Pirls rankings: England's primary pupils rise to joint 8th in world at reading

England's 10-year-olds climb the Pirls reading rankings as Russia takes the top spot

Helen Ward

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England’s 10-year-olds are joint 8th in the world at reading, new rankings out today reveal.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) shows that England has risen from 11th place in 2011 to 10th place in 2016, but pupils' performance is not statistically significantly different from those in Norway and Taiwan - meaning it can be considered in joint 8th place.

Russia was ranked in the top spot out of 50 countries that took part. Singapore was second, and Hong Kong was third.

The tests, which were taken by more than 319,000 students, also revealed dramatic rises for Poland – up from 28th place in 2011 to 6th place this year – and for Norway, which has risen from 31st place to 8th place.

The tests are run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) in Amsterdam, and Boston College, USA.

They show England’s 10-year-olds doing relatively better than the 15-year-olds who take the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In the latest round of Pisa published last year, England came 22nd in the world.

But despite the success in reading tests, one in five 10-year-olds in England does not like reading – a proportion that has remained steady since 2011. 

The phonics check, which is taken at the end of Year 1, was introduced in 2012 – meaning that the children taking the Pirls reading tests last year were the first children to have taken the phonics check.

“Today’s results put the success of our increased emphasis on phonics and continued focus on raising education standards on a global scale,” Nick Gibb, school standards minister, said.

“Thanks to the hard work of teachers across the country, 154,000 more six-year-olds are reading better than ever before – this is fundamental to our ambition of helping every child fulfil their potential.”

On the rise

One in five English 10-year-olds reached the Pirls “advanced” benchmark in 2016, meaning they could find significant actions and details embedded in the story. This is an increase from 18 per cent in 2011.

The proportion of English 10-year-olds who did not reach the “low” benchmark, meaning they cannot find explicitly-stated information in a story, fell from 5 per cent in 2011 to 3 per cent in 2016.

England’s average score in the tests rose slightly from 552 in 2011 to 559 in the latest round of tests. Russian 10-year-olds scored an average of 581 in 2016.

Mr Gibb added: “Our rise through the global rankings is even more commendable because it has been driven by an increase in the number of low-performing pupils reading well. This demonstrates our determination to ensure this is a country that works for everyone, regardless of background.”

There has been no change in the proportion of English 10-year-olds who do not like reading in the last five years, but the percentage who like reading has risen from 26 per cent to 35 per cent, with the remaining children saying they “somewhat” like reading.

The statistics out today also revealed that:

  • 92 per cent of students have a classroom library in England compared with 72 per cent on average across all countries, and 78 per cent of students in England have more than 50 books in their classroom library compared to 33 per cent on average internationally.
  • 26 per cent of pupils in England have teachers who ask them to read digital texts at least once a week, compared with an international average of 19 per cent
  • 40 per cent of pupils are asked by teachers to look up information on a computer at least once a week, compared with an international average of 25 per cent.
  • 52 per cent of pupils in England say they are almost never bullied but 15 per cent say they are bullied about weekly. This is similar to the international average of 14 per cent.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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