Origins of the campaign
AWARE founder, and parent, Fiona Williams originally raised her concerns about Wi-Fi in her children's schools (St Saviour's Infants and Juniors, Larkhall, Bath) in the summer of 2015. See Fiona's story.
From 2016-2017, Fiona, and fellow parent Vanessa Williams-Grey, researched information on the health impacts of Wi-Fi exposure and met regularly with head teachers and staff at both schools.
Early gains and backward steps
The first step was setting up a joint working party of governors at both schools (from which AWARE was excluded). This resulted in a change to both schools’ health and safety policies. The schools recognised the need for a precautionary approach and agreed to timed switch-offs, with the Infants activating Wi-Fi on just two afternoons a week (later increasing to two days) and the Juniors trialling a timed switch-off over 1.5 days.
The policy was implemented at the Infants school in the spring of 2016, with occasional exceptions when the head teacher authorised an over-ride. However, in June 2017, the school reverted to continuous Wi-Fi exposure following reports by teachers that they had lost lesson plans during the switch-off periods.
From 2015, when the Wi-Fi was installed, to the summer of 2017, the Juniors, apart from a brief trial period, opted for continuous internet access. The main reason given was the staff requirement for constant access to wireless internet on their laptops. All the classrooms are wired and the children do not have tablets, so the Wi-Fi was entirely for staff use.
While understanding teachers' frustrations, Fiona from AWARE argued that turning off the Wi-Fi altogether with occasional switch-ons if required would make more sense. After meeting with head teachers at both the Infants and Juniors, it was the latter school, under a new head teacher, that finally agreed to take action.
St Saviour's Juniors: a case study
Following meetings with Fiona and Vanessa from AWARE, and concerns raised by more than 30 parents about odd symptoms their children were experiencing (extreme nosebleeds, headaches, chronic unresolved nausea, abdominal pain, pain in limbs and difficulty focusing), the head teacher of the Juniors (in post from September 2016) agreed to look at Wi-Fi signal strength in the school.
In July 2017, the school IT provider discovered that there was double and even overlapping strength in some areas of the school, resulting in a signal strength many times greater than you would find with domestic Wi-Fi - effectively "industrial strength". These zones exactly matched the areas where Fiona and her children had previously reported their worst symptoms.
Since then, the double coverage has been removed and the signal strength reduced by a further 50%. The children's symptoms, including Fiona's children's, have reduced significantly although they still report body aches and 'brain fog' from their classroom Wi-Fi routers.
The AWARE campaign is grateful to the head teacher of St Saviour's Juniors, Mr Joe Beament, for being proactive in taking a precautionary approach to school Wi-Fi safety and his concern for the children's long-term health and well-being. However, we continue to advocate an approach similar to that in France where Wi-Fi in primary schools is limited rather than on as default (click here for more information).
There remain areas to be addressed, notably the school hall which has a continuous strong Wi-Fi signal purely for the purposes of occasional music and presentations. All the classrooms still have their routers turned on, despite there being wired internet connections in place. The children are also exposed to Wi-Fi signals from neighbouring houses in one of their playground areas. But significant progress has been made.
AWARE campaigners are actively talking to other head teachers of both primary and secondary schools in Bath & North East Somerset to raise awareness and urge a precautionary approach to protect all our children and young people.
Involving the local Council and local MP
Fiona and Vanessa gained the support of their local councillor. She corresponded with the Director of Public Health at Bath & North East Somerset Council to ask if they could alter their policy on Wi-Fi safey in schools to limit children's exposure. His response repeated the guidance from Public Health England that "there is no consistent evidence of health effects from RF [radiofrequency] exposures below guideline levels."
However, click here for information about why these guideline levels are misleading.
The public health team also confirmed that they had no position on the issue, leaving it up to the head teachers of individual schools to decide, but would support schools in disabling Wi-Fi in response to parental concerns.
In November 2016, Fiona and Vanessa set up the AWARE campaign as they felt more had to be done to inform the wider community including parents, staff and the children themselves about the health risks of microwave radiation.
In October 2017, AWARE campaigners have gained the support of recently elected Bath MP Wera Hobhouse (Lib Dem) who has raised questions on the health impacts of smart meters and 5G with the Minister of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and school Wi-Fi safety with the Director of Public Health England (PHE).
PHE's response of November 2017 was unchanged on school Wi-Fi, although they clarified their guidance on use of mobile phones by under-15s, advising that all calls are limited to essential ones only. As of December 2017, AWARE campaigners have drafted a response to PHE to be forwarded by Ms Hobhouse MP.