Becoming a school nurse

Other related job titles: Young person’s health advisor, school health nurse or matron

The title ‘school nurse’ can be confusing as the role differs dependent on the sector. In maintained schools school nurses are not responsible for first aid or for the immediate medical needs of pupils.Here, school nurses are frontline public health practitioners, working with pupils and their families. In private schools, the school nurse will be on site and responsible for administering treatment to pupils and staff when necessary.

Salary

School nurses can earn up to £33,500 and with experience and managerial responsibilities, this can rise to around £39,300. The salary often depends on the employer, which can be the local health authority, primary care trust, community trust or sometimes the school (usually in the independent sector).

School nurse duties  

A qualified school nurse needs an understanding of public health theory and research, as well as expertise in areas including child and adolescent mental health, smoking cessation, nutrition and sexual health. Often the first port of call for young people, conducting health and wellbeing assessments, they may act broker other services and much of the skill lies in understanding how and where to refer.

In a maintained school a nurse would be expected to do the following:

  • Take the lead on immunisation programmes, notably the recent HPV vaccine programme.
  • Trains and assist school staff in delivering the personal, social, health, citizenship and economic education curriculum
  • Offer training to staff on managing medicines and medical conditions.

In an independent school a nurse would be expected to do the following:

  • Co-ordinate and manage the medical centre and sick-bay areas.
  • Provides on-site medical care for both ‘drop in’ day pupils as well as full-time boarders.
  • Administer medicines as necessary.
  • Ensures full and holistic health care provision for boarding pupils.
  • Treats and advise staff with common and minor ailments.

Hours

Part-time and term-time only hours are common and nurses typically work between 38 and 42 weeks a year. Nurses working in a private boarding school, may live on school premises and be on 24-hour call (in case of emergency).

Qualifications needed to become a school nurse

It is possible to go straight into this role after qualifying as a registered nurse.  

Staff working as school nurses will usually work towards the Specialist Practitioner - School Nursing/Specialist Community Public Health Nurse qualification. This is  usually a two year course offered at degree and masters level by a number of universities. 

Skills and knowledge

  • A sound general nursing background is essential
  • A firm foundation in child development
  • Understanding of attachment theory and strong mental health knowledge
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Act as an articulate advocate for the young people in your care.

The upsides

School nurses can make a real difference to a child’s life, setting foundations for good life chances.

The downsides

A lack of understanding and awareness of the role by families, schools and young people themselves. Old labels like ‘nit nurse’ don’t help.

Where to get more information

Department of Health – read this profile of the school nurse
NHS Careers description of a career in school nursing
RCN the nursing union website