At Blatchington Mill School in Hove, West Sussex, a group of anti-war protesters risk a disaster in their GCSEs. Six students, among 200 who staged a demonstration outside the school premises on 7 March, are being suspended for two months – precisely during the time when their class will be revising for the exams.
The Blatchington Mill pupils joined hundreds of young people who took part in peace demonstrations in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Cambridge and Milton Keynes. While pupils at other schools have been reprimanded or even excluded for one or two days, Blatchington Mill has opted for stiffer punishment.
“[This] is very unfair,” says Sarah McMurray, 15, one of the suspended students. “These are the last couple of weeks at school, and we need our teachers’ help. My whole educational future is in danger; I won’t get the grades I was hoping for before the suspension.”
“This is the worst possible time to be excluded,” says Glen Whittaker, father of Adam, another suspended 15-year-old. “It is the final phase of the revision, and he desperately needs to attend the classes.”
A spokeswoman for Brighton and Hove City Council said that because the pupils have been “temporarily excluded” (as opposed to permanently barred), the local education authority cannot be actively involved in the appeals process.
“The government says youngsters must be encouraged to engage in politics. However, when they express much-needed idealism, they get severely punished by a draconian measure,” says Glen Whittaker.
According to the Stop the War Coalition, between 5,000 and 10,000 pupils from schools across Britain will mark the outbreak of war by leaving their lessons to protest outside parliament. At Blatchington, parents plan to stage their own protest shortly thereafter – not against the bombing but against the two-month suspension that the excluded six face.
Sarah, for one, is unfazed by the government’s measures to silence her opposition to war, and plans to take part in all future demonstrations. “I would definitely do it again,” she says. “I do not think I did anything wrong by protesting. Nothing will stop me demonstrating against something I feel so strongly about.”