School nurses spend twice as much time on paperwork than on working with children in schools, research by the Children’s Commissioner for England has found.
A survey of nearly 800 primary and secondary school nurses revealed that paperwork is “eating into” the time nursing staff had to spend with pupils, with some school nurses responsible for the health and wellbeing of thousands of children.
In the survey school nurses were asked about child protection and children in need referrals they had made to Children’s Services, as well as any barriers they had faced.
Many school nurses described how “bureaucratic and reactive work” was undermining their ability to build relationships with children and advise them about their health and wellbeing.
The Children’s Commissioner said the amount of paperwork could be reducing their ability to identify children at risk of neglect or abuse.
Safeguarding and child protection processes have become a substantial part of school nurses’ work.
A fifth of school nurses felt that their child protection caseload was limiting their capacity to perform other activities.
On average, school nurses attended one case conference a week, which took up around 4.5 hours of their time, including travel and paperwork.
However, 8% were attending four or more case conferences, indicating they were spending at least half their working week attending these meetings and completing tasks associated with them.
The report highlights that this leaves less time for preventative work, allowing school nurses to spot the signs of abuse and prevent problems developing.
The majority of school nurses also stated in the survey that children and young people in the schools they work in were unaware of their service.
Recent initiatives in some areas to enhance the role of school nurses were highlighted in the Children’s Commissioner report, including the introduction of digital and texting services, which allow children and young people to get in touch with their school nurse.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “School nurses have a vital role to play in schools protecting children as well as promoting their well-being.
“They are one of the professionals at the front-line identifying abuse or neglect, as well as supporting children with a host of other issues – whether that’s mental health, age-appropriate relationships and sex education or healthy eating. Being available for children for face to face time is irreplaceable.”
Responding to the report, Fiona Smith, Royal College of Nursing professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said: “School nurses have the skills and the experience to provide a wide range of health support, from counselling to promoting healthy lifestyles.
“Despite the importance of the role, this report echoes what many RCN members have been telling us for some time – school nurses do not have the time or resources to carry out their roles as effectively as they would like to
“A major part of the problem is that the number of school nurses is dropping all the time – despite the vital importance of what they do.
“Children and young people are bearing the brunt of these public sector funding cuts with potentially serious consequences for the future.”