Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland teens above world average for reading, maths and science

Education experts concerned at decline in science performance

Students aged 15 have been surveyed for the triennial PISA study (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Students aged 15 have been surveyed for the triennial PISA study (Gareth Fuller/PA)

By Eimear McGovern

Northern Ireland pupils are performing much better than the world average in reading, according to an influential report.

However, results are less impressive for maths and science.

The details were recorded in PISA tests — the Programme for International Student Assessment — run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In Northern Ireland 2,360 15-year-old pupils across 75 schools underwent the assessment between October 2018 and January this year.

The teenagers received an average score of 501 in reading, compared with an OECD average of 487. In maths and science, the performance was less impressive, but still above the global average. Pupils here scored 492 in maths and 491 in science. The OECD average for both is 489.

The UK as a whole is ranked 14th in the world in reading. The Republic of Ireland performed better and is ranked eighth in the world.

Girls outperformed boys in reading in Northern Ireland, with an average gender gap similar to the OECD average, but boys outperformed girls in maths.

Around six in 10 pupils in Northern Ireland said they did not read for enjoyment, compared to four in 10 across the OECD.

However, the study also found Northern Ireland pupils are less likely to read books or read for enjoyment than other pupils around the world. They are also more likely to feel sad, scared or worried and to feel that their life does not have a purpose.

Northern Ireland students performed better than their age group in Wales but lagged slightly behind those in England in reading, maths and science.

They performed slightly above Scotland in maths and science but below it in reading.

The tests have become the most influential rankings in international education and are recorded every three years, measuring education standards across the world.

They also take information from pupils and teachers on their attitudes towards education and their experience at school.

The results show Northern Ireland’s performance in science is largely unchanged from 2015 but has declined significantly since 2012, prompting calls for investigation.

National Foundation for Educational Research chief executive Carole Willis said: “The findings from PISA 2018 show that Northern Ireland has consolidated its world-class position in reading and its maths performance has remained stable.

“However, it is concerning that a downward trend in science has continued. Pupil wellbeing also comes through as an area of concern and should be considered as a possibility for future research.”

Principals in Northern Ireland reported working in poor or inadequate school buildings more often than their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

The PISA findings also showed socio-economic background has an impact on pupil attainment, but pupils here are relatively able to overcome any disadvantages arising from background.

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