Masterclass warm weather safety - Thinking hats go on

17th July 2009 at 01:00
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, but what about pupils? Promote sun safety and use the outdoors responsibly for learning

The summer heatwave may be over for now, but as the summer term draws on, are schools exploiting their outdoor resources to motivate pupils? Wouldn't we all prefer to be outside in the fine weather, rather than cooped up in a stuffy classroom?

Outdoor learning is embedded in the early years foundation stage framework, but it is recognised that lessons outside have a motivating impact on pupils of all ages.

Learning Through Landscapes, the school grounds charity that promotes the use of outdoor space as a teaching and learning resource, asked secondary pupils how they felt about having lessons outside.

The response was a resounding vote in favour of them. The survey found: "Secondary school students report that outdoor lessons are more interesting, varied and relaxed, and that their teachers are friendlier outdoors." But before teachers take pupils outside at every opportunity, some planning is needed to ensure real learning goes on and safely.

There are times when pupils are outside in a non-learning context, of course. Staff have less control over pupils during lunch and break times, but Cancer Research UK suggests schools take these opportunities to teach pupils to be sun savvy. The charity recently produced a wide range of resources and guidelines that schools can adopt and adapt to promote sun safety.

Many primary schools are introducing sun hats (wide-brimmed or foreign legion-style caps) and a slip, slap, slop (slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat) approach to sun safety. One school in south- west London even has a designated shady area for pupils who have forgotten their hats or sunscreen.

Secondary schools also need to teach pupils the importance of sun safety and start to instil habits for life. Simple steps such as wearing caps and sunglasses, using sunscreen, finding shady areas and drinking water are all it should take.

Cancer Research UK's tips include keeping parents informed through newsletters, and encouraging them to provide children with sunscreen. Parents should also advise pupils to seek shade and make sure there are shady areas available if pupils want to keep out of the sun.

Ensure pupils have plenty to drink - either through water fountains or a bottle of water in their bag that they can bring into the playground.

Teach pupils about appropriate clothing - perhaps even incorporate sun awareness into the wider curriculum - and ensure your uniform policy complements this, maybe by introducing a school cap for the summer. It's also crucial that staff are good role models, particularly PE teachers who are outside much of the time

Fe McKerrell is a specialist researcher in curriculum and learning for The Key, an independent school leadership and management support service, www.usethekey.org.uk


Advice on staying safe in the sun

  • Is there a shady spot with enough space?
  • Will the lesson be interrupted by noise?
  • Will the lesson disturb others trying to work?
  • What equipment will pupils need to have?
  • What are the practicalities of having no desks or classroom equipment?
  • How will working outside enhance pupils' learning or motivation?
  • What aspects of the outside environment can be incorporated into the lesson?
  • Should certain spaces be booked by teachers as an outdoor classroom?

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