Mobility of students in NSW government schools

This report was originally published 29 February 2016.

Image: Mobility of students in NSW government schools



Student mobility has been an ongoing concern to educators due to the perceived negative effects that changing schools can have on students’ educational outcomes, on schools and on teaching. Mobility has been identified in studies in many countries including the United States, United Kingdom and Australia as being a contributing factor to student disadvantage, particularly in the areas of school engagement and lower achievement (Dobson, Henthorne & Lynas 2000; Navin, Hill & Doyle 2012; Reynolds, Chen & Herbers 2009).

In addition, significant student turnover may also impede teachers’ and administrators’ efforts to implement a reform agenda in schools thus hampering schools’ efforts to turn around low performance. Therefore, the need to understand mobility and its effect on schools’ ability to improve performance is critical, especially as greater emphasis is placed on school accountability.

Despite the widely held belief that mobility is damaging to student learning, little effort has been made to measure the extent and consequences of student mobility in the New South Wales school system. One major barrier has been a lack of access to high quality data bearing on student movements across schools and school systems. As a result, there has been insufficient evidence to comment on the nature, pattern and size of student mobility in NSW schools, let alone to discuss the policy significance of student transitions and mobility across different student groups, school structures and geographies.

Like a number of other Australian jurisdictions, the NSW Department of Education currently offers a small amount of funding for primary schools that believe they have high student turnover . However, this funding originated from a resourcing perspective, rather than an educational one, and is designed to compensate schools requiring additional resources such as textbooks and equipment. If mobility has as much impact on NSW student outcomes as demonstrated in other countries, there may be much greater need to support mobile students than has traditionally been provided.

The introduction of a unique Student Registration Number (SRN) in 2008 has provided the means to track students within the state government education system over time. Student mobility, approximated by student movements within the government sector, can now be calculated and its impact on student achievement can be estimated.

This report presents the results of a preliminary investigation into student mobility undertaken by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE). The following section provides a brief overview of the international and national literature on student mobility, identifying ways in which mobility is defined and measured, and the effects that mobility has on educational outcomes. Section 3 presents the goals of the current study. Sections 4, 5 and 6 present the investigations and preliminary analyses undertaken by CESE to define and measure student and school mobility in NSW government schools and the effect mobility can have on students’ educational outcomes. Section 7 concludes with an overview of the findings, and suggestions for future directions.


  • Research report

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
Return to top of page Back to top