School climate, student engagement and achievement across school sectors in Australia

Year: 2019

Author: Huang, Yangtao, Xiang, Ning, Tomaszewski, Wojtek

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Educational literature emphasises the importance of school climate in improving student outcomes. The ecological framework of child development postulates that school is a crucial environment for child development, and that school climate critically influences students’ learning experiences and outcomes. There is extensive literature examining the complex relationships between school climate, student engagement and achievement, but cross-sectoral differences remain largely under-studied.

Research aims

This study examines the patterns and inter-relationships between the theoretically-informed constructs of school climate, student engagement and academic performance among students in Australian public, Catholic and independent schools. Specifically, the study aims to:

(i) compare patterns of student engagement across school sectors;

(ii) identify the elements of school climate that improve engagement and achievement across sectors; and

(iii) examine the differences in the effect of engagement on achievement across school sectors.

Data and methods

Drawing on a large-scale, nationally representative sample from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), we operationalise school climate using three measures: teachers’ perception of disciplinary policies in their school, teachers’ self-efficacy, and students’ experience of being bullied at school, , and include measures of affective, behavioural and cognitive engagement. We also control for students’ prior achievement and a range of student and family characteristics.

Confidence interval plots are used to visualise the different patterns of school climate, engagement and achievement by school sectors. A series of multiple linear regression models are estimated to examine the associations between school climate, student engagement and achievement across school sectors.


Catholic and independent schools score higher on reported school discipline, and students in those schools report lower levels of being bullied and higher engagement, compared with public school students. School discipline and teacher’s self-efficacy are strongly and positively associated with student engagement across the school sectors, and being bullied at school has a strong and negative effect on NAPLAN scores for public and independent school students, but not for Catholic school students. Behavioural engagement is the strongest predictor of student performance across the school sectors.

Implications for further research

Findings from this study point to the importance of unpacking the complex inter-relationships between school climate, student engagement and achievement across school sectors, and suggests that elements of school climate and engagement could influence student achievement differently in different school sectors. This study calls for more nuanced understanding of cross-sectoral differences in student engagement and achievement in future research.