July 13, 2024

Survey reveals levels of formal sun safety protection in Welsh primary schools

Primary schools in Wales could be doing more to help protect youngsters from the dangers of exposure to the sun, according to a new study.

A survey conducted by researchers at Swansea University revealed that less than half of schools have a sun safety policy in place for their pupils and there was inconsistency in the presence of a policy across Wales.

The research was led by Dr Julie Peconi, chief Investigator of Sunproofed, a mixed methods scoping study of sun safety in primary schools in Wales. Its findings have just been published by online journal Clinical and Experimental Dermatology.

Despite skin cancer being one of the most preventable cancers, there is a one in five lifetime risk of developing the disease in the UK and it is known that childhood is a critical time to avoid overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which are the major cause of skin cancer.

The Sunproofed team wanted to find out just how many schools had a sun safety policy, a formal document that sets out how the school handles the education and provision of sun safety. The team also explored whether the existence of a policy varied by location or school characteristic and what support school staff needed to develop and implement better policies for the future.

To find out more they sent an online multiple-choice survey to all 1,241 primary schools in Wales.

Dr Peconi, from Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences, said: “Our findings suggest that many schools are unaware of the importance of sun safety and need support to develop and implement policies.”

The study revealed:

  • 39 per cent of Welsh primary schools who responded had formal sun safety policies and 82 per cent of these schools enforced them;
  • Responding schools with more children receiving free school meals and with lower attendance records were less likely to have a sun safety policy; whereas schools in North Wales and those who taught in Welsh were more likely to have a policy
  • 6 per cent of the responding schools without a sun safety policy said they were not aware of the need for one;
  • 3 per cent said they needed assistance with policy or procedure development; and,
  • 8 per cent of responding schools admitted “they had not got around to it just yet”.

The researchers say the survey results provides a snapshot of the current situation in Wales and gives a basis on which to evaluate and support sun safety policies.

Dr Peconi said: “In England it is a mandatory part of the curriculum that schools teach about safe and unsafe exposure to the sun but in Wales this is only recommended, and our findings show inconsistency in formal sun safety and a general lack of awareness about the importance of this area.

“We know schools are incredibly busy places with several competing priorities.   I’d like to see sun safety pushed up the agenda to become mandatory but for this to happen, schools need to be provided with adequate support and guidance.

“This will take a concerted approach from all involved including Public Health Wales, healthy schools coordinators, school staff, governors and the school community.”