|Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function|
The School Medical Service was established within the Education Department in 1909 following official concern regarding the results of a study of student health undertaken at a suburban school. The Service was required to investigate the hygiene condition of school premises and the physical and mental health of children. It was also responsible for providing health education instruction to children and their teachers.
Following the proclamation of the Ministry of Health Act (No.4988) in 1944, the School Medical Service was transferred to the Maternal and Child Welfare Branch of the Department of Health (VA 6950.
Initially the Service employed medical practitioners who visited suburban schools. Subsequently it also employed nurses and provided service to country schools.
The Service conducted audiometric and visual screening tests and medical examinations for all children at particular grade levels and examined children referred by parents and teachers. Children requiring medical treatment were referred to local practitioners and community facilities. The School Nursing Service provided both medical support and counselling to children with physical, emotional, behavioural and social problems and visiting nurses were responsible for providing health education for students, parents and staff.
Special advisory services were provided to the parents of children with hearing, speech and learning difficulties. Staff worked with other professionals, teachers and parents to develop programmes to meet the special educational needs of children with intellectual or physical disabilities.
By the 1960s the school population had risen significantly. It was no longer possible to continue universal screening by medical practitioners and from 1973, they no longer made scheduled visits to secondary schools. However they continued to accept referrals from visiting nurses.
As at 1996, the service is known as the School Nursing Programme and medical practitioners are no longer employed. Registered nurses visit primary schools and test the vision of all students at specified grade levels. They also test the hearing and general health of all children referred for examination by teachers or parents. There are plans to change the focus of the Programme by giving far greater emphasis to the role of school nurses in the provision of health education.
A medical assessment service was provided for teachers and prospective teachers, the latter being designed to identify people likely to be unsuitable for teaching. Health certificates were required from all applicants for studentships and graduate students were examined on completion of their training to determine their suitability for teaching.
The Service also examined teachers who were applicants for permanent appointment, membership of the State Superannuation Fund, transfer on medical grounds, extended sick leave or early retirement on grounds of ill health. The Service thus filled a role for the teaching service similar to that undertaken by the Government Medical Officer for other public servants.
As at 1996, this role is not undertaken by the School Nursing Programme. It is not known when the Service lost responsibility for the assessment of teachers but it remained part of their role until at least the mid - 1970s.
In 1921 the School Medical Service was expanded to include a dental service. From at least the 1930s, the service included the treatment of children at both city and country schools. The treatment was provided through clinics established in Melbourne and regional centres, the use of mobile dental units which travelled to more remote rural destinations and visiting dentists who travelled to provincial towns.
The Service examined all children in the early years of primary schooling for whom it had received parental consent. The children were then provided with continuing treatment until they entered secondary school. The Service provided initial preventative and remedial care and undertook minor orthodontic work. Children requiring major orthodontic work were referred to practitioners.
The Service included a number of dental officers who treated children living in institutions for the physically and intellectually disabled. The Director of Child Health (Dental) also supervised the treatment of children under the care of the Social Welfare Department and its successors. These children were treated by practitioners on a fee for service or sessional basis.
Since the mid 1970s, the Service has received significant capital and recurrent funding from the Commonwealth Government.
In 1992 the dental service was separated from the medical service. The Service continues to employ dental therapists and dental nurses who provide onsite treatment at schools and at dental clinics. There are proposals to extend the service to pre-school children and year 7 and 8 students who have been treated at primary school, provided federal funding is maintained.
Education Act 1928 (No. 3671)
Ministry of Health Act 1943 (No. 4988)
section 10 (2); first schedule part B (8)
Return of Persons Employed in the Public Service 1921 to 1988
Annual Reports of the Education Department 1932, 1943, 1944
Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Hospital and Health Services in Victoria July 1975, pages 263-275.
Ms Jean Farrington, head of the School Nursing Programme (1996)
Ms Sue Seshan, head of the School Dental Service (1996)