Children who display social and emotional strength when they enter kindergarten are up to 26 points ahead in each of three NAPLAN domains throughout primary school, compared to students who display anxious, aggressive or disruptive traits, a new study has found.
The study of more than 52,000 kindergarten students from nearly 2800 NSW schools has found that children who displayed co-operative, socially responsible and helpful behaviours at the start of school scored between 24 and 26 points more in each of the years 3 and 5 numeracy and writing tests and up to 18 points more in the reading tests than their peers who displayed "maladaptive" behaviours.
Lead author of the paper, which was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology on Tuesday, Rebecca Collie said that the research provides empirical evidence for the importance of teaching children social and emotional skills alongside academic skills in the classroom.
"It's an upfront investment that can ease the load on teachers and have an impact on academic outcomes," said Dr Collie, a senior lecturer in education psychology at the University of NSW.
The findings come as the latest NAPLAN results showed that nearly 25 per cent of year 9 boys are falling short of the national minimum standard in writing and the proportion of Australian students meeting the minimum standards across all five NAPLAN domains of reading, writing, numeracy, spelling, and grammar and punctuation have flatlined or declined since last year.
The results prompted NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes to issue a "wake-up call that some changes are required".
The study, by UNSW and University of Sydney researchers, placed students entering kindergarten in 2009 into four different social and emotional behavioural profiles and controlled for socio-educational characteristics and early academic achievement in its analysis of their NAPLAN scores in 2012 and 2014.
Students' behaviours were reported by their teachers, and about two-thirds of children were in the best-performing "prosocial" profile, which is characterised by high levels of positive behaviour and low levels of "maladaptive" traits.
About 13 per cent of students were in the "anxious" profile, which scored between five and 12 points below the "prosocial" profile in each of the three NAPLAN areas.
Students in this category displayed high levels of anxiety alongside average levels of socially responsible and aggressive-disruptive behaviours and low levels of co-operative and helpful behaviours.
Up to 14 per cent of students were in the "aggressive" profile, which scored between 13 and 20 points below the "prosocial" profile and is characterised by high levels of aggressive-disruptive behaviours, "slightly above average anxious behaviour" and low levels of the positive behaviours.
About 5 per cent of students were in the worst-performing "vulnerable" profile, which scored between 16 and 26 points below the "prosocial" profile and is characterised by "high levels of anxious behaviour, very high levels of aggressive-disruptive behaviour, and very low levels of the adaptive behaviours".
Dr Collie said the findings reflect the fact that students with higher levels of adaptive behaviours are able to better interact with their peers and teachers and participate more fully in the classroom.
"The strength of this approach is it gives us this nuanced profile," Dr Collie said.
"It's not black and white, it shows where students are maybe doing well in terms of social responsibility but are more anxious. It can help teachers identify specific children in the classroom and better target strategies for them."
Social and emotional behaviour has also previously been linked to "greater rates of school and college completion, and greater mental, physical, and financial well-being in adulthood", according to the paper.