“WE SHOULD be teaching children compassion towards animals.”

That is the message from angry animal rights activists who collected more than 20,000 signatures on a petition in the space of 24 hours.

They are campaigning to stop a Hampshire school sending its Tamworth & Gloucester Old Spot pigs to slaughter.

The petition, started online by animal rights group Surge Activism, was targeted at Priestlands School in Lymington.

It claims a concerned vegan parent has begged the secondary school over the past few months to send the pigs to a sanctuary rather than a slaughterhouse.

However, it claims the school has now decided to send the pigs back to the farmer, who will then arrange their slaughter.

Ed Winters, the founder of Surge, said: “Schools are a place where children learn about tolerance.

“Animals may be different to us but they deserve the same respect as humans and should not be treated inhumanely.”

Ed claims that the school has made students and parents feel uncomfortable.

Surge says it was contacted by a concerned vegan parent, Vincent Cook, who raised the concerns with the school in September after finding out that the school was raising piglets.

Vincent said: “I find it difficult to see how we can teach our children to be compassionate to all around them when we choose to exploit the most vulnerable in the hideous ways.

“We can teach children where meat comes from without engaging them in the slaughter process.”

Elisa Allen, director at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said: “Young people are naturally compassionate to animals, and most would no doubt be shocked to see the throats of animals – particularly those they have cared for and grown close to – be slit for the fleeting taste of a sausage.

“If Priestlands School feels that the truth about such food is too appalling to share with students, perhaps the food is too ghastly to feed to them as well and the school should end this outdated farming programme, send the remaining pigs to a sanctuary, and make the switch to plant-based meals.”

The school has been rearing pigs for a number of years in a bid to connect students with nature.

The Daily Echo contacted Priestlands for comment but at the time of going to press did not receive a response.

However, in a letter to one parent, headteacher Chris Willsher said that he believed that having the pigs provided an opportunity to develop understanding of of the food chain among students at the 1,200-pupil school.