School Sports Team

Stopping Sunburn in Schools

Does your school or the one attended by your kids have a clear policy on the reapplication of sun cream during school hours? Is it important that it does?

This article discusses the practical and policy implications of using sun cream in schools. Take a look and make sure that your school gets it right.


Although this year may be different due to the distinct lack of sunshine, a shocking statistic has emerged; 40% of British children get sunburnt at school each year during the summertime.

On average, 40% of British children get sunburned at school each year

Differing policies

The British Skin Foundation is urging the government to issue clear policies for all schools on the reapplication of sunscreen in school. They are trying to raise enough signatures on their petition to get the matter debated in parliament.

At present policies vary across the country. Some areas have good clear guidelines, others are somewhat patchy. There needs to be some consistency in policy, and a rational debate regarding how we mitigate the risk of sunburn versus the practical issues of applying sunscreen to all those who are vulnerable.

Keeping children in at playtime in hot weather is not a sensible option.

Sunburn is serious but preventable

Sun burn should be taken seriously. As a former cancer nurse specialist, I’ve seen only too well the damage caused by sun burn, and its long term consequences. Two new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every day in the UK amongst 15 to 34-year-olds. However in as many as four in five cases of skin cancer, it is preventable. Many are the times I nursed patients with terminal skin cancer who said that as children they regularly burnt, as no one knew any better.

Sun burn is preventable if sunscreen is regularly applied several times throughout the day.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence suggests that sunscreen with a minimum of factor 15 should be applied ½ hour before and after going out in the sun and reapplied two hours later.

Sunscreen with a minimum of factor 15 should be applied ½ hour before and after going out in the sun and reapplied two hours later.

- National Institute of Clinical Excellence

Most parents will have applied cream before their child goes to school on hot days. However the unpredictability of the British weather means that sometimes it may not have been applied in the morning because it was raining or overcast.

By mid morning, the sun may come out, but by then it is too late for a parent to apply sunscreen. The result is that your child comes home from school with red, sore skin.

Important Questions

In a school setting this is clearly quite impractical to achieve. Most of the school day would be wasted in either putting the stuff on or washing hands to get rid of the greasiness on them. In addition there are other factors to consider and which need debate, including:

Who should apply sun cream to children? The child, parents or teaching / support staff? There are many factors to consider here.

If the responsibility falls to the child, who determines whether a child is old enough to self administer? If he / she is not old enough, who would help them?

For those self administering, should teaching staff be held responsible for checking they applied it properly and not missed bits?

What happens if the child self administers and still manages to get burnt?

If the cream should be administered by a member of school staff, who is responsible for gaining written consent from parents?

How are child protection issues managed?

Who would be responsible for providing cream? Parents or schools or both? And how should allergies to particular brands be dealt with? What happens if the child forgets to bring their own sun cream in to school?

If a national policy were created, what happens if a child refuses to comply with it?

Some parents may also disagree with the concept, feeling this is a personal matter not one for school staff to intervene with. However, not doing so runs the risks of children getting hurt. In all other areas we have worked hard to eliminate risk to children but have not yet got the balance right in this case.

What do you think?

Is it feasible to allow 10 minutes at the end of morning lessons to apply cream before lunch so the children can wash their hands before food and play? Is it just a case of asking teachers to issue timely reminders to apply the cream? We’d be delighted if you could come up with sensible and practical suggestions.

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