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Make Schools Safe: Why the UK Government urgently needs to sign the Safe Schools Declaration

Every child should have the chance to learn and to fulfil their potential. But for many their right to an education is under attack – literally.

Instead of being safe and nurturing places to learn, some schools are targeted with armed assaults, occupation and violence.

The Send My Friend to School campaign has published a report today, Safe from Harm, which details the terrifying threats many children face.

Together we’re calling for the UK government to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration.

Attacks on education

Every school day, an average of 15 life-threatening attacks on education take place.

Even when a child is able to get to school, he or she is often in real danger. Many children attend in spite of the risks, but no child should have to face that choice.

Attacks such as these may be seen as ‘collateral damage’, but can also be part of a wider strategy. Armed groups may take exception to the providers of local education, or want to disrupt the daily lives of the community. When these strategies lead to assaults on schools, children are put at risk.

Military use of schools

School buildings often have many features that make desirable military bases – boundary walls, latrines and running water, large rooms that can be used for planning, sleeping and storage.

At a minimum, the military use of schools disrupts a child’s chance to learn. But it can also have long-term effects on children’s education, as school buildings become dangerous spaces for children to be in or are left in a state of disrepair. Nor should the psychological impact of a school becoming a military base be underestimated, with children often too scared to return to school.  

Safe from Harm: Protecting every child and teacher in school highlights that in just one year there were 205 cases of the military use and occupation of schools across 14 different countries.

A litany of impacts

The consequences of attacks on schools are immense – children are injured from direct attack, education is disrupted, parents fear for their children to go to school, and communities struggle.

8-year-old Basma* loved her school, her teacher and her friends, but had to move when her school in southern Syria was attacked. She found a new school to go to, but that school was also hit, and 20 children died. Basma has had to move again, but is determined to keep going to school.

School offers vital support in times of conflict to children like Basma, disseminating life-saving information, affording opportunity and hope, and providing stability and support to those most in need.

Violence at school

Violence at school doesn’t just happen in countries affected by war and conflict.

Marginalised children – particularly girls and children living with disabilities, who already struggle for equality and access – are most at risk. As the report shows, these children are often deliberate targets of violent attacks.

Sometimes threats arise from lack of access to water, and environmental threats. For example, when natural disasters occur, educational activities are among the first to stop. We know that many children in these situations never return to school.

Children who experience violence at school are more likely to skip school, to have lower attainment and to suffer from social exclusion. These can have harmful long-term effects. That’s why preventing violence in education is essential for addressing the learning crisis.

Time for the UK to act

The UK government leads the world in supporting quality education for the most marginalised children. However, it can do more to protect children from harm at school.

The Send My Friend to School campaign is calling on the UK government to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, and use the UK’s international influence to encourage others to do the same. The Declaration is a political statement of support for the protection of education during armed conflict, through a number of practical commitments that militaries can implement.

Our long-time allies France and Canada, along with 70 additional states, have already signed up to show their support for the Declaration. It’s time the UK did the same.

We want the UK to help make sure every child feels safe at school, and give them the chance to thrive in life.

Support the Send My Friend to School campaign.


* name changed to protect identity



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