Cognitive and health antecedents of achievement at school

Project Code: 10470951

Faculty: Faculty of Education and Social Work

Department: Learning, Development and Professional Practice

Main Supervisor: Associate Professor Gavin Brown

Principal investigator: Dist Prof Jane Harding

Application open date: 08 Dec 2020

Application deadline: 31 Dec 2021

Enrolment information: NZ Citizens, NZ Permanent Residents, International


Executive function refers to the cognitive control of selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals. Executive function includes basic cognitive processes such as attentional control, cognitive inhibition, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Higher-order executive functions require the simultaneous use of multiple basic executive functions and include planning and fluid intelligence (e.g., reasoning and problem-solving). Students in the CHYLD project were recruited as infants in the well-known ‘Sugar Babies’ study and were followed up at ages 2, 4.5, and 9-10. Measures have been taken of physiological, cognitive, and academic outcomes.

This project will involve examining previously collected data at ages 2 and 4.5 years as predictors of academic performance in early primary schooling (age 9). Measures include cognitive, motor, behavioural, and health indicators for children in the CHYLD study.

What we are looking for in a successful applicant


Experience in an education-related discipline. Examples include (but are not limited to) educational psychology, education, developmental psychology, psychometrics, and social science data analysis.

Demonstrated competence with multivariate statistical data analysis.





  • Measures of academic performance among 9-10 year olds were derived from the asTTle item bank. Curriculum strands were selected so as to align with executive function. What we want to know is whether asTTle sub-scores (i.e., surface, deep, and 3 to 4 curriculum strands) map onto EF as we had estimated. Are curriculum strands chosen for e-asTTle test sensitive to EF competence?


  • Is Executive function a mediator of educational outcomes. Are EF measures at 9y associated with educational outcomes? Is preschool EF a predictor of educational outcomes at 9y?


  • If EF is not a robust predictor of poor achievement, what are predictors of underachievement at school age. Children have been identified by test score and teacher ratings as at, below or above the expected at school. That categorical outcome may be determined using neural network analysis to identify factors (i.e., physical, cognitive, and social) that predict those outcomes. We would be interested in whether there are trajectories of children who got worse/better from age 2 through 4.5 years and into age 9-10.



Other information

This doctorate will be jointly supervised in EDSW and FMHS Liggins Institute.

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