Children's Ombudsman beginning of the school year address

Today a new school year begins. From now on, in many families, life will follow the course directed by school.

First and foremost the change affects the children who are starting to go to school – both those who are going for the first time and those who are already familiar with the process. Certainly many feel the excitement because as of today, the children will spend a great part of their day at school.

The new school year begins for parents, teachers and the rest of the school staff. Their lives are also greatly affected by what is happening in school. 

Dear school leaders,

You play an important role in what this experience will be like for the school family. Every principal designs the face of the school and the values carried in the school. The head of the school is also responsible for safety in the school.

A school environment that is physically and mentally safe, along with friendly and supportive relationships, create a base for successful learning. I am asking you to make a safe school environment, one that is free from bullying, a priority for your school. Research shows that if the principal considers safety important, the rest of the school family, teachers and students, will also make an effort to achieve a school environment that is free from bullying. By giving the pupils a chance to contribute in the planning of school life, you help them understand that they too are responsible for what their life in school is like and their relationships with teachers and fellow students are like. 

By now, many anti-bullying programs that have shown good results elsewhere have reached Estonia. I encourage you to find different options for making the school environment safer. Information on these can be found on the Ombudsman for Children webpage Bullying-free School.

Last year, I drew the attention of school leaders to the importance of rest and play in a child's development and asked the schools to comply with the regulations for tests. I have to return to this topic because pupils who come to me still say that tests are conducted ignoring the health protection requirements. Complying with the health protection requirements is necessary for supporting the children's well-being and development. In addition, the compliance or noncompliance with a valid regulation sends a message to the pupils about the values carried in the school. Are only pupils expected to obey the rules or does the entire school family honour the set order? What lesson are we giving the children by applying set rules selectively? 

School has always had the main role on 1 September. However, I want to stress that professional guidance and teaching children starts in nursery school, which is why, with the same focus we have when speaking of schools and school teachers, we should also speak about nursery schools and nursery school teachers. Nursery school plays the second most important role next to home in designing child's values. This is why I think it is essential that every child in Estonia should have the opportunity to go to nursery school.

I wish everyone good luck for the starting school year and I hope that with the cooperation of school and nursery school leaders, children, teachers and parents we manage to create for all children in Estonia a tolerant, supportive, inspiring and friendly environment where everyone is welcome, feels good and can learn from each other.

Ombudsman for Children

Indrek Teder