Where now for Health education? 


By Caroline Brooks, Vice-President
ACHPER Queensland

The teaching of Health Education in primary schools was a recent topic of conversation in the ACHPER QLD Teacher Meet-Up for PE Specialists in primary schools. The discussion identified that there was not a uniform approach to the teaching of health with some schools having the PE specialist teacher responsible for teaching health while for other schools it was the responsibility of the classroom teacher. The latter arrangement had implications for reporting on the learning area HPE, in some cases requiring a compromised achievement rating for the student as there was input from both the specialist and the classroom teacher.

This arbitrary approach to teaching Health Education does not provide students with the necessary knowledge, skills and understandings to make decisions that support a healthy lifestyle. Two newspaper articles, one from The Australian and one from The Courier-Mail provide information relevant to the teaching of HPE which could help HPE teachers advocate for change.

The article in The Weekend Australian (27 and 28 May, 2022) detailed the plans of the incoming Labor federal government regarding education. The following initiatives have implications for the learning area HPE;

  • $200 million for the hiring of school counsellors and psychologists with extra funding for camps, sport and excursions under a Student Wellbeing Boost program,
  • $61 million over the next four years for resources on sexual consent and respectful relationships.

The Courier-Mail article (30 May 2022) by commentator Peter Gleeson looked at the problems with increased hospital admissions in Queensland and referenced the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which estimated about a third of the burden of disease is caused by preventable lifestyle factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet and obesity. Gleeson proposed incentivising General Practitioners to assist patients in addressing these health-compromising behaviours. Over the course of the federal election campaign there was very little discussion from any sitting or aspiring member of government on health promotion policies that supported healthy lifestyles and prevented disease. The focus was on treating existing conditions.

What does this mean for the HPE profession?  It has been recognized that changes to schooling over that last two years to limit the spread of COVID-19 effected students and that measures to support student wellbeing in schools are crucial. There is the possibility that schools may “reinvent the wheel” by adding additional programs and teacher responsibilities to an already crowded timetable to show they are addressing student wellbeing. HPE teachers need to ensure that their programs support student health and that this is demonstrated. This can be difficult given the primary PE specialist often works in isolation from the school administration and classroom teachers. The HPE program needs to be made public to school staff and parents. This may require an audit of current health programs in the school to check that they are based on the Australian Curriculum. The HPE teacher should advocate for such an audit.

In Queensland state schools the Curriculum into the Classroom resources provide material which can be adopted or adapted to fit school needs.  For non-state schools information on implementing the Australian Curriculum can be found at https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/resources/primary-curriculum/.  ACHPER QLD, through the HPE Community, provides a discussion place for sharing ideas and resources. 

In the 1980s in Queensland Health Education became a priority with the implementation of the Health Education Curriculum Project which developed materials for a sequential health program for Years 1 to 7. These materials were for use by classroom teachers, as the focus for the primary PE specialist teacher continued to be on physical activity. Today there are opportunities for Health Education to again be front and centre in schools. ACHPER QLD is  working with teachers and other stakeholders to support Health Education at a time when it is much needed.