Schools fail to protect pupils from the sun

Cancer Research UK

Three quarters of Britain's primary and nursery schools* fail to have a specific policy to protect children from sunburn which could make them more vulnerable to skin cancer in later life.

Cancer Research UK and Boots, who are supporting the charity's SunSmart campaign, invited the schools to enter a competition to win sun shades for the playground. More than 800 schools responded and the majority completed a survey on sun protection policy.

One quarter of the schools said they had specific sun protection policies. More than a third of the schools said they were planning to develop policies but the remainder either had no policy or failed to answer that question.

But there is good news too. Almost 92 per cent of the schools said pupils were encouraged to wear hats in the sun and 81 per cent included sun protection information in lessons. Two thirds of schools claimed they planted trees for shade provision and more than half timetabled outdoor activities like sports days to avoid the midday sun.

Less than half the schools made sunscreen available to pupils or installed permanent shade structures.

The survey showed that schools with a sun protection policy were more likely to encourage children to be SunSmart.

Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign is designed to make people aware of the dangers of excessive exposure to the sun's harmful rays and to provide effective ways to protect themselves from sunburn and skin cancer.

The SunSmart code includes seeking shade from the midday sun, covering up with a T-shirt, hat and wrap around sunglasses and using Factor 15 plus sunscreen.

Campaign manager Jo Viner Smith said: "We are delighted that many schools who responded to our competition with Boots have included sun protection strategies such as hats, classroom education and outside shade. However, as our results show, schools that have a formal policy do have more sun protection measures. So it is important that good intentions are translated into a written policy. This will ensure future classes are also protected."

The SunSmart Code*

  • Stay in the shade between 11am-3pm
  • Make sure you never burn
  • Always cover up with a T shirt, wide brimmed hat and sunglasses
  • Remember to take extra care with children
  • Then use factor 15 plus sunscreen.

Also report any mole changes or unusual skin growths promptly to your GP.

For more information visit the SunSmart Website.

For media enquiries please contact Sally Staples or Georgia Veats on 020 7061 8300, or the out of hours duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

*This is based on the schools that chose to enter the competition.

Notes to Editor

In March 2005 Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign issued guidelines on sun safety to Local Education Authorities and 48,000 schools in the UK. The guidelines were developed in consultation with teachers and health professionals. Nursery and primary schools were invited to enter a competition to win one of 14 sun shades.

New resources have also been provided for nursery and primary school teachers to use in the classroom. Other materials available to schools, wanting to educate their pupils about being safe in the sun, include posters, postcards and leaflets, which can be ordered via the SunSmart website.

Research says that sunburn in childhood can double the risk of malignant melanoma in later life. This is the most deadly form of skin cancer and more than 7,000 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with it.

Melanoma is the second most common cancer among people aged 15-34 and early detection is crucial for successful treatment.

Nine out of ten skin cancers are easily treatable and unlikely to spread. They are called non-melanoma skin cancer and there are more than 62,000 new cases registered each year in the UK. Malignant melanoma, which accounts for less than one in ten skin cancers, is the most serious type of the disease and may be fatal. It is more common in women than men.

Boots is helping convey the SunSmart message by providing information for customers, including a special Safety In The Sun leaflet and details on Advantage Card kiosks.

Boots suncare consultants have also received information about the campaign to ensure they can give SunSmart advice. The sale of SunSmart badges in Boots stores during May and June raised over £80,000 for Cancer Research UK.

The Sun Smart campaign is funded by UK Health Departments and launched in March 2003. Members of its advisory board include representatives of the National Radiological Protection Board, British Association of Dermatologists, International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, EUROSKIN, UK Skin Cancer Working Party, British Photodermatology Group, Wessex Cancer Trust and, more recently, independent experts on vitamin D and nutrition. Boots, Homebase and BAA are also backing the campaign.