Three pupils have been banned from their end of school prom for joining an environmental protest instead of attending revision classes.
Ellie Kinloch, Tyler McHugh, and Isobel Deady have all been barred from attending the end of Year 11 prom at Albany Academy in Chorley on Friday, June 28, after they skipped school for an environmental protest in Manchester city centre.
The trio, all 16 years old, informed the school in advance they would be attending the youth protest some 24 miles away, campaigning for action combatting climate change.
They argued that it should be viewed as ‘exceptional circumstances’ after MPs declared a environment and climate emergency earlier this year.
Following the protest the three were informed by headteacher Peter Mayland that they would not be allowed to attend their prom as a result of the unauthorised absence.
Ellie’s mum, Karen Fogg, said: “They’ve done nothing wrong in five years at this school; they’ve never been in trouble once. You’ve got children [going to prom] with worse disciplinary records who have done far worse than skip school for something they believe in.
“We accept it as an unauthorised absence but we don’t accept the weight of the punishment.”
The parents met with Mr Mayland and offered to find a compromise, including paying a fine, attending detention, and free environmental projects to benefit school grounds, but the school has yet to change its mind on the decision.
The May 24 protest, organised by Youth Strike 4 Climate Manchester and inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, was for students that passionately believe in combatting climate change.
The trio are also attending the group’s fifth protest today (Friday, June 21) outside Manchester Central Library.
Karen, from Chorley, added: “The day before the protest they were told it was not authorised and that it would put everything at risk. But the school told this to the girls and not us as parents.
“If they had told me in advance I would have made a decision; we’ve spent £500 on Ellie for the prom in dresses, tickets, transport.
“Ellie is devastated. We all are. We’ve never felt so strongly about anything like this.
"The others are livid with it all; everyone is pretty upset.”
The trio were told about the ban on Monday, June 3, which was the first school day after returning from half term and the first school day after attending the protest.
Karen continued: “The girls don’t drink or smoke, they are good kids. This is what they believe in and what they’re passionate about. It’s a good thing.”
Ellie’s godmother, Wendy Bicknell, has warned that it sets a bad precedent for being honest with schools on such matters.
She said: “It tells me that honesty isn’t the best policy.
“If they had just said they were ill and not told the truth this wouldn’t be happening.”
Isobel’s mum, Janine Deady, said she feels the school is “making an example of our daughters for taking strike action”.
She said: “We hear so often that young people are apathetic but it’s not the case. The girls are an example of that.”
Janine explained the idea for attending the protest came “after seeing a lot of things in the media about environmental damage” including the Our Planet documentary with Sir David Attenborough.
She said: “Isobel considered very carefully taking the day off for the strike action, it was not taken lightly at all.
“She considered it very carefully before making the decision because there is nothing else open to them at their age as a way of expressing themselves.
“They can’t vote and will be the generation most affected by damage to the planet.
“We consider it was exceptional circumstances. It comes as the government has declared a climate emergency. I was happy for her to express herself and join the youth fight.
“The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. This was her first unauthorised absence in her five years there.”
What Albany Academy has had to say on the matter
Headteacher Peter Mayland said: “Albany Academy has an excellent reputation, based on the high standards we have, especially for students’ attendance, behaviour and safety.
“Our rule on attendance during exams has been in place for many years: Year 11 children need to be in school to prepare fully for their GCSEs.
“Where a student has unauthorised absence, we apply sanctions. We do this fairly and we always take into account the needs of individual students and their specific circumstances.
“We make our expectations to parents and students very clear, both verbally and in writing.
“For Year 11 students, our prom is a voluntary privilege, and one element of our celebrations of their time at Albany Academy.
“This privilege may be removed in the event of poor attendance or poor behaviour during the final term of Year 11.”
Petition launched to help the girls
A petition to Mr Mayland, asking to overturn the prom ban, has been launched on Change.org by Ellie’s godmother Wendy Bicknell.
She explained that she can't see how the school has come to this decision.
“The girls issued a letter to the school in advance of the protest,” said Wendy.
“I think [the school] is trying to make an example out of them. We’ve asked him to reconsider; nine times out of 10 it’s a fine for something like this, but he was saying this wont be changed, this is the punishment.”
Wendy continued: “I think [Mr Mayland] is being quite unreasonable. We understand the school’s predicament because it’s unauthorised. But missing a prom is like missing a 21st birthday.
“They are good pupils. The parents had never been to the head’s office before or even met the head before on any negative matter.”
To view the petition visit https://www.change.org/p/mr-p-mayland-and-govening-bodies-outrageous-punishment-given-to-pupils-attending-youth-action-on-climate-change-protest
In May, MPs approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency.
It demonstrates the will of the Commons on the issue but does not legally compel the Government to act.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who tabled the motion, said it was “a huge step forward”.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged there was a climate “emergency” but did not back Labour’s demands to declare one.