N. Ireland and England in school top 10 Image copyright Alamy Image caption
Almost 320,000 pupils took the tests, with girls ahead in almost every country
Northern Ireland and England are in the top 10 of the world's best primary
school readers in global rankings.
The Progress in International Reading
Literacy Study - known as PIRLS - shows Northern Ireland in joint sixth place,
with England in joint eighth.
Both Northern Ireland and England have reached
their highest point scores in reading tests taken in 50 countries.
takes the top place - the first time it has headed an international education
Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, praised
the work of schools in England and Northern Ireland and said the results
reflected "the huge focus that schools have placed on the teaching of reading
over the course of many years".
The tests taken
by almost 320,000 10-year-olds around the world, show Northern Ireland's pupils
as among the highest achievers, ranked joint sixth with Poland.
puts them only marginally behind long-standing high achievers such as
Image caption Pupils in Northern Ireland have almost caught up with
Finland in international tests
With the Northern Ireland assembly still
suspended, there is no current education minister, but Northern Ireland's
education department pointed to the success of a "Count, Read: Succeed" strategy
introduced in 2011 with targets to improve literacy and numeracy.
no Sats tests for 11-year-olds in Northern Ireland, but pupils in the last year
of primary can take transfer tests for grammar schools. It's also a system in
which many places are allocated on the basis of religious faith.
Foundation for Educational Research, which administered the tests in Northern
Ireland, says families and local communities seemed to put a "high value on
Senior research manager Juliet Sizmur said the
international comparison suggested that reading was particularly valued in
England was ranked joint eighth, alongside Norway and
Taiwan, and England's school standards minister Nick Gibb hailed the positive
impact of the phonics system of learning to read.
"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," said Mr
This is a much higher ranking than in the international Pisa tests for
secondary school pupils, run by the OECD, in which England is not in the top 20
for reading or maths.
Scotland and Wales did not take part in these latest
The Republic of Ireland is second only to Russia among European
Top 10 for primary reading
4. Republic of Ireland
Comparisons with the last
rankings from five years ago depend on which measures are used, says the
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA),
which runs the PIRLS tests with Boston College in the US.
Netherlands-based IEA says that this year England is 10th, but because "there is
no statistical significant difference" with two countries above, they are
effectively joint eighth.
Five years ago, the IEA says England was ranked
11th, but as there was no statistical significant difference with US, Denmark,
Croatia, Chinese Taipei, and Ireland this "could be interpreted as a joint sixth
Girls ahead of boys
The IEA's executive director, Dirk Hastedt,
says that Russia's success reflects a series of education reforms and a "lot of
emphasis on academic excellence" and much more rigour over standards.
Hastedt says such tests reveal international trends in education.
ahead of boys in almost every country taking the tests, says Dr Hastedt.
says there are increasing numbers of children in pre-school education - and this
seems to be linked to higher performance.
Image copyright Getty Images Image
caption Pupils in Russia were the highest achieving in this global test
There are also signs that parents are more likely to get involved in helping
their children's learning.
The national comparisons are based on
representative samples of pupils, designed by researchers to reflect different
regions and types of school.
In England, there were about 5,000 pupils taking
the tests last year, drawn from 170 schools. In Russia, the sample was based on
about 4,600 pupils in 206 schools.
Most of the pupils taking the tests were
aged about 10 - but there were differences depending on the sample.
and Finland, the average of those taking the tests was 10.8 years, a year older
than the average age of those taking the test in Italy and France.
Martin, executive director of the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center at
Boston College, says that this year's results showed the importance of early
years education and parental interest.
"Children whose parents had engaged
them in literacy activities - reading books or playing word games - from an
early age are better equipped with basic reading skills when they begin primary
schools and go on to have higher reading achievements," said Prof