Australian Journal of Education

Article Title

The big fish Down Under: Examining moderators of the ‘big-fish-little-pond’ effect for Australia’s high achievers


Big-fish-little-pond effect (BFLPE) research has demonstrated that academic self-concept is negatively affected by attending high-ability schools. This article examines data from large, representative samples of 15-year-olds from each Australian state, based on the three Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) databases that focus on different subject domains: reading (2000), mathemat­ics (2003) and science (2006). The overarching research question is whether the size or direction of the BFLPE is moderated by any of a total of 67 moderators (for example ability, study methods, motive, social constructs and Australian states) that were considered. The data showed consistent support for the BFLPE across all Australian states for all three databases. None of the constructs examined moder­ated the BFLPE and this finding was consistent across states. In conclusion, the BFLPE is remarkably robust in Australia and the study findings generalised well across Australian states and across all moderators investigated.