An Ecological Study of school transition and the early years of school for Aboriginal children in an urban environment

Project Status

Chief Investigators
Lynn Kemp, Susan Dockett, Rebekah Grace, Robert Perry, Elizabeth Comino, Lisa Jackson Pulver, Melissa Haswell-Elkins

Associate Investigators
Jennifer Knight (Senior Research Fellow), Cathy Kaplun (Research Fellow), Sheryl Scharkie (Research nurse), Jane Anderson (Project officer)


Reducing the gap in educational outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is critical. Information is lacking on the early educational experiences of urban Aboriginal children. This research will explore urban Aboriginal children’s early school experiences and provide information on the early life factors that support positive outcomes.  

This research explores transition to school and early education experiences for urban Aboriginal children up to the end of Year 2 from the perspectives of children, family, community and educators. The study builds on the Gudaga Study that has tracked the health, development and service use of a birth cohort of 125 Aboriginal children from birth to five years of age. The availability of early childhood data commencing at birth provides a unique opportunity to consider the complex factors that contribute to positive outcomes in early school years.


The study has the following aims:

1. To describe the transition and early education experiences for a cohort of urban Aboriginal children up until the end of Year 2 from the perspectives of children, family members and educators;

2. To examine potential relationships between school achievement for urban Aboriginal children and early childhood health, development and service participation;

3. To understand what constitutes successful school transition for urban Aboriginal children by exploring child, teacher, family and community views; and

4. To explore the aspirations and expectations for urban Aboriginal children held by key stakeholders and examine the relationships between these variables and school performance and engagement.

Design and Method

This research employs a mixed methods design, combining in-depth qualitative interviews and quantitative data gathered through the use of surveys and standardised instruments.

A mixed method design enables the generation of performance outcome data on variables such as academic achievement and social skills, along with qualitative data to explore the experiences of participants and the interconnectedness of school, home and community environments.

Guided by the social ecology approach, this research seeks to understand the complexity of factors that influence risk and resilience within the early years of education. In keeping with an ecological approach, the perspectives of children, parents, teachers and Aboriginal community leaders will be included in the proposed research.

A longitudinal design is also employed within this research. Longitudinal data collection and analysis is appropriate to this study as it recognises the possibility that transition to school could continue through the first 2-3 years of formal schooling with multiple points of transition, most obviously at the beginning and end of each academic year. The research will follow the children from Kindergarten through to the end of Year 2.

Historic data collected from the birth cohort from pregnancy to child-age 5 years will be used to explore relationships between school performance and early life health, development and service use. Child and family experiences in the early years, particularly ages 0-3 are critical for children's educational outcomes.