Ireland’s year four pupils are the best in the European Union at reading, according to a major international ranking.
The 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), published on Tuesday (December 5), assessed the reading comprehension of 320,000 nine to 10 year olds in 50 countries around the world.
Students in Russia came out on top overall, followed by Singapore and Hong Kong.
Ireland, which came in fourth place overall, claimed the top position in the EU.
Finland, Poland and Northern Ireland were close behind, with approximately one-fifth of students in all four places reaching the ‘Advanced Benchmark’.
England was ranked joint eighth overall, alongside Norway and Taiwan, marking its best result to date and a dramatic improvement on its 2006 score, when it came 19th out of 45 countries.
In a statement, England’s School Standards Minister Nick Hibb said the results “put the success of our increased emphasis on phonics and continued focus on raising education standards on a global scale.”
“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,” he added.
Malta came last out of the EU countries assessed in the study, with an average score of 472, while South Africa scored the lowest on the overall list.
The study was first introduced in 2001 and is conducted every five years, using data from pupils, their parents, teachers and head teachers.
PIRLS says it aims to assess the achievements of young students at “an important transition point in their development as readers.”
Spain and England are among the countries to have seen a steady improvement in their results each time, while France and Portugal have recorded a drop in their overall score.
PIRLS noted that across all countries, children who achieved the best reading and comprehension scores had parents who liked to read to them, attended well-resourced schools where reading was prioritised, attended school regularly and were not tired or hungry at school.