Reopening Schools Safely: Prioritising violence prevention and response in back-to-school planning

Safe to Learn

Child studies.

As education systems around the world are moving to reopen schools, it is more important than ever to integrate measures to prevent and respond to violence against children in and through schools, introducing interventions and services where they were not in place before, and strengthening and expanding those that already exist.

Reopening schools presents an opportunity to prioritise and emphasize a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of violence. In June 2020, Safe to Learn partners developed a set of recommendations to support governments to ensure that schools are taking all possible measures to promote safety and prevent violence against children.

“The Back to School recommendations provide governments with a set of priority actions to consider as part of their reopening plan to ensure safe and inclusive learning environments,” said Katharina Anton Erxleben, the Safe to Learn Gender and Education Specialist at End Violence. “As education systems start to reopen, governments and education ministries must continue to build on their previous efforts to end violence while prioritising the new challenges faced by children as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

These recommendations are designed to support governments to build back better by integrating measures of the Safe to Learn Call to Action into national policies and programmes to end violence against children in and through schools. By building on the Framework for Reopening of Schools, the recommendations consider that children will be re-entering the classroom in a changed context. Factors that have led to violence against children in schools will still be present, and due to COVID-19 and related isolation measures, many of them may have been exacerbated. In addition, over the last few months, many children will have experienced increased violence and emotional stress while at home. Factors that have previously kept children out of school will have been exacerbated during the pandemic, especially for girls and the most vulnerable and marginalised.

By outlining priority actions for governments, schools and education systems, this document advocates for a multi-sectoral effort to ensure a return to school enables all children to be safe to learn. Safe to Learn Partners recommend a series of priority actions, including:

  • Schools increase their efforts to provide a safe learning environment and to promote gender equality and inclusion;
  • Education systems are supported to prevent absenteeism and dropouts and work closely with child protection systems;
  • Schools are enabled to support the mental and psychosocial health of returning students and teachers; and
  • Schools prepare for increased reports of cases of violence against children.

Download the full recommendations for a more detailed approach to effective, safe reopening of schools, and access translations in Arabic, French, Spanish and Portuguese below.

Pictured above: A child in Indonesia studies with her father, trying to keep up with her studies amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and related isolation measures. Photo by Dinda Veska for UNICEF.