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School nurse shortage must be addressed to improve PSHE, say MPs

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A shortage of school nurses must be addressed to improve personal, social and health education in schools, according to an influential group of MPs who also recommend that the subject should be made mandatory.

As part of its inquiry into how PSHE was delivered and monitored, the Commons’ education select committee was told by Ofsted that the subject required improvement, or was inadequate, in 40% of schools.

The committee said “improving the quality of provision of PSHE, and sex and relationships education within it, relies on addressing the shortage of suitably trained teachers and school nurses, and on ensuring that suitable curriculum time is devoted to the subject”.

“Improving the quality of provision of PSHE and sex and relationships education…relies on addressing the shortage of…teachers and school nurses”

Education select committee

Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed there were 1,209 full time equivalent qualified school nurses in September 2014, with the Department for Education confirming to the committee that this number had been stable over the past five years.

However, national projections of student numbers by the DfE showed there had been a rise in the amount of pupils in state schools in England from 6.93m in 2009 to 7.14m in 2014, with this increase set to reach 8.02m by 2023.

A decline in the number of local authority advisers specialising in PSHE and SRE was also noted in written evidence to the committee.

The Royal College of Nursing welcomed the committee recommendations, highlighting that the report reinforced the importance of school nurses as a trusted and valued source of health information.

“School nursing must be properly resourced to give young people access to this expertise”

Peter Carter

Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “Children and young people need access to the best advice if they are to live well and healthily. School nursing must be properly resourced to give young people access to this expertise.”

He pointed to “crucial” evidence submitted to the committee by east London school nurse Heather Robinson who explained the issues she and her nurse colleagues could help with, such as weight management, smoking cessation, self harm and advice on safe sex.

Ms Robinson also highlighted that in her area there were 22 school nurses serving around 42,000 children and estimated a 20% uplift was needed in operational staff to cover the current school population.

Dr Peter Carter, Royal College of Nursing

But she said: “People who may have considered becoming a school nurse find that there are no school nurse places in their trust or at the university. The opportunity is not there.”

Based on the evidence, the committee also recommended that the government ensure there were sufficient school nurses training places, and that the ratio of school nurses to children was “maintained”.

Launching the report, committee chair Graham Stuart said: “There is an overwhelming demand for statutory sex and relationships education.

“It’s important that school leaders and governors take PSHE seriously,” he said. “Young people have a right to information that will keep them healthy and safe.”

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