Exploring how schools can influence children’s academic achievement trajectories through planning and programs in the early years

Mrs Ashleigh Collier1, Dr Yasmin Harman-Smith2, Dr Jessie Jovanovic, Dr Sarah Wight3, Prof Paul Ward1

1College of Medicine & Public Health, Flinders University, Bedford Park, Australia, 2Telethon Kids Institute, Adelaide, Australia, 3College of Education, Psychology & Social Work, Flinders University, Bedford Park, Australia



In the past decade there has been significant interest and investment in nationwide standardised testing of literacy and numeracy. Although NAPLAN is not a holistic assessment of children’s educational achievement and success, it is a consistent and reliable national indicator that is able to identify educational disparities. However, in spite of increased focus and investment aimed to improve educational attainment, NAPLAN results have shown little change over time.

Although not provided at an individual level, the predictive validity of the instrument demonstrates that aggregated AEDC school data could be used by schools to provide an indication of where children may require additional support before they reach their first NAPLAN assessment. The underlying factors influencing children’s development in the community are unlikely to change significantly between collection periods, providing classroom teachers with an opportunity to use these data to identify where children have experienced challenges, identify factors influencing these mechanisms and plan their supports accordingly.


South Australian schools who performed either better, worse, or as expected in NAPLAN literacy and numeracy in year 3, given their AEDC score at school entry, were identified through linear regression modelling. Qualitative and quantitative analyses were undertaken to explore the potential reasons behind these differences in academic performance.


The findings of the analyses will be presented, discussing the key elements of those schools whose children performed better than expected in an effort to understand how developmental trajectories can be shifted in the early years.


The time between children starting school and their first NAPLAN assessment in grade 3 is crucial for brain development and has been shown to predict children’s later academic achievement. Therefore, understanding how schools can shift these academic trajectories through the use of planning and programs is of significant importance to both public health and education research.


In 2018 Ashleigh began her PhD candidature at Flinders University, investigating how a population health approach can be applied to school planning to support children’s early development. Ashleigh holds a Bachelor of Health Science majoring in Nutrition, and a Master in Public Health (Research). Since beginning her career in research, Ashleigh has worked with various Government and non-government agencies in an effort to improve the health and wellbeing of children through multidisciplinary research and research translation.