Monday 13 January 2014

Perfect SunSmart School

It is half past eight at Perfect SunSmart School. See the students arriving for the day. They are sunscreened already (SPF 30+) and wearing sunsmart clothing. They have not forgotten their hats and their wraparound sunglasses are ready in the top pocket of their long sleeved closely woven UV protecting shirts.

“Hello” they chirrup to their teachers as they walk along the covered walkway to the cloakroom where they hang up their backpacks and the swimming bags containing their sunprotective lip balm and their rash tops.

At their outdoor events, early in the day before the UV levels rise too high, their hats never blow off or fly out behind them strangling them with the elastic.

Before lunch, the children reapply their sunscreen taking care to apply the right amount and cover all exposed skin. At lunch, they eat their midday meal in a pleasant shady area before playing on the field with their hats on, or staying in the shade, or spending time in an indoor area such as the library or designated classroom. The duty teachers watch the children from under the wide brims of their own sunhats.

Now it is home time. “Bye” the children chirrup to their teachers as they walk off sunhatted to the gate. See the parents in their sunhats. Smell the sunscreen.

Wave goodbye.

The feedback from our recent review of Sun Protection suggests that this happy scene is not repeated every day at every school, although overall reviewers were happy with the policy itself, and mostly happy with the school’s implementation of it.

Everyone agrees that sun protection is important, but it seems we have different levels of commitment to it. The policy, which is based on the SunSmart criteria for accreditation as a SunSmart school, is implemented to different degrees by individual schools, by individual teachers, and by parents.

Most schools do a great job of protecting their community from sun damage through practical strategies and education, but here are the common themes of dissatisfaction:

Not enough shade: children forced to sit in the full sun to eat lunch and at sports events, etc. Children coming home from school or EOTC activities with sunburn.

School uniform or dress code: a lightweight shirt with a collar is a better option than a T-shirt, especially if made of a UV shielding material. Should school uniforms be moving towards longer shorts/skirts /sleeves and better fabrics? Schools without uniforms generally have a dress code that doesn’t permit singlets, spaghetti -strap tops etc, but should it go further?

Sunhats: the wide brimmed hats recommended by SunSmart and part of most schools’ school uniforms are great protection for the face, neck, ears, and the eyes. Caps, on the other hand, offer less protection and where schools allow caps for senior students, younger students want them too and perceive their wide brimmed hats as “uncool”. Legionnaire hats or wide brimmed hats should be the uniform sunhat. Adults need to be good role models with hats and we’re not. While most schools expect teachers to wear sunhats at school, many of us parents pay little attention to our everyday sunhat modelling.

Access to sunscreen: There seems to be a hit and miss approach to the provision of sunscreen at schools. Some do, some don’t, some classrooms do, some don’t. Many parents commented that their children used sunscreen before school but were not encouraged to reapply it before lunch even when sunscreen was available in the classroom.

Engagement: It’s my observation that many people still don’t understand that it’s the level of ultraviolet radiation in the environment that is the danger, not the temperature or the cloud cover. There are great resources on the SunSmart website that can be used at school, or in newsletters, school websites, etc.  UVI (UltraViolet Index) information is updated every day on a number of websites, such as These graphs can help show that sun protection is needed all through the summer not just on the hot sunny days.

It’s important that principals and boards look at the implementation review feedback from this review and address the issues raised at their schools. There are many points for robust discussion and reporting back to the community.