Primary schools in Northern Ireland continue to rank among the best in the world in reading

Date published: 05 December 2017

A major international survey of pupil achievement in reading shows that Northern Ireland pupils aged 9 -10 are amongst the best readers in the world.

News Update

Data from the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) published today reveals that children in only two of the 50 countries, Singapore and Russia, performed better than local pupils in the international reading study.

The PIRLS study was carried out in Northern Ireland by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) for the Department of Education during 2016.

Department of Education Permanent Secretary, Derek Baker said:

“The PIRLS report highlights that our primary schools continue to perform strongly in reading. This follows the publication last year of another international report into trends in maths and science with local pupils once again achieving a very high standard in these subjects.

“I am very pleased to note that primary school children are very positive about reading and enjoy their lessons. Helping our children to succeed is why we educate our children and I pay credit to all those teachers and principals who work so hard to make this happen. Parents and guardians also play a critical role in helping to develop their children from an early age by reading to them and supporting them with their school work. Results from these reports also show that primary schools have highly qualified principals and teachers with the majority stating they were very satisfied with their job.”

The overall average PIRLS score for Northern Ireland’s pupils remained stable between 2011 and 2016. However, there was an increase in the proportion of pupils working at more advanced levels with 22 per cent of pupils reaching the Advanced International Benchmark in 2016 compared with 19 per cent in 2011 (the international average is 10%).

The study also revealed that:

  • Children in Northern Ireland have a positive attitude towards reading and find their reading lessons engaging. 
  • Primary schools in Northern Ireland have highly qualified principals and the majority of teachers reported that they were very satisfied with their job. 
  • Principals and teachers in Northern Ireland reported some of the highest levels of emphasis on academic success of any participating nation. 

The PIRLS study confirms what was reported in the Trends in International Maths and Science Study 2015 (TIMSS) - that most children in Northern Ireland attend schools with an environment that is conducive to learning and that have sufficient technological resources. Schools have few disciplinary problems and are safe and orderly places of learning, where pupils report relatively low levels of bullying. These positive aspects of the school learning environment have remained unchanged since the last PIRLS study in 2011.

Carole Willis, Chief Executive of NFER commented:

“PIRLS provides a valuable and rigorous way for nations to benchmark their pupils’ reading literacy, which NFER has helped to deliver since the first study in 2001. It is good to see that Northern Ireland has continued to perform well in this latest 2016 round, and the insights the study provides will help policymakers and schools to build on their strengths and address areas where performance could be improved even further.”

The full national report for PIRLS can be found at the NFER website.

Notes to editors: 

  1. PIRLS 2016 is the fourth in the IEA’s series of comparative international surveys on reading achievement. It has been administered on a five-yearly cycle since 2001 and reports on the achievement of Year 6 pupils (aged 9-10). Northern Ireland participated for the second time in 2016 having taken part first in 2011.
  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 not-for-profit organisation 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 purpose.
  3. Website
  4. Twitter @TheNFER
  5. Contact Jane Parrack, Head of Marketing Communications at NFER on: 01753 637245; email: for further information.
  6. Media enquiries to the Department of Education Press Office Tel: 028 9127 9207. Out of office hours, contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07623 974 383, and your call will be returned.

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