How many times as a child in primary school did you hear the words ‘You don’t have your hat today, you must sit under the shady tree’?
I’m guessing a lot.
Sun smart policies have been around in primary schools since 1993, enforcing strict hat-wearing and safe sun cultures all the way through from prep to grade six. The phrase “slip, slop, slap, seek and slide” has been taught to every primary school aged child for many years.
But when we attend secondary school, in some cases these hat-wearing rules are a lot more lenient.
SunSmart Manager at Cancer Council Victoria Heather Walker says that the primary school program has been very successful since it was first implemented.
“Since it began in 1993 the SunSmart Primary Schools Program has been particularly successful in increasing sun protection measures in primary schools. This includes increasing SunSmart hat use from 60% in 1998 to 99% in 2011,” she says.
“More than 90% of Victorian primary schools are now members of the SunSmart program and have a sun protection policy, which includes hat wear from September to April, when UV levels regularly reach 3 or higher.”
However the program is not as well established in secondary schools across the state.
“SunSmart would like to see more secondary school students wearing hats while outdoors during sun protection times,” Walker says.
“Our secondary school program encourages schools to include a requirement in their UV policy for both students and staff to wear broad-brimmed or bucket hats while outside.
“For sports classes, SunSmart recommends baseball or legionnaire caps be worn as a more practical option.”
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with two in every three Australians diagnosed by the time they turn 70.
Approximately 2,000 Australians die from skin cancer each year.
Viewbank College, a co-educational public secondary college in Rosanna in Melbourne’s north-east, is one secondary school that has a SunSmart policy in action.
The goals of their policy are to: “Assist the school community to achieve a healthy UV exposure balance, encourage the entire school community to use a combination of sun protective measures whenever UV levels reach 3 and above, and to ensure that parents are informed of the College’s SunSmart policy.”
Students, whenever outside, are actively advised to wear hats, and staff are recommended to wear hats or alternatively carry a parasol when outdoors during times when UV levels are high.
During sport and physical education classes, students are also required to wear hats during terms one and four.
“Many sports classes are outside, where students can be exposed to UV radiation for an hour or more, so this is a great start to getting hats on the agenda,” Walker says.
“However, recess, lunchtime and any outdoor events, such as swimming carnivals, are also times when we would encourage hat wearing, along with sun-protective uniforms, sunscreen, shade and sunglasses to reduce UV damage.”
Walker says involving students in policy development could make the policies more successful and accepted throughout the student cohort.
“A suggestion we would make to a secondary school wanting to have a compulsory hat rule, would be to involve the student representative council or other student leaders,” she says.
“Having these students lead the policy process through consultation with their peers, selection of the hat design and modelling the hat practice, is a great way to engage students and empower them in the process.”