Teachers as health workers

18 Apr 2018

Teacher and students in class


Queensland school teachers are chalking up around $230 million a year in health-related work


About the report

UQ health and economics researchers found that teachers spent about 10 hours a week – or 380 hours a year – doing health-related tasks.  

School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences researcher Dr Louise McCuaig said teachers were engaged in everything from delivering health-related curriculum to managing complex student and family health and welfare cases.

The most prevalent category of health work was pastoral care.

“Teachers reported spending about three hours a week on pastoral care, compared to an average 45 minutes dedicated to the delivery of the health education curriculum,” Dr McCuaig said.

Pastoral care in schools is typically devoted to life skills, stress management and building positive relationships – work that focuses largely on the wellbeing of pupils.

Teachers involved in the project shared the daily tensions of navigating between high-stakes assessment, academic performance and the provision of health and welfare support.

While teachers saw health work as important and fulfilling, they raised concerns about their level of expertise and training and the personal costs that accompanied this work.

UQ Australian Institute for Business and Economics (AIBE) Emeritus Professor John Mangan said teachers performing health work amounted to a net transfer from the education sector to the health sector.

“Teachers assisting with non-teaching related issues such as student health represents a gain to health providers who may have otherwise been required to provide the health service,” Professor Mangan said.

The net transfer also has potential benefits for the student, parents, the school and other teachers who may teach the student concerned, however this depends on the nature of the health issue.

The research also evaluated the impact of these health-related tasks on teacher productivity in the classroom.

“It is a question of time efficiency – how much time per day is this adding up to and how disruptive is it?” Professor Mangan said.

The project was led by UQ Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) Professor Doune Macdonald and colleagues in the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, and was funded by the Australian Research Council.