What counts? The influence of school attendance on Australia’s urban Indigenous students’ educational achievement

  • Lindy P. BaxterEmail author
  • Noel M. Meyers


Formal primary and secondary school education for all students should provide a pathway to overcome inequality and disadvantage. Logically, attending school regularly and often during the compulsory years of school provides the best prospects to achieve educational success and enhance post-school opportunities, particularly for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. However, recent research of Indigenous students living in remote regions of Australia suggests school attendance frequency has little, or no correlation with academic success or failure. Our study of a disadvantaged urban school population also showed no attendance and achievement relationship at student-level for Indigenous students (or non-Indigenous peers). The findings of this study highlight the generally accepted relationship between attendance and achievement does not apply universally for all students. Many factors have potential to influence for Indigenous students’ capacity for educational achievement. We need further research to ensure Indigenous education policy and strategies for improved student outcomes target what matters most.


Indigenous education School attendance Educational achievement NAPLAN testing Urban Indigenous students Urban Indigenous populations Remote education Urban education Aboriginal students Australia 



The generous participation and contribution of the Indigenous school community at Watney (a pseudonym) made this work possible. We thank the Elders and community leaders for their support and permission to conduct this project, without which, this research would not have been possible. Ethical constraints preclude the identification of Country on which La Trobe University is situated. We would, however, like to acknowledge and pay our respect to the Dja Dja Wurrung Community as the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which La Trobe University Bendigo is situated and where we conducted the analysis and writing for this paper. An Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship (APA) and a Grant from La Trobe University’s Transforming Human Societies Research Focus Area supported this work.


  1. Ainley, J., & Lonsdale, M. (2001). Non-attendance at school: Report to the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs Footprints to the future: Research reports for the Prime Minister’s youth pathways action plan taskforce 2001, Appendix 2. Canberra, ACT: Australian Government.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Dauber, S. L. (2003). On the success of failure: Reassessment of the effects of retention in the primary school grades (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univeristy Press.Google Scholar
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2013). 2011 Quickstats: all peopleusual residents. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). 2071.0Census of population and housing: Reflecting AustraliaStories from the census, 2016: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Retrieved from
  5. Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2011). National report on schooling in Australia 2009. Retrieved from
  6. Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2015). National report on schooling in Australia 2012. Retrieved from
  7. Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2016). National report on schooling in Australia 2013. Retrieved from
  8. Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2017a). My school. Retrieved from
  9. Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2017b). National report on schooling in Australia 2015, Sydney, NSW. Retrieved from
  10. Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2018). My school. Retrieved from
  11. Australian Government. (2016). Indigenous primary school achievement: Productivity commission research paper. Canberra: Productivity Commission. Retrieved from
  12. Australian Government. (2017). Closing the gap: Prime Minister’s report 2017. Retrieved from
  13. Baxter, L. P., & Meyers, N. M. (2016). Increasing urban Indigenous students’ attendance: Mitigating the influence of poverty through community partnership. Australian Journal of Education, 60(3), 211–228. Scholar
  14. Bodkin-Andrews, G. H., Craven, R. G., Parker, P., Kaur, G., & Yeung, A. S. (2013). Motivational cognitions and behaviours for metropolitan Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australian students: Assessing the relations between motivation and school engagement. In G. A. D. Liem & A. B. I. Bernardo (Eds.), Advancing cross-cultural perspectives on educational psychology: A festschrift for Dennis McInerney (pp. 295–316). Charlotte: Information Age Pub.Google Scholar
  15. Briggs, A. (2016). Links between senior high school Indigenous attendance, retention and engagement: Observations at two urban high schools. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education. Scholar
  16. Commonwealth of Australia. (2014). Improving school enrolment and attendance through welfare reform measure. Barton ACT: Autsralian National Audit Office. Retrieved from
  17. Daraganova, G., Mullen, K., & Edwards, B. (2014). Occasional paper no. 51. Attendance in primary school: Factors and consequences. Canberra: Department of Social Services.Google Scholar
  18. Davis-Kean, P. E. (2005). The influence of parent education and family income on child achievement: The indirect role of parental expectations and the home environment. Journal of Family Psychology, 19(2), 294–304. Scholar
  19. Dodson, M. (2010). To the front of the bus. Around the Globe, 7(1), 7–12.Google Scholar
  20. Education Council. (2015). National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education strategy 2015. Retrieved from
  21. Englund, M. M., Luckner, A. E., Whaley, G. J. L., & Egeland, B. (2004). Children’s achievement in early elementary school: Longitudinal effects of parental involvement, expectations, and quality of assistance. Journal of Educational Psychology. Scholar
  22. Ferrier, D. E., & Lovett, B. J. (2011). Construct irrelevant variance in achievement test scores: A social cognitive perspective. In L. E. Madsen (Ed.), Achievement tests: Types, interpretations and uses (pp. 89–107). New York: Nova Science Publishers Inc.Google Scholar
  23. Ford, M. (2013). Achievement gaps in Australia: What NAPLAN reveals about education inequality in Australia. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(1), 80–102. Scholar
  24. Gershenson, S., Jacknowitz, A., & Brannegan, A. (2015) Are student absences worth the worry in U.S. primary schools? Discussion Paper No. 9558. Bonn: Insititute for the Study of Labor.Google Scholar
  25. Gottfried, M. A. (2010). Evaluating the relationshp between student attendance and achievement in urban elementary and middle schools: An instrumental variables approach. American Educational Research Journal, 47(2), 434–465. Scholar
  26. Gottfried, M. A. (2014). Can neighbor attributes predict school absences? Urban Education, 49(2), 216–250. Scholar
  27. Gray, J., & Beresford, Q. (2002). Aboriginal non-attendance at school: Revisiting the debate. Australian Educational Researcher, 29(1), 27–42. Scholar
  28. Guenther, J. (2013). Are we making education count in remote Australian communities or just counting education? Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 42(2), 157–170. Scholar
  29. Guenther, J., Bat, M., & Osborne, S. (2013). Red dirt thinking on educational disadvantage. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 42(2), 100–110. Scholar
  30. Hancock, K. J. (2017). Associations between school absence and academic achievement: Do socioeconomics matter? British Educational Research Journal, 43(3), 415–440. Scholar
  31. Hancock, K. J., Shepherd, C. J., Lawrence, D., & Zubrick, S. R. (2013). Student attendance and educational outcomes: Every day counts. Report for the Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, Canberra.
  32. Hay, I., Wright, S., Watson, J., Allen, J., Beswick, K., & Cranston, N. (2016). Parent-child connectedness for school and students’ performance and aspirations: An exploratory investigation. International Journal of Educational Research, 77(2016), 50–61. Scholar
  33. Hewitt, B., & Walter, M. (2014). Preschool participation among Indigenous children in Australia. Family Matters, 95, 41–50.Google Scholar
  34. Hill, A., Dalley-Trim, L., Lynch, A., Navin, F., & Doyle, T. (2010). Let’s stay put: Literacy and numeracy pilot. 31 March 2010progress report. Townsville, QLD: James Cook University.Google Scholar
  35. Hill, A., Lynch, A., & Dalley-Trim, L. (2012). Positive educational responses to Indigenous student mobiity. International Journal of Educational Research, 54, 50–59. Scholar
  36. Hughes, H., & Hughes, M. (2012). Indigenous education 2012. CIS Policy Monographs. Australia: Centre for Independent Studies.Google Scholar
  37. Hunter, B. (2012). Is Indigenous poverty different from other poverty? Closing the gaps and need for reflexivity on Indigenous disadvantage and poverty. In B. Hunter & N. Biddle (Eds.), Survey analysis for Indigenous policy in Australia: Social science perspectives. Research monograph no. 32. Canberra: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australia National University.Google Scholar
  38. IBM Corp. (2012). IBM SPSS statistics for Windows (Version 21.0.). Armonk, New York: IBM Corp. Retrieved from
  39. Jorgensen, R. (2012). Enhancing educational performance for remote Aboriginal Australians: What is the impact of attendance on performance? Education 3–13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education, 40(1), 19–34. Scholar
  40. Klenowski, V. (2014). Towards fairer assessment. Australian Educational Researcher, 41, 445–470. Scholar
  41. Krakouer, J. (2016). Literature review relating to the current context and discourse surrounding Indigenous early childhood education, school readiness and transition programs to primary school, Melbourne, VIC. Retrieved from
  42. Ladwig, J. G., & Luke, A. (2014). Does improving school level attendance lead to improved school level achievement? An empirical study of Indigenous educational policy in Australia. Australian Educational Researcher, 41(2), 171–194. Scholar
  43. Lamb, S., Jackson, J., Walstab, A., & Huo, S. (2015). Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out, Melbourne, VIC. Retrieved from
  44. Lea, T., Thomson, H., McRae-Williams, E., & Wegner, A. (2011). Policy fuzz and fuzzy logic: Researching contemporary Indigenous education and parent school engagement in north Australia. Journal of Education Policy, 26(3), 321–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mander-Ross, R. (1995). Attendance: Cause or effect. Aboriginal Child at School, 23(4), 30–36. Scholar
  46. Marsh, H. W., Pekrun, R., Parker, P. D., Murayama, K., Guo, J., Dicke, T., et al. (2017). Long-term positive effects of repeating a year in school: Six-year longitudinal study of self-beliefs, anxiety, social relations, school grades, and test scores. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(3), 425–438. Scholar
  47. McAllister, A. (2014). The abandoning of Koorie education. AEU News, 21(5), 16–18.Google Scholar
  48. McInerney, D. M. (1991). Key determinants of motivation of non-traditional Aboriginal students in school settings: Recommendations for educational change. Australian Journal of Education, 35(2), 154–174. Scholar
  49. Ministerial Council for Education Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs. (2011). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education action plan 20102014. Carlton South, VIC: Ministerial Council for Education Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Retrieved from
  50. Murphy, C. (2009). Every day counts: Managing school attendance in Western Australian public schools. Report 9August 2009. Retrieved from
  51. Navin, F., Hill, A., & Doyle, T. (2012). The characteristics of, and motivations for, Indigenous students mobility: Examples from urban and regional Queensland, Australia. International Journal of Educational Research, 54, 21–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. OECD. (2013). Education policy outlook: Australia—2013. Retrieved from
  53. O’Keefe, K. A., Olney, H. R., & Angus, M. J. (2012). Obstacles to success: Indigenous students in primary schools. ACT: Kingston.Google Scholar
  54. Osborne, S. (2014). Between the bookends: What else matters other than attendance and economic development in remote education? Paper presented at the Annual Federal Conference of the Australian Education Union Federation, Melbourne, VIC.
  55. Paradies, Y., & Cunningham, J. (2009). Experiences of racism among urban Indigenous Australians: Findings from the DRUID study. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 32(3), 548–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Peacock, L. (1993). Absenteeism and the Aboriginal child. Aboriginal Child at School, 21(1), 3–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Perry, L., & McConney, A. (2010). Socio-economic composition and student outcomes in Australia: Implications for educational policy. Australian Journal of Education, 54(1), 72–85. Scholar
  58. Productivity Commission. (2016). Background paper 1: About Indigenous Australian students. Retrieved from
  59. Prout Quicke, S., & Biddle, N. (2016). School (non-) attendance and mobile cultures: Theoretical and empirical insights from Indigenous Australia. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(1), 1–15. Scholar
  60. Roby, D. E. (2003). Research on school attendance and student achievement: A study of Ohio schools. Education Research Quarterly, 28(1), 4–15.Google Scholar
  61. Rothman, S. (2001). School absences and student background factors: A multilevel analysis. International Education Journal, 2(1), 59–68.Google Scholar
  62. Schwab, R. G. (2012). Indigenous early school leavers: Failure, risk and high-stakes testing. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 1, 3–18.Google Scholar
  63. Social Policy Research Centre. (2016). Poverty in Australia 2016, Strawberry Hills, NSW. Retrieved from
  64. Sorin, R., & Iloste, R. (2006). Moving schools: Antecedents, impact on students and interventions. Australian Journal of Education, 50(3), 227–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. State Government of Victoria. (2012). Education maintenance allowanceinformation for schools: Eligibility2012 Retrieved from
  66. State Government of Victoria. (2013). SFO guidelines: Parent occupation groups. Retrieved from
  67. State Government of Victoria. (2014). Garrin Garrin: A strategy to improve learning and development outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians. Melbourne, VIC: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Retrieved from
  68. Taylor, J. (2012). Indigenous mobility and school attendance in remote Australia: Cause or effect? International Journal of Educational Research, 54(2012), 31–40. Scholar
  69. Thompson, G. (2013). NAPLAN, MySchool and accountability: Teacher perceptions of the effects of testing. The International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives, 12(2), 62–84.Google Scholar
  70. Thompson, G., & Harbaugh, A. G. (2013). A preliminary analysis of teacher perceptions of the effects of NAPLAN on pedagogy and curriculum. Australian Educational Researcher, 40(3), 299–314. Scholar
  71. Vass, G. (2013). ‘So, what is wrong with Indigenous education?’ Perspective, position and power beyond a deficit discourse. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 41(2), 85–96. Scholar
  72. Wu, M. (2010). The inappropriate use of NAPLAN data. Professional Voice, 8(1), 21–34.Google Scholar
  73. Zubrick, S. R., Silburn, S. R., De Maio, J. A. et al. (2006a). Chapter 4: School attendance. The Western Australian Aboriginal child health survey: Improving the educational experiences of Aboriginal children and young people (Vol. 3, pp. 111–222). Perth, WA: Curtin University of Technology and Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.Google Scholar
  74. Zubrick, S. R., Silburn, S. R., De Maio, J. A., et al. (2006b). Chapter 5: Performance at school. The Western Australian Aboriginal child health survey: Improving the educational experiences of Aboriginal children and young people (Vol. 3, pp. 223–282). Perth, WA: Curtin University of Technology and Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.Google Scholar
  75. Zubrick, S. R., Silburn, S. R., De Maio, J. A., et al. (2006c). Chapter 6: Factors influencing academic performance The Western Australian Aboriginal child health survey: Improving the educational experiences of Aboriginal children and young people (Vol. 3, pp. 283–374). Perth, WA: Curtin University of Technology and Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Australian Association for Research in Education, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.La Trobe UniversityBendigoAustralia

Personalised recommendations