips was the potential for longer school days and shorter holidays.
Academies, which have been pushed by secretary of state Michael Gove and the Coalition, have the flexibility to alter the standard school day and time off.
Pupils claim more time in lessons would not only prevent them socialising with friends and family but also have a negative outcome on their grades due to being overworked.
Among the other changes that angered students was a change to the requirements for entry to college.
While before they needed just five A* to C grades at GCSE, they are set to require eight.
Olivia Yeandle, 14, from Blatchington Mill, said: “It is going to be very difficult for some to get those grades which will prevent them from going further.
“I think it is stupid how you have to get a certain grade to be able to do something with your life.
“It’s a case of if you don’t get the right grades at school then you can’t go anywhere or do anything.
“It’s so stupid how they reduce people’s abilities to grades and numbers.”
Armed with a mega-phone and drum, the youngsters directed most of their anger at Education Secretary Michael Gove.
The contingent of youngsters all wore their uniforms to represent the different city schools taking part.
However, usual rules were relaxed slightly with some choosing to wear their ties around their heads.
They told how they felt “powerless” to alter decisions being made – despite being the ones they are imposed on.
Varndean student Luke Hopkins, 15, had taken the day off with his younger brother Ewan, 13.
He said: “They haven’t asked what we think, we haven’t had a say in any of this.
“I just want those who make the decisions to give us a chance to be heard. They should listen to what we say and take it onboard.
“We have the experience, we are going through this day in day out. People like Gove have grown up with different things to us. He has had a different upbringing so he doesn’t know what he is on about.”
Year nine pupil Ewan added: “The policies they enforce are not affecting them. They are affecting our teachers and students.
“If the teachers can strike we can’t we.”
While some of the youngsters had little to say about Wednesday’s NUT walkout, most backed their teachers and their decision to strike.
Gareth Lewis Williams, 14, from Varndean, said: “I fully support the teachers.
“Teachers don’t want to have to work until they are 68.”
Luke Hopkins added: “This should be an eye-opener for the MPs. This shows we actually have a voice and hopefully they will consult us next time and give us a choice. We have opinions just like anyone else.”
A spokesman for Varndean said they hadn’t experienced a particularly high student absence rate.
He added: “Anyone who wasn’t at school we will deal with in the usually way, that is with an unauthorised absence.
“We have a procedure and an absence management system in place. We will follow that.”
Dorothy Stringer also reported a normal level of absenteeism.
A spokeswoman said: “All those who were off will be dealt with in the usual way with an unauthorised absence. “If there is no reason given, we will contact parents.”
A spokeswoman from Blatchington Mill said staff members were stationed on the school gates to stop pupils leaving this morning. She added they were unaware of any of their pupils at the protest.