Secondary schools left out of the shade
4 November 2014
Secondary schools left out of the shade
The New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated (NZDSi) is urging the government and Ministry of Education to provide funding and support for shade provision in New Zealand secondary schools.
Dermatologist Dr Louise Reiche says it is unacceptable for youth to be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer as a result of excessive sun exposure on school grounds.
“Sun exposure, particularly severe sunburns during childhood and adolescence, puts people at greater risk of developing of all skin cancers including melanoma, later in life,” Dr Reiche says.
“The Cancer Society’s SunSmart campaign has been very effective in pre-school, primary and some intermediate schools but the campaign has not been funded to roll out in to the secondary sector.”
UV radiation is at its highest between September and April from 10am to 4pm – the hours when children are at school. Therefore having adequate shade to provide protection from the sun is vitally important.
“Parents often assume that children only have to wear sunscreen and seek shade when the temperature is high but they don’t realise that kids are still extremely susceptible to sunburn at this time of year on cooler and cloudy days,” Dr Reiche says. “Parents also need to be more proactive during the extended hours of Daylight Savings months.”
New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Philip Harding says the NZDSi’s call to action for better shade provision is a great initiative that is long overdue.
“The issue of developing a school-wide sun smart policy, and providing shaded areas for all members of a school community, is an important consideration for all boards of trustees as it is not just very young children who need to be kept safe from exposure to New Zealand’s intense UV levels,” he said.
“It is great to hear this message being talked about for secondary school children.”
New Zealand and Australia have the highest melanoma incidence rates in the world. It is the leading cause of death from skin cancer, accounting for 80 percent of all skin cancer-related deaths, according to the Melanoma Foundation of New Zealand.
Dr Reiche says melanoma is the most common lethal skin cancer in adolescents and young adults.
“Teenagers are more aware of their looks and are extremely sensitive to the views of their peers so it comes as no surprise that they prefer to wear fashionable clothing as opposed to adult-advised sun protective covered clothing,” Dr Reiche says. “By nature, teens are also typically poorer at applying and reapplying sunscreen. However they will of their own volition, congregate and shelter in provided shade areas.”
Victoria University’s School of Architecture in Wellington joined forces with the Cancer Society of New Zealand (CSNZ) to develop appropriate sun protection guidelines for building shade structures in schools – stating that covered outdoor learning areas need to be UV protective and thermally comfortable.
Cancer Society’s National Health Promotion Advisor (skin cancer control), Louise Sandford, says built shade is a good form of sun protection and recommends permanent – not temporary –shade provision in schools. This is endorsed by the NZDSi.
“Most schools have little or inadequate shade and while teenagers are relatively un-sun-smart evidence suggests that if shade is available they will use it,” Sanford says. “We have the highest skin cancer rate in the world and the Ministry of Education should consider shade provision in all secondary schools.”
Sanford says students often get sunburnt at annual school events such as swimming and athletics carnivals as a result of high doses of prolonged sun exposure highlighting the need for adequate shade structures in schools and the wider community.
Sanford confirmed the Ministry of Education is looking at funding a research project to see what transparent materials provide the best UV protection to develop a prototype for use in schools.
Despite this, the Ministry of Education currently has no specific requirements for school boards to provide canopies or shade cover above outdoor areas, stating that sun hazards can be managed in a number of ways such as students wearing hats when outdoors or gathering under trees.
According to its website, the Ministry doesn’t recommend installing shade sails because they have a limited life span and are costly to install. It also states that shade sails are not covered by the Ministry’s Catastrophic Loss Policy, meaning every school is liable for its own content insurance should its board wish to provide shade for students.
The NZDSi applauds local government and community groups working together to provide shade.
Sun Safe Initiatives
The Palmerston North City Council (PNCC) and Health Promotion Agency recently funded a shade tent for low socioeconomic communities and schools to borrow for their community events.
The PNCC also erected shade sails at Palmerston North’s Lido outdoor pool last year. The community welcomed the $50,000 initiative as the Lido regularly hosts local school sporting events.
In another push for greater sun-smart awareness, Otumoetai Intermediate in Tauranga recently introduced sunglasses into the school uniform at the beginning of Term 4.
The school surveyed parents and caregivers in their local community and more than 85 percent of people supported the initiative. The school already encourages its 760 pupils to wear sunhats year-round.
Principal Henk Popping says the sunglasses are of a black wrap-around style with a 100 percent UV rating – better aligning the school with the Cancer Society’s Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap slogan.
Dr Reiche recently sent letters to various MPs and local secondary schools in the Palmerston North region and was overwhelmed by the responses. One local school’s board of trustees incorporated shade requirements into their building and landscape policy plans, while feedback from parent representatives at another school stated, “they would not allow their children to participate in swimming and athletics carnivals because they felt being in direct sunlight all day was unacceptable”.
“This means current lack of shade is restricting full education,” Dr Reiche says.
NZDSi executives are planning to co-ordinate with relevant parties including the CSNZ to enact a national strategy to improve shade provision in schools.
For more information on shade materials, structures and implementation in schools, visit the Cancer Society’s SunSmart Schools website at www.sunsmartschools.co.nz/schools/shade.
The New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporate (NZDSi) is a not-for-profit incorporated society of more than 60 dermatologists, medical and surgical specialists, who work towards the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the skin.
The Society was established in 1948 and its members are specialist dermatologists who are the medical experts for skin diseases, conditions and treatment. All members are Fellows of the Society, and may use the postnominal initials FNZDS to confirm they have completed training requirements and are currently registered as dermatologists by the Medical Council of New Zealand.
Dermatologists are medical doctors. For a doctor to become a dermatologist, they must complete an additional three years of post-medical training, plus four years of advanced training in dermatology.