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SunSmart encourages secondary schools to step up sun safety

Wednesday 2 February, 2011

As the new school year approaches, SunSmart is urging Victorian secondary schools to step up ultraviolet (UV) protection for students by providing adequate shade on school grounds and continuing to encourage students to practice SunSmart behaviours.

Sue Heward, SunSmart Manager said: "Students learn about being SunSmart from an early age but when the time comes to start secondary school, the importance of sun protection is often no longer emphasised. There is potential for all the good habits instilled since early childhood to be forgotten."

Victorian parents often contact SunSmart saying that their children went to their local primary school, which was a SunSmart school, so they knew sun protection was high on the agenda for the school. Hats were an essential element of playtime, UV was included in the curriculum, the primary school had a clear sun protection policy and shade in the playground was plentiful. When their child went on to enter Year 7, they are concerned that the child was not receiving the same level of protection.

"While there are many more challenges when it comes to students being SunSmart at secondary schools, growing community expectations exist for the well-practiced primary school habits to continue to be encouraged within the secondary setting," commented Ms Heward.

"Adolescence is a time for seeking independence and wanting to be a part of the group. It's a big call to expect individual students to act independently and use sun protection if it is not already a part of the school's culture."

"Shade is particularly important in secondary schools as it offers up to 75% protection from UV exposure. Importantly for this age group shade doesn't impact on concerns about peer image and fashion, which may occur with the use of protective clothing, hats and sunscreens," she said.

Malignant melanoma is the most common cancer among 12 and 24 year olds in Australia and the sun exposure students receive in their secondary years can play a key role in determining their future risk of skin cancer.

Some secondary schools are already working with student groups, OHS representatives, health committees and parents to develop strategies to promote this health issue. SunSmart urges others secondary schools to lead by their example and reduce the risk of skin cancer for their students.

"As adolescents begin to take more responsibility for their own health behaviours, secondary schools provide the ideal environment to reinforce the importance of sun protection in a manner which can engage adolescents and help them develop skills to make healthy choices," she said.

Tips for a SunSmarter start to secondary school

Sun protection is required whenever the UV hits 3 and above. The start of the school year coincides with the peak UV periods in Victoria (September through to April). Strategies schools can implement include:

  • Developing a UV policy or combining with the school's heat policy and documenting sun protection practices in the areas of behaviour, curriculum and environment. This could be driven by the Student Representative Council.
  • Reviewing the availability of shade and protection at outdoor events, such as sports days, swimming carnivals and where students congregate- research shows if a school provides shade students will use it.
  • Role modelling of sun safe behaviours by both parents and teaching staff when outdoors.
  • Provision of pump packs of sunscreen for daily staff and student use - particularly at events such as swimming carnivals, camps, excursions and sport carnivals.
  • Scheduling of lessons to minimise time in direct sun during peak UV periods (10am to 3pm).
  • Enacting the educational opportunities which exist across the curriculum in health, PE, science, English and geography.

Resources for teachers and students

The following secondary school resources are available to download for free from the SunSmart website:

  • Cross-curricular resources and UV policy - Suitable for Year 7-12 students
  • UV alert widget - Schools can now add the free Sunsmart UV Alert widget to their website homepage for staff, students and parents to access. The widget shows the daily weather, temperature and UV level specific to the school's location including details about the times sun protection is required each day.
  • iPhone app - The SunSmart app is available to download for free from the iTunes Store and provides the following functions: 
    1.  Forecasted UV level from the Bureau of Meteorology for your current location anywhere in Australia. 
    2. Adjustable reminder function alerting the user to their daily sun protection needs and when it's safe to get some sun for vitamin
    3. Information for users about UV exposure risks and protective measures.
  • Shade tool - To be released in February this tool will guide secondary schools in the planning and development of shade or outdoor learning areas.