Children in England ranked fourth globally for readingon May 16, 2023 at 11:29 am

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Some countries were not included in the main rankings table after delaying testing due to the Covid pandemic.

School children readingImage source, Getty Images

Primary school children in England have ranked fourth in the international rankings for reading.

The latest results in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study – known as Pirls – saw England’s rank jump from eighth to enter the top five.

Based on tests taken every five years, the study places countries in a global education league table.

The Pirls tests are taken by nine and 10-year-olds, normally Year 5 pupils in England, at the end of the school year.

Children in Northern Ireland also climbed from joint sixth five years ago to fifth in the table – but were not included in the main rankings this time.

The 2021 testing round assessed nearly 400,000 pupils in 57 countries.

But 14 of those – including Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – delayed testing to the start of the next school year because of disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.

This meant they were not included in the main rankings table because the children being tested were older than others in the study.

The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), which runs the study, decided to include England in the table – even though it pushed back testing until 2022 to avoid that disruption – because it tested the same age group as the other countries.

Singapore scored the highest result, with an average score of 587.

Second was Hong Kong with an average score of 573, followed by Russia (567) and England (558).

Wales and Scotland do not submit results to Pirls but Scotland is set to join the next cycle.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said England’s success was aided by government reforms, including a focus on phonics, which teaches children to read using sounds, and to teachers “putting reading at the heart of everything they do”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the “excellent results” were “a badly needed piece of good news for an education system that feels beleaguered”.

He said the success was testament to the “hard work, skill and dedication of primary school teachers and leaders”.

Schools minister Nick Gibb with two pupils reading at a school in Wakefield

Overall, girls were ahead of boys in their reading achievement in nearly all of the ranked countries, but the gender gap has narrowed in the most recent testing round.

The positive Pirls results came days after a Year 6 Sats reading paper, which some parents said was so hard it left children in tears.

Mr Gibb said the assessments had to “test a range of ability”, but said he would look at the paper because of the concerns.

Last year’s Sats results showed overall standards in reading, writing and maths had slipped among Year 6 pupils in England since the pandemic.

By 2030, the government wants 90% of children leaving primary school to reach the expected standards in reading, writing and maths.

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