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Is there a “school effect” on pupil outcomes? A review of multilevel studies


Study objective: The school environment is of importance for child outcomes. Multilevel analyses can separate determinants operating at an individual level from those operating at a contextual level. This paper aims to systematically review multilevel studies of school contextual effects on pupil outcomes.

Design: Key word searching of five databases yielded 17 cross sectional or longitudinal studies meeting the inclusion criteria. Results are summarised with reference to type of school contextual determinant.

Main results: Four main school effects on pupil outcomes were identified. Having a health policy or antismoking policy, a good school climate, high average socioeconomic status, and urban location had a positive effect on pupil outcomes. Outcomes under study were smoking habits, wellbeing, problem behaviour, and school achievement.

Conclusions: Despite the different pupil outcomes and the variety of determinants used in the included papers, a school effect was evident. However, to improve our understanding of school effects, presentations of results from multilevel studies need to be standardised. Intraclass correlation and explained between school variance give relevant information on factors in the school environment influencing pupil outcomes, and should be included in all multilevel studies. Inclusion of pupil level predictors in the multilevel models should be based on theoretical considerations of how schools and communities are interconnected and how pupils and their families are influenced by school contextual factors.

  • SES, socioeconomic status
  • ICC, intraclass correlation
  • school effect
  • child
  • pupil
  • outcome studies
  • multilevel studies

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