UK students protesting against school policies

Poppy Bedford discusses students protesting against the unequal and poor treatment within schools

Poppy Bedford
17th April 2023
Image credit: Illuminate sound
Recently, school pupils across the UK have been, with the help of social media, protesting about their treatment. Protests over uniform regulations, toilet facilities, and treatment from members of staff. Southampton, Essex, Blackpool, Yorkshire, Cornwall, and Lincolnshire have all had protests recently.

These protests began in Southampton over new rules that meant boys and girls had to use the same toilets. A female Pupil, 14, told the Mail Online, "We don't think it's fair, girls in our school are not comfortable. People think it's funny to unlock the doors while you're in there…We're trying to tell the teachers that it's just not fair. We've tried to talk to them before we did a protest but they're just ignoring it." A different student added, "We have gone to the headteacher about it before and they just tell you what you want to hear and don't do anything about it…You're also not allowed to leave lessons to go to the toilet which isn't fair on girls who are menstruating”

The school's stance is not supported by a majority of parents either as one parent commented, “The boys have got this thing about putting their phone over the toilet or under the doors to try to get pictures of them. I am not happy, I don't like the fact my daughter is uncomfortable going to the toilet - she's a child, she's a minor…She's not going to the toilet all day while she's at school…I have even contacted the school about it, but they haven't done anything…Why did the school not tell us about it before and get people's opinions before they put something in place?"

"I don't like the fact my daughter is uncomfortable going to the toilet - she's a child, she's a minor"

Furthermore, pupils in Merseyside protested after girls were threatened with suspension over the length of their skirts. Footage of this event ended up on social media and it shows hundreds of pupils gathered in the hallways of the school in protest of the strict policy; a TikTok video has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.

Again, however, these events have received support from parents with one mother saying, “This is a repressive regime. Education seems very low down the list of priorities. They are all missing time in education because of skirt lengths.” This is a sentiment that has long been argued with the discussions of school uniforms and their disproportionate effect on girls over boys.

Critiques have been quick to dismiss these protests as difficult behaviour carrying over from lockdown and disruptions from covid. Tom Bennett, the author of Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour, and an adviser to the Department for Education, commented that it was “mostly yobbish behaviour and disorder jacked up by the kudos of filming it and putting it on TikTok…It’s copycat behaviour, with more in common with fashions and fads than a more complex cultural phenomenon or expression of protest. Schools should take a firm line on this and warn students that if they participate they will experience a serious consequence.”

Many people have been quick to dismiss these protests as students misbehaving or acting out, rather than a sincere outcry over their treatment. If similar rules were set in place for adults in a workplace, there would be no end to the number of complaints or actions that could be taken to secure human rights were adhered to – access to a toilet is a human right.

Schools act as an echo-chamber for the current feelings of society

In addition to this, a lot of parents agree with or at least support the actions of their children who are not being listened to. With every protest there are people who tag along for the chaos. We saw it with the Black Lives Matter protests during the pandemic, we’re seeing it with the protests currently happening in Georgia, and we will see it again but schools act as an echo chamber for the current feelings of society as a whole. These protests reflect the feelings of a country where people are tired of not being listened to. If nothing else these protests highlight the disregard for children in secondary schools and how the general public are tired of being mistreated.

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