Thousands of youngsters are on strike from school on Friday as part of a global youth action over climate change.
Youth Strike 4 Climate organisers say strikes are taking place in 60 towns and cities across the country from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands, in the face of “an alarming lack of Government leadership” on climate change.
But school leaders and Education Secretary Damian Hinds have warned students they should not miss lessons to take part in the strikes.
The movement has already seen school strikes in Australia and European countries including Belgium, and has been inspired by teenager Greta Thunberg, who protests every Friday outside Sweden’s parliament to urge leaders to tackle climate change.
The strikes come in the wake of a UN report which warned that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which climate impacts become increasingly severe, requires unprecedented action.
That includes cutting global carbon dioxide emissions by almost half within 12 years.
Students in the UK are demanding the Government declare a climate emergency and take active steps to tackle the problem, communicate the severity of the ecological crisis to the public and reform the curriculum to make it an educational priority.
They also want recognition that young people have the biggest stake in the future, should be involved in policymaking, and that the voting age should be lowered to 16.
Anna Taylor, of UK Student Climate Network, said: “We’re running out of time for meaningful change, and that’s why we’re seeing young people around the world rising up to hold their governments to account on their dismal climate records.
“Unless we take positive action, the future’s looking bleak for those of us that have grown up in an era defined by climate change.”
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said it supports the right of young people to express themselves but it did not condone students being out of the classroom to take action.
In a statement, the NAHT said: “While a school leader’s role is to ensure children attend school, are kept safe and receive a good quality of education, it is right that individual school leaders can decide how best to respond to any proposed protest by students in their school on Friday.”
Mr Hinds said: “I want young people to be engaged in key issues affecting them and involving themselves in causes they care about.
“But let me be clear, missing class won’t do a thing to help the environment; all they will do is create extra work for teachers.”
He added it was ultimately a matter for headteachers, but he did not want teachers being burdened with the extra-workload the strikes could create.
Energy minister Claire Perry told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I suspect if this was happening 40 years ago, I would be out there too.
“I’m incredibly proud of the young people in the UK who are highly educated about this issue and feel very strongly – quite rightly – that we do need to take action because it’s their generation that will bear the consequences.
“I do want to slightly caution that with the more official view that we can’t put any more burdens on our superb teachers and teaching staff. I do hope that anyone missing school today does get their work and their homework done.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan, speaking at the National Clean Air Summit at the Tate Modern on Thursday, said he understands why children feel “very strongly” about pollution and climate change and called for politicians to take “great strides to clear up the air across our country”.
He said: “I say to my fellow politicians, we can be the first generation to get it and find solutions, or the last generation not to get it.”
The strike is being supported by environmental campaign groups and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who will address students on their walkout in Brighton.
Ms Lucas, who described the action as “inspiring”, said: “Our children recognise that this is a climate emergency.
“They are striking this week because they know we cannot carry on as normal.
“Teachers work hard to prepare students for their future but right now that future is at serious risk.”
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman and former teacher Layla Moran also backed the young people who have “taken up such an important and principled cause” and said she would be joining students in Oxford.
Students and young people are set to follow up on February’s action with a second round of strikes taking place on March 15 as part of a global youth strike.