Northern Ireland pupils among the best in the world in maths

Date published: 08 December 2020

Primary pupils in Northern Ireland are performing very well in maths and science.

This is according to a major study of 330,000 pupils in 58 countries carried out in Northern Ireland by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

Results from the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) reveal that pupils from Northern Ireland outperformed their European counterparts in the mathematics assessment. Only five of the 58 international countries taking part in mathematics outperformed Northern Ireland. Achievement in science also remained above the international average.

Education Minister Peter Weir said: “I believe we have a truly world class primary education system and TIMSS shows this this is particularly true for maths. The TIMSS results show that our primary pupils, both girls and boys, are the highest performing in Europe in maths and have maintained a strong performance in science. It is encouraging that pupils in only five countries, outperformed pupils here in maths and that three fewer countries outperformed us in science compared to 2015 when TIMSS last took place.

“I would like to congratulate our primary school staff and pupils on their fantastic performance in the study. We are among the best performers in the world in maths, which is an outstanding achievement and reflects our key emphasis on numeracy and literacy throughout the primary curriculum.

"The report highlights our highly qualified school workforce. Most primary pupils are taught maths and science by teachers who have a degree and attend schools where the principal has a postgraduate degree.”

Continuing the Minister said he welcomed the study findings, which show a positive school learning environment.

He said: The school learning environment in Northern Ireland compares very well internationally.  Children here are taught in a school environment that is conducive to learning with a high emphasis on academic success.”

The full national reports for TIMSS can be found at:

Notes to editors: 

  1. TIMSS 2019 is the seventh in the IEA’s series of comparative international surveys on mathematics and science achievement. It has been administered on a four-yearly cycle since 1995 and reports on the achievement of Year 6 and Year 10 pupils (9-10 and 13-14 year old respectively). Northern Ireland participated only at the younger age range. TIMSS 2019 provides a 20-year trend measure for countries that participated in the first TIMSS assessments in 1995.
  2. NFER is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. We are a charity and our robust and innovative research, assessments and other services are widely known and used by key decision-makers. Any surplus generated is reinvested in projects to support our charitable @TheNFER
  3. Contact Julia Thompson, NFER Communications Manager: 01753 637 240; for further information.
  4. Follow us on Twitter @Education_ni
  5. Media enquiries to the Department of Education Press Office at:
  6. The Executive Information Service operates an out-of-hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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