Schools to turn up the heat on El Niño precautions

Paul Eyers
Paul Eyers

With the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) sounding the alarm on El Niño’s arrival, Australian schools are scrambling to prepare for the scorching heatwaves ahead.

After months of anticipation for the world’s most consequential climate driver, the BOM finally confirmed the extreme weather event earlier this week.

El Nino’s wrath is already wreaking havoc across the country, with fires burning in the Northern Territory, Queensland, and New South Wales, and Sydney experiencing its hottest three consecutive September days ever.

The heatwave-inducing weather patterns will be bolstered by another significant climate catalyst, a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, with both weather events combining to see temperatures soar across Australia’s east coast.

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It will be the first time since 2015 that Australia will feel the burn of both climate drivers at the same time.

Some Aussie schools have already had to close due to impending bushfire threats, while safer-situated schools already asking students to attend in their sports and summer uniforms.

The anticipated extreme heat has become a cause of simmering concern among students, staff, and the school community, who will be at greater risk of heat-related health problems or the worsening of existing medical conditions.

Below are some essential tips The Bursar has cultivated, with the help of Australia’s Climate Council, to assist teachers and parents in keeping children safe during a heatwave at school.

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In the classroom

  • Ensure all children are aware of the school’s heat safety guidelines
  • Keep the classroom cool with air-conditioning and ceiling fans
  • Monitor and ensure the hydration of students
  • Utilise blinds, curtains, and window shades when available.

Break and lunch times

  • Keep children out of direct sun
  • Increase access to the school’s more excellent areas
  • Ensure water fountains are accessible and in working order
  • Children should be encouraged to drink plenty of water
  • Wear a hat and sunscreen while outside
  • Store school lunchboxes in cool areas
  • Watch for signs of heat illnesses while observing active play
  • Remove children from heat if they show signs of stress.

School sports

  • Outdoor sports should be modified to increase rest periods
  • Consider rescheduling sports activities to earlier times in the day
  • If the heat is extreme, cancel or relocate sports lessons indoors
  • Have regular rehydration breaks during activities
  • Adapt classes to involve activities with less physical exertion.

Be aware of health risks

  • Observe children for signs of exhaustion, dehydration, and heatstroke
  • Seek medical attention if required
  • Prevent students from eating spoiled food.

The Australian Climate Council said ensuring awareness of how to handle the risks of heat will assist teachers and school staff in managing the heatwave.

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“As we maintain these simple precautions like drinking water, wearing hats, and staying in the shade, we can ensure a comfortable and safe environment for our students,” the Australian Climate Council said.

Parents should be aware that schools will remain open during heatwaves unless that school’s principal or regional director determines it must temporarily close.

If concerned, check with your school, council or state Department of Education and Training to hear their heatwave response plan.

In a medical emergency, always call 000.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with a singular perspective on the world.