parent opinion

Teachers don't let primary school students out without a hat. So why do we let teens?

As the summer heat gleams down, at its record hottest in the city where I live, I feel confident that while my daughter is at her primary school, she is protected from the sun with their SunSmart policy. This includes the ‘no hat, no play’ component, mandatory across most Australian primary schools throughout term one and four.

When she goes to high school though, I can’t say I will have this same confidence. It seems that this vigilance we have to protect children from Australia’s harmful UV rays is a great concern in the younger years but as they grow older and into the next stage of their educational journey, this isn’t carried over and I am perplexed as to why.

As an ex-teacher myself at the secondary school level, I would often observe students sitting, standing, walking, playing sport, even sun baking in the school grounds at recess and lunch times without any sun protection. Despite encouraging them to seek shade or apply sunscreen, there wasn’t much I could actually do to change this behaviour and I had no authorisation to enforce it because put simply, it was not a policy of the school.

Sun screen and sun safety is important and we need to talk about it.

Video by MMC

The reality is many high schools don’t have as strict or as regulated sun smart policies as primary schools, including the mandatory wearing of hats while outside, the reliance is on the students themselves and for the most part is simply not working.

While I believe that as students at a secondary school level, taking responsibility for their own learning, their own health, their own organisation is imperative as they become young adults, I view the risks of skin cancer as a higher priority and don’t think being unsafe in the sun should even be an option while they are at school at any stage.

According to the Cancer Council Australia, peak UV periods fall within school hours, “exposure to UV in adolescence contributes to skin cancer in later life [and] Melanoma is the most common cancer in Australian adolescents aged 15-29 years.”

Despite this information being very readily available and well known, even studied through the subject of Health; students at most high schools in Australia are still permitted to go outside, even in summer months, often without any sun protection whatsoever.

Research conducted by John Hopkins Medicine in 2012 found “one group of particular concern [of effects of the sun] are those between the ages of 12 and 18, whose relative independence and fondness for tanning… put them at high risk for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.”

“Research conducted in the last 10 years has repeatedly shown a growing number of young adults developing skin cancer. Most recently, a Mayo Clinic study found a six-fold jump in the rates of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — among 18-to-39-year-olds over the last 40 years.”

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Despite these facts, despite the abundance of information on the impacts of the sun, particularly in Australia. Despite the ease in which information is available to assist in establishing sun smart policies and regulations. Despite many local councils and other workplaces implementing sun safe regulations for their adult aged employees. Despite providing a safe environment for all members of the school community as a ‘principle’ of Australian schools, the majority of secondary schools do not apply them for children.

On the SunSmart website there is a sample policy available for primary schools, these are just a few of the actions it recommends:

Students who do not have appropriate hats or outdoor clothing are asked to play in the shade or a suitable area protected from the sun.

 

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Cool, loose-fitting, sun protective clothing made of densely woven fabric is included in our school uniform/dress code and sports uniform. It includes shirts with collars and elbow-length sleeves, longer dresses and shorts and rash vests or t-shirts for outdoor swimming.

All students are required to wear hats that protect their face, neck and ears (legionnaire, broad-brimmed or bucket hat), whenever they are outside. Peak caps and visors are not considered a suitable alternative.

There are sample guidelines available on the website based around UV for secondary schools. But I can confidently say from my experience working in these school environments that the majority of these SunSmart and UV guidelines are not enforced at many secondary schools, something I believe needs to change.

Do you worry about how your children are staying sun safe in school? Share your tactics in a comment below.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. Shona is usually busy writing and raising her children: two goats, two cats and two humans. You can follow her on Instagram.

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