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J Paediatr Child Health. 2015 Aug;51(8):778-86. doi: 10.1111/jpc.12852. Epub 2015 Mar 9.

Impact of perinatal health and socio-demographic factors on school education outcomes: A population study of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in the Northern Territory.

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Health Gains Planning, Department of Health, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.
Centre for Child Development and Education, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.
School of Population Health, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.



This study investigated the association between early-life risk factors and school education outcomes.


This is an historical cohort study of 7601 children (61% were Indigenous) born in the Northern Territory between 1999 and 2004. Information was linked, for each child on: perinatal health, student enrolment and National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) Year 3 results. Logistic regression was used to estimate the association between selected risk factors and a NAPLAN result 'below' the national minimum standard (NMS) in reading and numeracy.


Indigenous children had much higher odds, than non-Indigenous children, of a result below the NMS for both reading (odds ratio (OR): 8.58, 95% confidence interval (CI): 7.55-9.74) ) and numeracy (OR: 11.52, 95% CI: 9.94-13.35). When adjusted for all other variables, the increased odds were attenuated for both reading (OR: 2.89, 95% CI: 2.46-3.40) and numeracy (OR: 3.19, 95% CI: 2.65-3.84). Common risk factors for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children included higher birth order, maternal smoking in pregnancy and being a boy. There were gradients of decreasing risk with increasing education level of primary care giver and increasing maternal age. Among Indigenous children only, risks increased when living in remote areas, with younger age (<8 years) and low birthweight.


The study highlights that many of the risk factors associated with poor education outcomes among Indigenous children are shared with the general population. The results inform a targeted, cross-agency response to address modifiable early-life risk factors for educational disadvantage. Data linkage, using existing administrative datasets, provides a useful addition to methods that identify priority areas for prevention and early intervention.


Indigenous population; Northern Territory; educational measurement; perinatal care; socio-economic factor

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