13 April 2015

Birth weight, the amount of time a mother spends with her child, and the education level of both parents will have more impact on a child than whether they attend a private or public school.

Those are the findings of a study co-authored by University of Queensland Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences duo Professor Luke Connelly and Dr Hong Son Nghiem.

The research, involving four waves of Australian primary school-aged children born since March 1999, supports similar studies in the United States and United Kingdom.

“Our results show that sending children to Catholic or other independent schools has no significant effect,” Professor Connelly said.

“Any differences we see in test results are not due to the school type.

“Rather, they reflect the differences between households and students that already exist in society.

“The work adds to a growing literature from three different continents that the returns from attending independent primary schools are no different from those of attending public school.”

The research – Does school type affect cognitive and non-cognitive development in children? – tracked more than 4000 Australian primary school children between Years three and five.

While a paid education was not indicative of a child’s school success, there were some clear factors that had an influence.

Children with a birth weight of less than 2.5kg achieved significantly lower test scores, especially in grammar and numeracy.

And children’s test scores decreased as mothers’ work hours increased, but the working hours of the father were found to have no statistically significant impact.

Children of parents who had both completed Year 12 had significantly higher test scores on all subjects.

Mean scores were lower for all children who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in Year three, although there was marked improvement by Year five testing.

Observations were based around performance in the Australia-wide National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), tests held in May each year.

The research is published in the Labour Economics journal, and features contributions from Dr Ha Trong Nguyen of Curtin University and Dr Rasheda Khanam of University of Southern Queensland

Dr Hong Son Nghiem now works at Queensland University of Technology.

Media: Professor Luke Connelly +617 3346 4838, l.connelly@uq.edu.au ; Robert Burgin at UQ Communications, +617 3346 3035, +61 448 410 364, r.burgin@uq.edu.au.