Does changing school matter?

This report was originally published 29 February 2016.

Image: Does changing school matter?


This Learning Curve explores student mobility in NSW government schools and the impact mobility has on student outcomes.

The Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) has conducted the first system-wide study of student mobility in NSW government schools, using linked enrolment data from 2008 to 2014.

Students move schools for a variety of reasons, ranging from negative reasons such as housing distress or domestic violence, to positive or strategic reasons including school preference or job promotion. However, changing schools can be disruptive to students’ learning and may have a negative effect on students’ educational outcomes.

Consistent with other research in this area, this study focused on school moves made for reasons other than those expected by the system structure.

Specifically, the aim of the research was to:

  • construct measures of student and school mobility that are specific to the NSW context,
  • understand the size of the mobile student population, their demographic characteristics, any persistent movement patterns and the geographical distribution of school mobility,
  • examine the impact of mobility on student and school performance, and how this impact is moderated by other known background factors.

Key Findings

  • Around 1 in 20 students are highly mobile, enrolling at four or more schools during their primary or secondary years of schooling.
  • Disadvantaged groups, such as Aboriginal students and students of low socio-economic status (SES), are more likely than their peers to be mobile.
  • At least 1 in 8 schools experience high levels of student mobility, with rates more than twice the median level across all schools.
  • Mobility has a detrimental impact on educational outcomes (attainment, progress, and school completion) over and above other risk factors and level of prior achievement.
  • In particular, data analysis indicates that:
    • The more times students move schools, the greater the negative impact on outcomes.
    • Moves made during the year have a greater negative impact than moves made between years.
    • Mobility has an impact on both reading and numeracy, although the impact in the upper primary years appears to be greater for numeracy than for reading, irrespective of the level of mobility students experienced during that period of time.


  • Research report

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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