Figures revealed at last month’s School Nurses Conference, run by the RCN (Royal College of Nursing), link falling numbers of school nurses with an increased risk of child sexual assault.
The number of NHS school nursing posts now sits at just 2,606, a 13% decrease since 2010. At their annual conference, the RCN stressed the importance of the nurse’s role within the school environment and the benefits it brings to students. As well as delivering sex and relationships education (SRE), these professionals are also involved in safeguarding vulnerable children against sexual exploitation and abuse.
The RCN drew attention to a recent investigation that found 5,500 sexual assaults took place in the school environment over a three-year period, with one rape occurring nearly every school day.
Without the help of school nurses, the organisation says that those in school are at risk of a catalogue of problems including sexual exploitation, assault and mental health problems. Children and young people in care are at particular risk.
Also quoted was a union survey that suggested around half of all students learnt about sex through watching porn, while two thirds of those taking SRE lessons received no information about consent. A lack of proper education also puts students at risk of sexually transmitted infections.
The RCN are calling on the Government to secure school nursing roles in light of these findings, affirming their belief that proper SRE is imperative for the protection of children and young people in the UK.
Fiona Smith, RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said: “School nurses are there for all children and young people, providing support, encouraging healthy lifestyles and protecting those who are most vulnerable.
“They have the training and expertise to really drive forward effective SRE in schools. However, with numbers dropping all the time, school nurses simply don’t have the capacity to follow this through. The government should be prioritising this expertise – not cutting the roles when we need them most.”
She added: “The RCN supports the call for compulsory SRE in all schools, but we need the workforce that can deliver this crucial aim and make sure all children and young people are safe and healthy.”