Children as young as seven are skipping school to join pro-Palestine marches, a report warns today.
Hardline groups are advising parents on how to avoid fines from schools and on setting up protests, according to the Policy Exchange think-tank.
The wave of truancy comes amid a school absence crisis triggered by the pandemic.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said last night that it was unacceptable for pupils to put activism ahead of study.
The report claims some parents were allegedly told by teachers they would not be penalised over the protests.
The Policy Exchange also says that:
- The hard-Left Stop the War Coalition co-ordinated parents and children to strike together across the country
- Young activists were directed to material from Cage, a hardline group accused of sympathising with terrorists after calling Islamic State fanatic Jihadi John a ‘beautiful young man’
- Children as young as seven were seen chanting the slogan ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’
- Activist teachers in Bristol have waived through the absences saying there would be ‘no risk of a fine’
Mrs Keegan said: ‘Children should be in school. While I would always encourage young people to engage in world events, doing so by joining protests during school time is unacceptable.
Children carrying miniature coffins lead a pro-Palestinian march to Downing Street calling for a ceasefire on 30 November
Tory MP Lia Nici said the situation was ‘horrifying’ and that children ‘need to be at school, not encouraged by adults to join hate marches’. Pictured: Two children in London holding placards on November 17
Parents and children are pictured outside the gates of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London on October 27
Children as young as seven are skipping school to join pro-Palestine marches, a report warns today. Pictured: A girl holds up a placard during a protest on 28 October in London
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said last night that it was unacceptable for pupils to put activism ahead of study. Pictured: A group of young children hold signs during a protest on 28 October in London
‘I am deeply concerned political groups are encouraging children to join protests at the cost of invaluable time in the classroom. Children should not be used as political tools by campaign groups, who in some cases hold extreme views.
‘I strongly support schools and local authorities in setting clear expectations that pupils should be in school, and in taking action where that is not the case including using fines where applicable.’
Thousands of schoolchildren have attended marches in recent weeks. More than 400 attended a single protest in Tower Hamlets, east London, on November 16, while 500 marched in Redbridge, north-east London, on November 17.
Another 300 children at Beal High School in Ilford, east London, boycotted an assembly with local Labour MP and health spokesman Wes Streeting over his stance on the war in Gaza.
The report by the Policy Exchange sparked outrage from MPs and experts who called for parents who allow their children to join protests to be fined.
Tory MP Miriam Cates said: ‘For adults to encourage children to miss out on education for any reason is concerning, but to do so in order for those children to engage in partisan political protests is deeply worrying.’
Fellow Conservative Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘At times since the October 7 attack on Israel, the UK has looked very divided. We all have a duty to come together to address this. Encouraging children to leave school in order to attend political protests will make the situation worse, not better.
‘As education secretary I saw so much evidence of how hard schools and their teachers work at bringing children, from a range of backgrounds, together. I would hate to see that undermined.’
The report described the Stop the War Coalition as ‘perhaps the most important player’ behind the marches.
It claimed the group published a ‘how to’ guide online for parents and their children to join the demonstration. Activists were reportedly encouraged to create WhatsApp groups to co-ordinate meeting points and rallying times and were offered templates for letters to schools.
Policy Exchange said children as young as seven were seen chanting the slogan ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. Pictured: A group of children at a protest on 7 November in London
A young child covers their face and holds up a placard which says: ‘Stop killing children like me’ on 7 November in London
Thousands of schoolchildren have attended marches in recent weeks. Pictured: A young boy is snapped at a march on 25 November in London
Tory MP Lia Nici said: ‘This is horrifying. Children need to be at school, not being encouraged by adults to join hate marches.
‘It is time our Government backed our call to legislate to make sure all children have to attend schools who have a requirement to deliver a balanced curriculum that offers balanced information about both sides of an issue.’
Headteachers and local authorities often decide acceptable absence levels.
Those deemed to be taking unapproved absences risk prosecution including fines of up to £2,500 and even a jail sentence.
But the report claims that some activist parents have said teachers waived through the absences saying there would be ‘no risk of a fine’.
Dr Paul Stott, Policy Exchange’s head of security and extremism, said: ‘No one should object to school pupils involving themselves in politics, or taking an interest in current affairs, including attending protests. The key thing is that this should not happen in school time.’
A Cage spokesman said: ‘There was no outrage in relation to school protests in support of Ukraine. Indeed it was welcomed and encouraged by Right-wing interests so it is the height of hypocrisy to prevent the same children from expressing their opposition to genocide. Any protests have been a spontaneous show of concern for the plight of Palestinian children.’
The Stop the War Coalition was contacted for comment.