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Postcode pitfalls: plans to see how a student’s neighbourhood affects school performance

Do students who live near factory pollution have more trouble learning than those in cleaner neighbourhoods? Will they be less likely to attend class if they have to pass through a rough area on their way there?

These are some of the questions University of New England researchers will unpack by applying geo-coding techniques to the NAPLAN results of twins. In doing so, they will deep-dive into whether environmental factors affect school achievement.

Postdoctoral research fellow Dr Callie Little is leading the team that will map and measure distances between the geographical features within neighbourhoods, and overlay the maps with NAPLAN results and other data.

“Using geo-coding, we can consider the distances between key locations and the influence – positive or negative – those distances might have,” Little said.

“Do students, for instance, have easy access to school and libraries, and, if so, does it boost their reading scores? If they live in a remote area and it’s difficult to get to school each day, will that affect their overall attendance record? While not a direct measure, these geographical factors may be used as a proxy.”

While Little said these factors might have a negative or positive influence or none at all, she added they can provide useful information to parents, students and educational stakeholders by revealing factors that are important for achievement and those that are not.

She said the results might also have implications for town planning and public transport design, and could even guide family real estate purchases.

“If we find there is strong, evidence-based associations between certain factors, we can target them for further investigation,” Little said.

“For instance, if features in the neighbourhood related to negative perceptions of safety – like a jail or homeless shelter – correlate with crime statistics, we might look at recommending possible policy changes or school-based interventions.”

The team will use data from the Australian Twin-Study of the NAPLAN, which looked at genetic and environmental influences on score variability.

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