Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland primary schools pupils among top ten readers in the world

By Claire Williamson

Northern Ireland primary school pupils have been ranked sixth in the world for their reading performance in a major international assessment report.

The findings were revealed in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) which assessed 320,000 children in 50 countries.

Pupils in Northern Ireland were ranked in sixth place with Poland and ahead of them was Finland, Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Russia.

The PIRLS is an international assessment of student performance in reading literacy and is carried out every five years since 2001 for pupils aged 9-10.

Reading literacy is defined as the "ability to understand and use those written language forms required by society and/or valued by the individual. Readers can construct meaning from texts in a variety of forms. They read to learn, to participate in communities of readers in school and everyday life, and for enjoyment".

For Northern Ireland 134 primary schools took part in the study with their performance score reaching 565 which was up on the previous score of 558 in 2011.

There was an increase in the proportion of pupils working at more advanced levels with 22 percent of pupils reaching the Advanced International Benchmark in 2016 compared with 19 per cent in 2011 (the international average is 10%).

The study also found that children in Northern Ireland have a positive attitude towards reading and find their reading lessons engaging.

In Northern Ireland two-fifths of children reported having 'many resources' for learning at home. A higher proportion of children here reported having this (42 percent) compared with the international average (20percent.)

Teachers of pupils in Northern Ireland were more likely to report pupils' lack of sleep as limiting their teaching than their pupils' lack of nutrition (55 percent compared to 22 percent resptively.).

The proportion of pupils whose teachers reported lack of sleep as a limiting factor some or a lot of the time was slightly higher in Northern Ireland than internationally.

The study also reported that children in Northern Ireland attend schools with an environment that is conducive to learning and that have sufficient technological resources.

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

Chief Executive of NFER Carole Willis said: “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.”

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.”

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Karen Mullan congratulated schools, children and parents on the performances.

She said: "These fantastic results are a testament to the hard work of local schools, children and parents on excellence in reading and literacy."

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