Classes of at least six schools were suspended after pupils walked out and, in one case, staged a march into Belfast city centre. Teachers say they cannot physically prevent children leaving their classes or school buildings. They, and trade union sources, said they were worried about the safety aspects of children overflowing on to the streets and about politics being brought into the classroom.
Mr McGuinness said he would not be deflected by the protests, which he claimed were co-ordinated by the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist party. The DUP said that, while they were not organising the protests, they supported the moves. David Trimble, the First Minister, sought to calm the situation by indicating that Mr McGuinness, as Education Minister, did not have unilateral powers, and would have to produce policies in concert with colleagues on the new executive.
Pupils at some of the protests waved Union and Ulster flags, chanting: "We want Paisley" and singing Orange songs with lyrics such as "We're up to our necks in Fenian blood, surrender or you'll die." Many on the march exhibited not so much indignant protest but what looked suspiciously like elation at missing classes for the day. The DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr said: "This idea that we manipulate children is just nonsense."