Purpose: During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, schools closed in haste and were expected to create virtual learning opportunities for their students while they waited to see when and how they might re-open. National governments issued reopening guidance at varying speeds. The purpose of this study was to invite health and education professionals to share what was happening in their country about school reopening in terms of the features and implications of the guidance issued. Design/methodology/approach: A qualitative study. Initial interviews informed a semi-structured questionnaire distributed through the global community of UNESCO Chair ‘Global Health and Education’ and partner organisations. Its aim was to collect, analyse and share globally relevant knowledge and practices about school reopening. Findings: There were 192 useable responses from 43 countries and territories and 1 multi-country region. 20 of these, mainly in the Global North, had received reopening guidance, 23 were still waiting and 1 had not closed its schools. Guidance prioritised public health measures like social distancing, with less emphasis on education impacts. Success came from partnerships between schools, families and local authorities, consistent guidance and enough time and resources for implementation. Fear of infection led to significant absenteeism among students and staff. Respondents waiting for guidance, mainly in the Global South, shared similar concerns and expectations. Originality/value: Describing first-hand practices and perspectives of health and education professionals from diverse countries and territories about reopening schools.