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Don’t give pupils time off for protests, DfE guidance says

Pupils should not be given approval to take time off school for protests, new statutory attendance guidance that comes into force from August sets out.

The clarity comes after education secretary Gillian Keegan intervened over pupils going on pro-Palestine rallies, declaring “missing school for activism is unacceptable”.

Previously, lawyers said such decisions were down to headteachers, who could technically choose to allow absence under the “exceptional circumstances” exemption.

But new statutory ‘Working together to improve school attendance’ guidance, published this morning and which will take hold in August, states: “Leave of absence should not be granted for a pupil to take part in protest activity during school hours.”

The current attendance guidance does not contain anything relating to the word ‘protest’.

Keegan said she was “deeply concerned” in November after reports youngsters had missed class to join marches supporting Palestine, amid the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.

Left-wing group Stop the War Coalition had published guidance online about “how to organise a school strike”, alongside a template absence letter to send to headteachers. But that webpage no longer exists.

Pupils also joined a mass protest in 2019 over climate change. The government later warned that schools should not encourage pupils to take part in such protests, as part of its draft sustainability strategy.

However this appears to have been cut from the final strategy, published in 2022.

The new attendance guidance is also more explicit on which scenarios schools should grant leave of absences.

This includes taking part in a “regulated performance or employment abroad”, attending an interview or for study leave. There is still a category for “exceptional circumstances”, with applications to be considered individually.

However the next paragraph makes clear that this should not include protests.

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