Falling school nurse numbers raise fears over pupils with health conditions

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

​The “accelerating” loss of school nurses is putting children with conditions such as asthma, epilepsy and diabetes at risk in the classroom, it has been warned.

The latest NHS data, from May 2017, shows that more than 554 school nurses have been lost since 2010 – almost a fifth of the NHS school nurse workforce in England.
It means that there are just 2,433 full-time school nurses working within the NHS in England.

This compares to the number of pupils in state-funded schools, which as of January 2017 stood at 3,223,090 secondary pupils and 4,689,660 primary pupils.

The warning this week has come from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which says that the lack of school nurses is “leaving teachers without vital training and pupils without necessary support”.

The RCN says that if services continue to deteriorate, pupils with health conditions may be unable to attend mainstream school. This is an alarming claim given that almost a quarter of 11 to 15-year-olds in England report have a long-term illness or disability, including asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and arthritis.

As such, the RCN is calling on the government to find the money to allow local authorities to fully staff school nursing services.

Among the training that school nurses can deliver to teachers is identifying warning signs such as shortness of breath, dizziness or confusion, giving life-saving treatment such as EpiPens or insulin injections, and making adjustments so that pupils can access school trips and subjects like PE.

In May, the RCN published a report looking at the future of school nurses and other children’s public health roles. The document highlights a drop in school nursing numbers of 16 per cent from 2010 to 2017 alongside a 450,000 rise in the number of school aged pupils over the same period.

It also points to recent National Children’s Bureau research showing that a third of school nurses are overstretched, working across 13 or more schools at a time.

The report states: “The shortfall in school nurses severely limits capacity to provide services, meaning that vulnerable children and young people may not be getting the level of support they need.”

Fiona Smith, professional lead for children and young people’s nursing at the RCN, said: “It would be completely unjust if a child couldn’t participate in school life because of their health condition. Every child has the right to an education and it is the government’s responsibility to make that happen.

“With school nurse numbers at their lowest in years, it soon won’t be possible to provide the care these children need within the school environment. Cuts to public health budgets are leaving whole communities without the care they need and this is limiting the opportunities of thousands of children.

“It is time the government wakes up and realises the hugely detrimental impact these cuts are having to our children and our society. School nursing is a critical service and it needs to be treated as such.”

  • You can download the RCN’s report – The Best Start: The Future of Children’s Health – via http://bit.ly/2qbjCCy

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.