Published: 11:31, 20 September 2021
| Updated: 14:42, 20 September 2021
Anti-vaxxers have staged another protest outside a secondary school - days after a head teacher accused them of spreading conspiracy theories and disinformation.
The group pitched up outside Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School in Canterbury this morning, on the day coronavirus vaccines start being rolled out to children aged between 12 and 15.
The programme is expected to be delivered primarily within schools, and guidance has been issued to head teachers to contact police if they believe protests could be held outside their buildings.
Last week, Simon Langton Girls' head teacher Paul Pollard accused the group of engaging in “propaganda that has much in common with familiar far-right tropes”.
A letter was sent by him following the recommendation of Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty that the government offer one dose of the Covid vaccine to all children aged 12-15.
It was also in response to anti-vaxxers staging a protest outside the school on September 6, where they dished out literature to pupils.
Two days later the Abbey School in Faversham was targeted, with police called after a woman was reportedly assaulted.
The group have now returned to Langton Girls' - displaying placards from the opposite side of the road to the school as pupils entered.
The latest government data shows there have been 157,669 deaths which have Covid-19 on a death certificate in the UK.
Parental consent will not be needed if a child is considered competent to make a decision by themselves, but England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty says for the “great majority of cases, children and their parents come to the same decision”.
Last week, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it was aware some schools have been receiving campaign letters and emails with “misinformation” about the vaccine programme.
Its guidance states: “In the event of a protest or disruptive activity outside a school, or if schools know a protest is planned, they should alert the SAIS (School Age Immunisation Service) provider, local authority and police contacts to discuss the best way to manage the situation.”
Heads and teachers have also been advised “not to engage directly” with misinformation campaigns about the vaccine, but should “acknowledge receipt of concerns” and “refer to the latest scientific guidance on the issue” if necessary.
In a letter to parents last week, Mr Pollard wrote: “Following the recent events outside the school, where an anti-vaccination group staged a short protest, and with this announcement raising the possibility that this could happen again, I would like to ensure total clarity around this situation and the difference between the protest made and reasoned debate.
“The group that protested outside of the school were not engaged in a science-led debate on the decision of whether or not to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds.
“Instead, they were engaged in conspiracy theories, disinformation and various other propaganda that has much in common with familiar far-right tropes.
"Whilst their protest outside school was peaceful, and very few students accepted leaflets, groups of this nature are working to spread fear and misinformation, not engage in discussion or debate.”
Mr Pollard told parents the school would alert police if the anti-vaxxers return - but police have said they were not called to the protest today.
“We will do all we can to discourage students from speaking or accepting material from them,” he said. “As previously, they will not enter the school site.
“We would welcome parental support with this and ask that you reinforce with your children that in the event of further protests they should enter school without taking any literature or engaging in conversations.”
Mr Pollard said that since the protest earlier this month he has been in contact with the Kent County Council Prevent Education Officer.
Prevent is the government’s controversial strategy to combat extremist views and terrorism.
Kent County Council shared documents with the school, which have been circulated to pupils and parents.
One is called The Anti-Vaxx Playbook, which outlines many of the common tropes and narratives used.
“As a school we continue to develop our approach to all areas of safeguarding,” Mr Pollard added.
“This academic year we will be undertaking further whole staff training around extremism and the Prevent strategy, with a focus on contextual threats for our students.
“We will also be commissioning an external review of our whole school’s safeguarding practices, policies and procedures, something we will routinely do to ensure all areas of safeguarding are as robust as we expect.”