School safety means the safety of school settings and everything that happens in school.
School safety is not an isolated aspect of school life. Safety concerns everything that happens in school. Schools, school owners and the state are responsible for ensuring that the mental, social and physical environment of school encourages and stimulates students to develop and supports their curiosity. All adults must notice and support children and staff members alike. In order to accomplish this task, persistent efforts are required to create a safe learning environment.The learning environment is an environment that supports the development of students into independent and active learners; promotes the basic values of the curriculum; upholds the spirit of the school and maintains as well as develops the traditions of the school and community alike. In the broadest sense of the word, the learning environment may be divided into three components, which interact in a way that facilitates the creation of a safe environment.
These components are:
- Structures and internal rules – democratic organisation of school, favouring of entrepreneurial spirit and citizens’ initiative, openness and co-operation.
- Attitude and relationships – i.e. the culture and values, traditions, behavioural patterns, relationships within the school and the mental health of students and staff.
- Learning process – the curriculum, assessment practices, teaching methodology, choices and learning materials.
- The structural design of the building and the layout, design and furnishing of each room – a stimulating and safe environment that provides opportunities for development; environmental awareness, healthy life style, safe traffic, activeness and creativity.
- Information environment, language and communication – IT security, virtual learning environments, well-thought-out communication with the public, school website, information boards, information exchange with stakeholders and data protection.
According to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act basic school is aimed at providing students with a learning and teaching environment that corresponds to the age of the students, is secure, has a positive impact and develops students, supports the development of their interest in learning, learning skills, self-reflection, critical thinking, knowledge and will-based characteristics, their creative self-expression and the development of their social and cultural identity.
Learning and extracurricular activities are organised based on the requirements for the learning environment provided for in the national curricula and other legislation.
The health and safety requirements for school equipment, rooms, buildings and territory are established by the Government.
The national curricula for basic schools and upper secondary schools stipulate that schools must equally support the mental, physical, moral, social and emotional development students. Great importance is attached to fundamental human values, such as honesty, caring, respect for life, fairness, human dignity, respect for self and others, and to social values, such as freedom, democracy, respect for native language and culture, patriotism, cultural diversity, tolerance, environmental sustainability, rule of law, solidarity, responsibility and gender equality.
When creating the spiritual and social environment of a school, the following has to be considered:
- inclusion of the entire school community;
- relationships between students, parents, teachers, school management and other individuals involved in teaching and educating are based on the principles of mutual respect, honouring agreements and consideration of each other’s opinions;
- all students are treated without prejudice, fairly and equally by respecting their self-esteem and individuality;
- rights and responsibilities are allocated in a clear and proper manner;
- the learning efforts and academic performance of students are noted and recognised; “labelling” of students or diminishing their self-confidence in any way must be avoided;
- efforts are made to avoid school violence and bullying;
- openness to free exchange of opinions, including criticism;
- students are given the opportunity to show initiative, participate in decision-making processes and undertake activities both individually and in groups;
- the school creates an environment that is characterised by helpfulness and willingness to support each other during times of academic or personal distress;
- the school creates an environment that is based on mutual trust, friendliness and kindness;
- the school functions as a model of a society that values human rights and democracy through shared and cherished basic values and supports worthy ideas and positive innovations;
- the school functions by following the principles of national, racial and gender equality.
When creating the physical environment, the school ensures that:
- the equipment and layout of rooms and structures is optimal for their intended purpose;
- students are provided with the opportunity to use computers with internet connection and associated presentation equipment and have access to the school library;
- the rooms and structures are furnished by taking into account all health and safety provisions;
- all rooms, equipment and study materials are aesthetic;
- study materials and equipment are up to date and tailored to suit their individual purposes and suitable to the user’s age group. This includes using study materials and aids based on modern information and communication technologies;
- the school provides in-class and out–of-class opportunities for physical activity and advancing a healthy lifestyle.
Principles ensuring a safe learning environment
Any kind of violence, whether directed against teachers, students or somebody else, is unacceptable
Violence is defined as direct or indirect use of aggression against an individual, group or community, which either directly brings about or creates the preconditions for injury, death, psychological damage, unfavourable conditions or defects.
Witnesses of the violence have an obligation to intervene
If circumstances require so, intervention may include restrictive physical intervention. Physical intervention will never be used to punish or cause pain, injury or humiliation as this constitutes an act of violence. In cases where intervention is dangerous, measures must be taken to diminish damage and to call for assistance by other adults or by the police. Inactivity when witnessing a child in distress is an act of violence.
All persons have the right to defend themselves or others, while any action in self-defence must be limited to what is necessary and proportionate to danger
Any involvement must be absolutely necessary and proportional to the threat. Once the threat has passed, the intervention must also stop. The only legal intervention is the one that is limited to actions necessary to eliminate the threat and corresponds to the changing external circumstances.
Students must be continuously monitored throughout the school day
The purpose of monitoring is to identify threats arising from the behaviour of the child or other children. Monitoring has to be executed in a manner that does not unduly breech the children’s privacy, while ensuring that the aim of monitoring is achieved.
Rights and responsibilities each person must be clearly defined
The head of the school is responsible for ensuring that the school adheres to a specific set of rules which guarantees the safety of teachers, students and other people in the school. As such, the head of school is responsible for creating a safe and secure learning environment.
The division of tasks must be clear. Parents will be immediately informed about any restrictions of their child’s rights in order to prevent violence prevention and any instances violence against the child. The head of school will ensure that all students, members of staff, parents and the owner of school are aware of and respect the agreements. The head of school provides clear guidelines to all members of staff on how to act in a violent situation and ensures that they have the basic skills to do so. The head of school analyses how specific cases have been resolved and, if required, makes the necessary changes to the organisation of work and use of rooms/premise.
Teachers are responsible for professional execution of the learning process and establishing a supporting and safe development environment in school. It is teachers who create the learning environment, choose the optimal methodology, pace and level of complexity suitable for students. Any minor conflicts and misunderstandings occurring during a day are resolved by teachers independently. Teachers agree with parents on how to react to a misbehaving child and how information about such instances is communicated. In situations where a teacher or fellow students feel threatened, the teacher has the obligation to ask for and the right to receive necessary support from colleagues and the head of school.
Teachers have the right to receive clear and concise directions on how to react in violent situations that may occur in school. If behavioural problems persist, it is important to engage in networking. Under such circumstances, the teacher and the family have the right to receive counselling from specialists.
Parents are responsible for raising their children and instilling the proper values and in turn, parents have the right to expect that their children are well cared and protected in school and that high standard academic work is ensured. Parents have to acknowledge that their rights and the rights of their child are limited by the rights and freedoms of other people. Parents have the obligation to cooperate with the school in an open and friendly manner and the right to expect the same from the school.
The owner of school is responsible for ensuring that the school has the necessary resources and opportunities for creating a safe environment in line with the jointly prepared development plan, internal rules of procedure, emergency plans and the school curriculum. The owner of school will ensure that the head of school runs the school in a manner that ensures mental and physical security, and take measures, if necessary.
The state has the responsibility to ensure that schools are supported by functioning and helpful legislation and supervision procedures, which enable the individuals involved in children’s development to assume liability for observing professional ethics and for the protection of developing personalities.
Agreements made in schools for everyday activities
Staff members, students and the Board of Trustees agree jointly and in language clearly understandable by students on the following:
- Measures to be taken to prevent situations endangering safety: Examples of preventive measures include a system of monitoring order and similar oversight activities; implementation of preventive and intervention methodologies; regular joint roundtables or other operational measures; participation in programmes that facilitate the creation of a secure learning environment. Another important aspect is heart-to-heart and open communication with children and their families, which enables to early detection of risks and minimal intervention.
- Who and in which situations and how must intervene:
It is agreed, based on the division of duties and the structure of the school staff, when a witness can intervene himself/herself and which situations require intervention by the class teacher, director of studies, supporting specialists or other members of staff, by specifying their responsibilities. Recommendations on how to respond to standard situations are available on the website, under ‘additional information’. Schools should discuss these guidelines and make necessary changes to adapt the guidelines to the requirements of a specific school. For dealing with children whose behaviour poses a constant and predictable threat, a separate set of instructions will be established. Relying solely on the staff members’ skills of improvisation when dealing with dangerous situations is not a course of action that properly supports staff members.
- Who has the authority to solve issues and perform follow-up inspections:
In more complicated cases where intervention by a teacher is not sufficient, arrangements must be made detailing who should take responsibility for the case. It is important that sometime after the case has been dealt with the persons involved are talks to again in order to ascertain whether the situation has been solved.
- When and who is responsible for organising discussions following a dangerous event to give the persons involved an opportunity to receive feedback that might be useful in solving future cases:
Discussion means a thematic roundtable meeting, co-vision, supervision or debriefing.
- Who and in which cases will involve external specialists (the police, child welfare officers, local government officials, social workers):
If a case is referred to another authority, it must be decided which role will the school play in the future and who will act as the school’s point of contact. Every person has the right to turn to external specialists for help. In order to facilitate co-operation, permanent contacts should be established between the school staff and specialists from other institutions.
- Who informs whom about the cases and outcomes:
In order to ensure that all parties can have access to necessary information and that the co-operation between home, school and authorities is efficient, it should be established which method is used to exchange information within the school and with parents and other parties.
The abovementioned agreements are included in the school’s internal rules of procedure, curriculum and emergency plan.