If the COVID-19 pandemic had not got in the way, senior students from Springwood High would have had the chance to really put the heat on Canberra parliamentarians recently - literally.
The high school students, who feature in the ABC TV's Big Weather (and how to survive it) program were going to simulate almost 38 degree temperatures in the offices of several Members of Parliament. Members would have had the chance to try to work at the same temperature the Springwood students have been putting up for for most of their school life in summer.
But instead these students will sweat out another hot summer and the topic of their hot classrooms is expected to be discussedat a national Education Council meeting after the education minister Dan Tehan agreed over a Zoom meeting on the final episode of the series, to commit to raising the idea with state and territory ministers.
"We were meant to go to Canberra," Ian Tjoelker, a Springwood High student leading the project told the Gazette. "Our idea was we would get all these MPs to sit down and use a big light to heat them up to 37.7 degrees - classroom conditions - and then interview them."
While disappointed the Canberra trip didn't go ahead, "everyone was still excited for the opportunity we had". And Ian added he had "learnt a lot about community organisation" and the experience had "opened my mind to government bureaucracy".
As the team leader he is hoping to roll-out the project in other schools to test their research model.
"We think it's really important for students and teachers across Australia ... having national standards is better for working for students and teachers ... and the government really needs to be retro-fitting older schools."
Ian spoke to the Gazette earlier in the year about struggling to learn in a hot classroom because of the lack of air conditioning and the brain drain effect on their learning. He started the 2hot2learn.org movement with other students, after his school missed out on the government's air conditioning program funding. In conjunction with top scientists from Western Sydney University, they collected data to prove they should have been included.
Over the summer of 2018-19 students and parents placed monitors in 16 locations - taking 87 days of data at 10 minute intervals. Indoor school temperatures peaked above 30 degrees on one third of summer days and the maximum classroom temperature peaked at 37.7.
Megan Thomas, a P&C member and the parent liaison of the 2Hot2Learn student group, said: "We were excluded from automatic qualification [in the first round] and that was based on the data from the weather station at Valley Heights,".
The data was sent back to the government to be assessed for second round funding for air conditioning. The school is still waiting to hear.
It's a nation-wide issue, this requires action by the federal government, there's an inequality between schools. Throughout the summer there are weeks we are sitting there sweating, the windows are all open, all the fans are blowing around hot air. It gets insanely hot. That is so wrong.
ABC Big Weather host Craig Reucassel said the kids were "that smart with the hot classrooms, imagine how much smarter they would be with cooler ones".
WSU's Dr Sebastian Pfautsch developed his own temperature gauges and loaned them to Springwood High. He also recently released a report on urban heat and the effect of hot spaces on schools. It is the first evidence-based design and building guidelines to address outdoor heat at school. One of his simplest recommendations is more trees.
The research also showed common surfaces in schools, such as unshaded asphalt recorded surface temperatures of up to 70 degrees celsius in summer 2019. It was based on a microclimate of a western Sydney school but he said the results were useful nationally.
"Our summers are becoming increasingly hot. There is a need to better understand microclimates of schools and develop strategies to cool these environments down," said Dr Pfautsch. "By shading ... temperatures can be reduced by more than one third."
He said old schools in particular could look at "what can you change outside the school, can you bring in natural shade, can you for e.g collect your rainwater from your rooves, use that to irrigate your turf areas and your trees so you get a lot of evaporative cooling."
In August Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle saida number of Mountains schools were frustrated to be on a long waiting list for cooler classrooms and others were still wondering whether their applications from 16 months ago had even been successful.
A Department of Education spokeswoman has said applications for round 2 are still being considered.