Primary Health Care Research & Development


School nurse management of children’s questions when they are involved in primary school sex education: an exploratory study

Hilary Piercya1 c1 and Mark Haytera2

a1 Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK

a2 Centre for Health and Social Care Studies and Service Development, School of Nursing & Midwifery, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK


Aim The aim of this paper is to explore school nurses’ experiences of teaching Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) as part of the primary school curriculum. In particular, it focuses on the questions that the children ask during the lessons and the strategies the nurses employ in managing those questions.

Background School-based SRE is an important aspect of children’s education. However, it is a highly politicised and controversial area, which is a matter of concern to a number of stakeholders. In the primary school setting, school nurses are commonly involved in delivery of the programme. Their input is particularly valued, because they are ‘specialist outsiders’ who create an environment that is conducive to discussion of sensitive topics. To date, there is little understanding of the skills that they employ in managing the educational needs of primary school children within the confines of a pre-agreed school curriculum.

Methods Semistructured focus group interviews were conducted with small groups of school nurses from a single geographical location in the Midlands region of England. Data were analysed using a thematic analysis approach.

Findings Data identified the ways in which the nurses viewed and responded to the children’s agenda, which was realised in the form of questions. In particular, it focuses on what they deemed to be inappropriate questions and the basis on which this label was applied. Five strategies for managing these inappropriate questions were identifiable from the data. Their deployment is explored in relation to the tensions implicit in the realisation of sexualised realities in a classroom setting.

(Received April 2007)

(Accepted December 2007)

Key words

  • children;
  • school nurse;
  • sex education;
  • sexuality


c1 Address for correspondence: Hilary Piercy, Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Collegiate Crescent Campus, 51-53 Broomgrove Road, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, S1 1 WB, UK. Email: