Part 2: What makes a safe school and why our country needs more of them?

What safe schools look like

Most of the questions regarding what needs to be done to make schools safer places have mostly already been figured out by many organizations such as the United Nations through its many agencies especially UNICEF and UNESCO to support governments and communities prevent and respond to abuse.

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When a school is safe many good things fall into place:

  • Better learning outcomes are achieved
  • We have less cases of school drop-outs making the nation more literate in general
  • We have less teenage pregnancies
  • We raise productive and law abiding citizens 
  • We can spot abuse (including abuse happening outside of the school) early and take measures to deal with it promptly.

Over 10 years working in education, I have come to observe that schools that are safe places for children seem to have characteristics that distinguish them. While I have not seen any one single school with all these characteristics, often having even just a couple is enough to create a space where students are safe. As you might imagine, these schools also often achieve better learning outcomes notably in public examinations. Safety is an essential ingredient in creating an environment in which learning can thrive. 

The qualities characteristic of a safe school environment include: 

  • The head teacher or principal is a person of integrity and values the safety of all members of their school
  • The school has a fence and only authorized persons come into the school
  • Students are made aware of the staff code of conduct, their rights and knowledgeable about what appropriate relationships with adults should look like.
  • There are specific and known mechanisms for preventing and responding to abuse.
  • Students are actively involved in devising and implementing school safety policies.
  • Reporting channels are clear and students have trusted adults in the school (the school leadership, teachers or school support staff) they can report to or at least confide in when their rights are threatened or another student’s safety is at risk.
  • There is a strong interface between the school and the community usually through a dedicated School Management Committee(S.M.C), strong Parents Teachers Association (P.T.A) and in many cases exemplified by the chief or headman.
  • There is strong oversight above the school over the conduct of teachers and school leaders. Strong leadership from the local inspectorate of education or as is the case in most mission run schools (with dedicated leadership from the school’s mission. This is especially notable in Catholic schools where the reverends and other church leaders are actively present in the schools and play a great role in making sure the schools are safe and making sure abuse is discouraged and dealt with. 
  • The health and law enforcement authorities in the community have a strong relationship with the school.
  • Parents visit the school often and punctual in attending PTA and other meetings summoned by the school
  • Unsafe places (such as unfinished/broken buildings, dark places, pubs or bars close to or along school premises) that breed abuse are identified and dealt with/closely monitored
  • In investigating matters of suspected abuse, the safety and confidentiality of the potential victim (especially) as well as that of the perpetrator is paramount. This is important in order not to demonize the victim but also because by law every citizen is ‘innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt’.
  • Teachers and school leaders have loyalty to their learners and are not willing to protect a colleague at the expense of a child’s safety. 
  • Initiate extra-curricular activities and projects that capture the interest of students and give them an avenue to explore their talents and interests making it less likely for them to be involved in unsafe situations.
  • Excellence is promoted throughout the school; teachers come to school prepared to teach and held to account regarding their quality of teaching. Students come to school prepared to be engaged in learning throughout the school day. There is no time to waste

Try incorporating as many of these as possible to make your school a place where learners feel safe, so that learning may flourish.

Do you have any other characteristics/traits you have seen in ‘safe’ schools/learning institutions? We would like to hear from you, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

List of References post series:

  1. Spotting signs of child sexual abuse:
  2. Three ways schools can help prevent sexual assault:
  3. UNICEF – WHO – UNESCO Handbook on School Based Violence:
  5. New Code of Conduct for Teachers in Sierra Leone:
  6. Safe Schools and Learning Environment – How to Prevent and Respond to Violence in Refugee Schools:

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