Lifting School Achievement through Attendance

Building the evidence base to improve student outcomes.

Adopting an evidence-based approach to our work allows us to develop, deliver and refine programs and support that respond effectively and efficiently to the needs of disadvantaged children and young people. Research and evaluation helps us assess the effectiveness of our work and contribute to public policy advocacy focused on improving the lives of disadvantaged young Australians.

The Smith Family report – Attendance lifts achievement: Building the evidence base to improve student outcomes – is the first Australian study to demonstrate the predictive relationships between a set of educational outcomes as young people move through school. These outcomes are students’ school attendance, achievement in English or Maths, school completion and involvement post-school in work or study.

Shelby

Shelby, Learning for Life student

Rhiannon - Learning for Life student

Rhiannon, Learning for Life student

Disadvantaged young Australians start school behind.

Australian children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are at risk of poor educational outcomes from their first year of school. This risk increases as they move through school, with lower proportions of them completing Year 12 compared to their more advantaged peers.

These poor educational outcomes affect young people’s post-school opportunities and life outcomes, including their employment prospects, health, social connectedness and reliance on welfare support. This results in significant costs to the young people themselves and to the wider Australian community.


How can we prevent poor post-school engagement through early intervention?

Although gaps in educational outcomes are evident early in a child’s life, research shows young people who start school behind can subsequently meet key educational outcomes. Students who start school developmentally on track can also fall behind over time.

Improving the educational outcomes of young Australians relies on providing targeted and timely support to those at risk of not achieving key milestones. But what are the early flags or indicators that identify students at educational risk who would benefit from additional support? Do these indicators vary over time as students move through school? The answers to these questions can both help to improve individual student outcomes and inform the more efficient allocation of educational resources, by directing support to students who need it.

This research presents detailed analyses of data collected over a seven year period from more than 30,000 disadvantaged students participating in The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program. This longitudinal data included demographics, administrative outcomes, program participation and educational outcomes over a seven year period using a Unique Student Identifier (USI).

Key Learnings

There is new evidence showing that school attendance and achievement are closely related.

On average, a low achievement grade in English predicts low or decreasing school attendance in the years following. Similarly, lower attendance rates predict lower achievement grades in English in later years.

Being able to identify students at greater risk of declining attendance or poor achievement allows us to provide them with targeted and timely additional support to help prevent this decline.


School attendance and achievement help identify students at risk of leaving school early.

A strong relationship between school attendance, including in the early years of high school, and Year 12 completion, has been established. Three in four students with high attendance rates in Year 7 went on to complete Year 12, compared to less than half of those with low attendance rates.  

Similarly, a strong relationship has been established between achievement in English in Year 9 and school completion. Students who achieved a satisfactory or better grade in English in Year 9, were much more likely to complete Year 12 than those whose achievement was below satisfactory.

Freeda, Learning for Life student

Freeda, Learning for Life student

Rhiannon, Learning for Life student

Rhiannon, Learning for Life student

If we act on early indicators, additional support can result in improvements in attendance and achievement. This then increases the likelihood of students completing school and being in work or study post-school.

Analysis indicates that low attendance (and low achievement) is recoverable and that early identification provides a real opportunity for targeted additional support to bring students back on track.

Students with very low attendance rates in Year 7 who improved their attendance by Year 9, were much more likely to complete Year 12, compared to those whose attendance remained very low.


Attendance and achievement during high school predicts Year 12 completion and also predicts post-school outcomes.

Students with high achievement grades are more likely to be fully engaged in paid work and/or study post school. Similarly, a positive relationship between post-school engagement in work and/or study and high levels of school attendance has been identified.

The risk of not being in work or study post-school was found to be twice as high for students with low attendance rates during high school, compared to those with high attendance rates.

A focus on ensuring strong school attendance across all years of school can therefore contribute to both school completion and post-school engagement in work or study.

SUMMARY AND IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY

Regular monitoring of all students as they move through school is critical.

Detailed analysis of longitudinal data collected from students participating on the Learning for Life program shows:

  1. There are strong relationships between school attendance, school achievement, school completion and post-school engagement in work and/or study
  2. Changes in school attendance and achievement are relatively common and improvements, including for those who are performing at or below a satisfactory level, are possible.

Regular monitoring of the achievement and attendance of all students as they move through school is critical, so that timely and targeted support is provided to students who need it. This includes those students who experience challenges over multiple years, as well as students whose achievement and attendance decline as they move through high school.


The implications for policy and practice are significant, with a major opportunity to improve individual student outcomes and to inform the more efficient allocation of educational resources.

Key to improving the educational outcomes for disadvantaged Australian children are:

  • Tracking students’ individual progress
  • Using educational data to identify, as early as possible, which students need additional support
  • Targeting support to meet the educational challenges and circumstances of individual students

The analyses reported in this publication were only possible because each Learning for Life student has a unique student identifier (USI) which enables the linking of multiple student data over time. This research reinforces the value of a national USI for all Australian students, as it is core to understanding the impact of schooling over time on student outcomes and to providing nuanced and timely support to diverse groups of students.

Zachary, Learning for Life graduate

Zachary, Learning for Life graduate

Anne Hampshire, Head of Research and Advocacy at The Smith Family, speaks about the findings and their relevance.

“Thousands of young Australians are not achieving educationally. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly at risk of poor educational outcomes. We want to be able to identify as early as possible those young people who need extra support,” Ms Hampshire said.

Download this ground-breaking report with new evidence to help children at risk of leaving school early based on data from 30,000 disadvantaged students supported through The Smith Family’s long-term educational scholarship program, Learning for Life.

Anne Hampshire, Head of Research and Advocacy