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On the value of school nurses

The image of school nursing is blighted by outdated stereotypes, but today's school nurses are skilled public health professionals

The Department of Health launched the 'Getting it right - maximising the school nursing service contribution' in March 2011. Within the call to action we made a commitment to continue to work with and support the professional, including raising the profile of school nurses as leaders in the delivery of public health for school-aged children. School nurses and their teams are crucial to supporting the health and wellbeing of school-aged children and young people. With their specialist public health skills and knowledge they lead the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme (ages 5-19), providing evidenced-based interventions to improve individual and population health. 

Over the last two years we have continued to work closely with the profession and key stakeholders, including children and young people, to develop new resources to support implementation of the service model, including a suite of professional pathways and factsheets. The first pathways were published last September in time for the new school year, and included safeguarding, transition and readiness for school. In the forthcoming months we will be publishing a new suite of pathways which will include sexual health, support for young carers, emotional health and wellbeing and supporting children with additional health needs in education settings.

The last year has been particularly unsettling for school nursing services. Some of the uncertainty and concern has perhaps been the shift of commissioning responsibility for public health (5-19 year olds) to the local authority from 1 April this year. This shift however offers a great opportunity to strengthen partnership approaches and increase integration between school nursing services and social care, plus an opportunity to clarify respective roles and responsibilities. Social care are not the only partners - schools have a role in promoting health and wellbeing 

Schools have greater freedom to determine how they use their budget and how they meet the health and wellbeing of their pupils. This greater freedom and flexibility includes a new role for schools - a co-commissioning role. It is essential for head teachers to understand the impact effective school health services can have on their pupil's health and wellbeing, and the enormous value of schools as health-promoting settings, particularly with regard to improving both attainment and attendance.

The role and contribution of school nursing services is not always understood and traditional images of the service sadly still exist. School nurses need to challenge the misconceptions and portray the dynamic nature of the service: a service that provides year-round support to school-aged children, both in and out of school settings. There is an opportunity to illustrate to local authorities and schools the impact the school nursing service can have if it is sufficiently resourced and supported. The changes in commissioning may require new ways of working and a strengthened leadership role for qualified school nurses. We know the school nurse workforce is small however the reach and impact is phenomenal, the diversity of the role requires a practitioner who is resourceful, innovative with effective leadership skills. 

School nurses need to ensure they are providing strong and effective leadership, which will require school nurses to provide positive challenge to commissioners and partners; use their negotiation and influencing skills; and understand and interpret population health data to ensure local services meet local need. The role of the school nursing team is as diverse as the needs of the school-age population and we have an opportunity to ensure partners, stakeholders, children young people and families really understand the dynamic public health and health protection role. Not only modernising perspectives of the profession, but also by encouraging more individuals to consider school nursing as a fantastic career option. We need school nurses to embrace their leadership role, work with commissioners and key partners and importantly continue supporting the health and wellbeing needs of children and young people.