A new study suggests education levels can have long generational effects.

Grandparents pass their level of educational achievement down through the generations, having a direct effect on their grandchildren’s NAPLAN results, according to a Telethon Kids Institute study.

The study, published in the latest issue of the Australian Journal of Social Issues, used data from the nationwide Longitudinal Study of Australian Children to explore how educational advantage or disadvantage played out over several generations.

It found that grandparents with higher levels of education had grandchildren with higher NAPLAN scores in Year 3.

“Most of this relationship could be explained by the fact that parents would also have higher levels of education, as we would expect, however we found grandparents still had a small effect over and above the influence of parents,” the institute’s Kirsten Hancock said.

The researchers found that if a grandparent had high educational attainment, the parent was more likely to have a university degree – but they were also more likely to partner with someone who had the same.

“Because of the way people meet, partner up and have families, educational resources tend to get concentrated in a smaller number of families,” Ms Hancock said.

“This turns out to be very good for the grandchildren in these families – the more people in their family with higher qualifications, the better they do on NAPLAN tests.

“By Year 3, children with four or more highly educated family members (that is, both parents and grandparents) were about one year ahead of children with two or three highly educated family members (parents only), and two years ahead of children without any highly-qualified family members.”

Ms Hancock said the research demonstrated that children arrived at school with vastly different family histories in their backpacks – resulting in gaps that presented a significant challenge for schools to overcome.

“Our results make it clear that schools have a really hard task ahead of them when it comes to reducing the gaps between low and high achieving children,” she said.

“Schools do their best to help children overcome disadvantaged circumstances, but given these gaps emerge long before children enter school, there’s a lot of ground to make up.

“It’s a hard job and one that will take sustained investment over a long period, but it’s really important because what happens at school can have lasting impacts over generations.”