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There’s a major conflict when it comes to sun exposure at schools. On the one hand, children need to get outdoors into the sunshine for optimal health, there are plenty of studies that show how children need to have more time outdoors and how it improves academic performance. But on the other hand, there are equally as many studies showing how too much sun exposure for children is detrimental to health.

Unfortunately for schools, childhood is both the most crucial time to protect children from the sun and the most advantageous time for them to get out in the sun. And with children in schools for much of their childhood, and when the sun is out what should a school do to accommodate these challenges?

This article will help your school put their best foot forward in applying sun safety for children in schools without having to compromise on time spent outdoors.

What Are The Dangers Of Sun Exposure?

We all know that overexposure to the sun, without protection, leads to painful sunburn and even worse heatstroke. Both of which can be dangerous. The only good thing about sunburn and heatstroke is that we can usually determine if our skin is burning or if our exposure to the sun is leading to heatstroke. And we can generally recognise the dangers in enough time for it not to cause too much harm or severe damage to our health.

But the unseen UVA and UVB rays that reach your skin when you’re in the sun too long can lead to long term health problems like:

  • Melanoma: A hazardous form of skin cancer that often comes from severe UVB exposure before the age of 20.
  • Cataracts: Clouding of the eye lens.
  • Skin Cancer: Aside from melanoma, you can contract other forms of skin cancer from exposure to UVA rays.
  • Low Immunity: Overexposure to UVB rays can lead to immunity issues in later life.

According to the American Cancer Society, UV rays react with the melanin in our skin. Then burns can develop when the melanin is insufficient in its fight to protect against UV exposure. Even a tan is a sign of skin damage and does not help to protect the skin.

Why Should Schools Concern Themselves With The Dangers Of The Sun?

An article from Education Business UK on sun safety in schools and their duty of care discusses how 80% of our lifetime exposure to the sun occurs during childhood. They continue by explaining that since we spend almost half of our childhood in school at a time when the sun is strongest, that sun exposure is a high risk to our children’s health.

And when you consider these findings along with the notion that the risk of contracting the most dangerous form of cancer (Melanoma) comes from UVB exposure before the age of 20, it’s crucial for schools to pay attention.  

These sun safety facts paint a sombre picture, but there’s more.

The Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity (Skcin) highlights that UV exposure is responsible for 86% of the UK’s most common cancers. Furthermore, they state that in a survey of 1,000 parents, 40% of children have experienced sunburn while at school.

Skcin also discusses how most schools leave the responsibility of protecting the children from the sun to the parents.

But this is an impossible task.

School uniforms are not UV resistant, parents are not at the school to supervise their children or apply sun cream, and you need to reapply sunscreen every two hours which is impossible for parents to do during the school day.

The dangers of sun exposure in schools are real, and the indisputable sun safety fact most schools should remember is that it’s impossible for the parents to effectively manage the problem. Which means schools need to take responsibility for sun safety in school. It’s vital for the protection of the children.

What Are The Sun Safety Tips For Schools?

We empathise with schools.

They have a lot to take care of and sometimes have seemingly impossible responsibilities that they have to manage. Like managing the conflict between encouraging children to spend more time outdoors while keeping them safe in the sun.

Or addressing the challenge of how schools can apply sun cream every two hours and do so without exposing the teachers to the risk of child abuse allegations which are a real issue. 

We know it’s not easy. 

To guide you, we’ve added some sun safety tips for schools that will help you reduce or remove the dangers of sun exposure and keep your students safe in the sun.

Sun Safety Tips For Schools

1. Avoid strong sunlight

We might be stating the obvious here but stay with us. We can’t leave this critical sun safety fact out. 

If the sun is intense, you will need to find ways to encourage the children to avoid the sun. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the sun is hottest at around 3pm in the UK.

You can use school canopies and shelters, or playground shade sails to create ways to protect children from the sun without them having to stay indoors. These types of shelters will also protect both the parents and children at the end of the school day when the sun is hottest.

2. Create a sun safety policy for your school

A sun safety policy for your school will keep everybody focused on what they need to do to stay safe in the sun. Cancer Research UK also have an excellent guide on how to create sun protection policies for schools, which you can find here.

3. Encourage appropriate clothing

Encouraging children to wear appropriate clothing for the sun is also helpful. You could consider creating a sun safety policy that requires all children to bring sun protective hats and sunglasses to school.

4. Apply sun cream correctly

Part of your school policy could be to teach children how to apply sun cream properly during class time. This way, they can apply their sunscreen supervised by the school staff.

5. Educate the children about sun safety in school

Teaching sun safety, sun safety facts, and the dangers of sun exposure is an essential aspect of keeping children sun safe in schools. You can use sun safety posters to help remind your students on what to do.

Twinkl have sun safety posters available to download, or you can create your own. Twinkl also has teaching resources that encourage children to design the sun safety posters for your school.

6. Adapt your premises to create shady areas

We’ve briefly mentioned how you can create shady areas in schools without waiting years for a tree to grow! That’s by incorporating playground shelters or shade sails, which provide ample protection from the sun. Especially if you choose canopies with polycarbonate roofs or shade sails made with UV fabric.

Practising sun safety in schools may seem like a thankless task and one that is difficult to manage but there are ways around it. The resources and information included in this article should help you create a manageable sun safety policy that protects both your children and your staff.