NI Pupils perform well in mathematics, reading and science in International Survey

Date published: 05 December 2023

A major international survey of educational achievement of 15-year-olds shows that young people in Northern Ireland continue to perform highly compared to young people in other education systems across the world.

PISA Results 2022
PISA Results 2022

The results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2022, which is co-ordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), reveal that pupils from Northern Ireland significantly outperformed 48 education systems in mathematics, 57 in reading and 49 in science.

Welcoming the findings of the survey, Department of Education Permanent Secretary Dr Mark Browne said:

“I welcome the latest PISA results for Northern Ireland. It is encouraging that in 2022 Northern Ireland continued to outperform the majority of education systems in each subject, as our pupils did in 2018.

"The findings from international assessments such as PISA provide essential insights on our own strengths and highlight opportunities to learn from approaches used in other high performing countries.”

Key findings for Northern Ireland include:

  • In comparison to other jurisdictions of the UK, results in Northern Ireland were significantly above that of Wales and not significantly different to that of Scotland. However Northern Ireland fell significantly below the average scores in England.
  • The performance of high achievers (the top 10%) has been maintained since 2018, although the performance of lower achievers (the bottom 10%) has deteriorated.
  • In Northern Ireland and on average across all OECD countries the score for science has not changed significantly since 2018. However, the scores for mathematics and reading have declined both in Northern Ireland and on average across OECD countries.
  • Pupils in Northern Ireland reported an average level of life satisfaction which was significantly lower than the OECD average.

Dr Browne continued:

I wish to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the 80 post primary schools who worked so hard to make this study happen at a time when the pandemic was most prevalent here. I place on record my sincere thanks to the school leaders, teachers, support staff and pupils who contributed to PISA 2022, providing the only international comparative achievement results collected during the pandemic for this cohort of pupils.  

"While these results show our post primary system to be a strong performer on the international stage, they also demonstrate we have more to do.  The study shows a significant gap between the average scores of the least disadvantaged quarter of pupils and the most disadvantaged – 81 points in mathematics, 77 in reading and 86 in science.  This is not an issue unique to Northern Ireland, indeed this attainment gap was not significantly higher here than on average across OECD countries.  However, we need to do more to reduce this differential in attainment. 

"Whilst the Department has invested in additional support for the most disadvantaged, the ongoing and significant constraints on our budget has a detrimental impact on the achievement of our children and young people. This important report highlights the need for sustained investment in education in Northern Ireland to match the rest of the UK."

The full national report for PISA can be found at:

Notes to editors: 

  1. The PISA study was carried out for the Department of Education by Pearson and the analysis and reporting undertaken by the University of Oxford Centre for Educational Assessment (OUCEA).
  2. PISA 2022 was undertaken four years after the previous cycle (2018) due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. It involved 81 education systems, including Northern Ireland.
  3. In Northern Ireland, 2,384 15-year-old pupils from 80 schools took part in PISA 2022.
  4. The number of schools and pupils who took part in PISA was impacted by the pandemic in Northern Ireland and across all countries to some extent. In addition, Action Short of Strike resulted in schools not agreeing to take and for some that did agree subsequently withdrawing before their pupils took the PISA test.
  5. In 13 education systems PISA’s Technical Standards were not met. This number includes the UK. Across the UK nations an analysis of pupils who took part suggested that their academic performance may be slightly higher than the population of all 15-year-old pupils they represent. However, the size of this potential increase in mean scores was not estimated by the OECD for Northern Ireland and Wales. It was estimated for England to be 7 – 8 score points and for Scotland 8 – 9 score points. However, it is important to note that in their report PISA 2022 Results (Volume 1) What Students in Know and Can Do (OECD: 2023) the OECD makes no adjustments to the scores in any education system in which PISA’s Technical Standards were not met, for any of the PISA subjects.
  6. Caution should still be used in making comparisons between Northern Ireland and other education systems and / or between subgroups of pupils Northern Ireland. Specifically in making comparisons of performance between the nations of the UK the likely impact of the potential increase in scores would be to improve the relative position of Wales compared to Northern Ireland and have less of an impact on the relative position England.
  7. At the time of writing data for Cyprus was not available for all subjects. In addition, the reading data for Vietnam was excluded from the analysis of reading performance by the OECD as a strong linkage to the international PISA reading scale could not be established.
  8. Pearson, in collaboration with Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment (OUCEA), were awarded the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2022 contract to operate as the National Centre for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Associate Professor Grace Grima, Director of Research at Pearson, was the National Programme Manager.
  9. Contact Oxford University Department of Education Communications Team for further information at
  10. Follow us on Twitter @Education_ni
  11. Media enquiries to the Department of Education Press Office at

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