COVID-19: Safe school reopening must be a priority

04 June 2021

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.


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The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent emergency online teaching practices are putting unprecedented pressures on the education system. More than a year after the closure of education institutions, persisting emergency measures in education urge for a thorough assessment of how they impact on teachers, other education personnel and students. In this light, the European branch of the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report on “Schooling during COVID-19”. It provides updated findings highlighting the adverse impacts of the pandemic-induced emergency teaching and provides policy recommendations for a safe school reopening.

According to the WHO, the constant switch between open and closed education institutions is disruptive for the teaching and learning process. Hybrid and online teaching and learning have caused significant work-related stress on teachers, negatively impacting their well-being. Besides, while considerable learning losses are expected among students, food insecurity and domestic violence have also increased. In this emergency context, the WHO calls on governments to guarantee equal access to digital devices and facilities for online teaching and to establish hotlines for psychological support for teachers and students. Furthermore, the services that are normally delivered in schools, such as health services and school meals, should be ensured by governments.

Reminding that the value of education goes far beyond the transfer of knowledge, the report highlights that a safe return to school must be a key priority. Prioritising the vaccination of teachers and education staff is therefore of utmost importance. Other recommendations to the governments include employing more teachers to immediately reopen schools, implementing health and safety measures, such as smaller class sizes, wider spaces between desks and staggering breaks, as well as improving ventilation, sanitation and water supply in education institutions. The report also suggests that improving the health literacy of education staff and students is important, to raise awareness on the importance of health and safety measures, as well as risk assessment in education.

ETUCE welcomes the recommendations  and continues to advocate for a healthy and safe  reopening of all education institutions and prioritisation of education personnel within the national vaccination campaigns across Europe. Updated information from ETUCE member organisations on occupational health and safety of teachers, academics and other education personnel in times of COVID-19 can be found in the ETUCE’s newest study and the ETUCE COVID-19 hub.

Read More:

WHO report: Schooling during COVID-19

ETUCE study on teacher vaccination

Latest Updates on COVID-19 good practices