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Irish secondary school pupils ranked fifth at reading in global study

Irish secondary school pupils are among the best at reading, an international study on academic standards has found.

But concerns have been raised about a slip in scores for science in the last three years.

The marks were awarded by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which ranked 15-year-olds in Ireland fifth best for reading out of 70 countries worldwide and second in the European Union.

In science they scored 19th out of all the nations in the study and sixth in the EU while in maths they were 18th overall and ninth in Europe.

The research also showed girls performing better than boys in reading and boys performing better than girls in mathematics and science.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said improvements were needed in maths and science.

"We also need to reduce the gaps in gender performance in all areas, and also improve the performance of our higher achievers and address higher order thinking. I am encouraged by the good progress made by lower achieving students in terms of improving their performance," he said.

The triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that the gap between girls and boys in reading is narrowing but boys are continuing to stretch the gap from girls on mathematics and science scores.

The report warned that computer-based testing may be a factor, with some girls maybe less confident or less experienced in these examinations or it may also relate to the types of thinking elicited by the new testing, including virtual experiments for science.

In 2015, 167 schools in Ireland took part in the PISA tests and results from 5,741 pupils were examined.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) said the findings endorsed the high quality work of Irish teachers and students at a time of hugely damaging cuts to education. In all three areas which were examined, the scores of Irish students were significantly above the OECD average.

Spokesman David Duffy said: "TUI endorses the policy recommendation for additional resources, targeted to students or schools with the greatest needs. Investment in education pays a huge dividend and makes compelling educational, social and economic sense.

"Today's findings further endorse the achievements of Irish students and teachers, but their commitment must be better supported through increased, progressive Government investment in education."

The report coincides with a long-running dispute between the Association of Secondary Teachers' of Ireland and the Government over reform of the junior cycle curriculum in secondary schools.

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