This article describes an education in emergencies toolkit developed by Save the Children that uses participatory assessments to improve learning environments in humanitarian settings. Assessments cover five areas: emotional and psychosocial protection; physical protection, teaching and learning, parents and community; and school leadership and management. Data is collected from teachers, parents, children, a head teacher or school checklist, and through a classroom observation. Results are fed rapidly back to the school community for validation and discussion. A school improvement team is elected (comprising adults and children from the community) to design a school improvement plan based on the assessment results, and to follow up on the implementation of the plan with the assistance of a small grant. Pilot programs in Uganda and Syria highlight: the importance of sharing and validating results with the school community (increasing accountability); the value of encouraging parents and teachers to identify local, low-cost solutions that needed minimal financial support (e.g. parents volunteering to clean the school compound and improving playground facilities); the reality that it takes time to engage people in planning, and visible improvements emerge only after a few months; and strong community ownership enhances long-term sustainability. The pilots also highlighted a number of broader dilemmas: tensions between local solutions and global values upheld by Save the Children; some disempowering effects (e.g. a teacher who was left anxious about the effects of their poor classroom environment); and the need to use more child-friendly language and information mechanisms to enhance child participation.