European countries score well in international reading rankings - report

Children learning to read as PIRLS results are released
Children learning to read as PIRLS results are released Copyright Copyright 2023 The AP
Copyright Copyright 2023 The AP
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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The PIRLS report found that England, Finland and Poland achieved particularly high scores in the reading tests, despite international disruption due to Covid.


The latest international rankings for reading levels among 9 and 10 year olds have been released - and England, Finland and Poland are among the top scorers.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study - known as PIRLS - was undertaken in 2021 and assessed nearly 400,000 pupils in 57 countries.

The study was hampered by Covid-19, however, with 14 of the participating countries - including Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - forced to delay testing due to disruption caused by the pandemic, meaning the students who were assessed were older than the average.

Children in England ranked fourth in the international rankings for reading, seeing their rank jump from eighth in the 2016 study to enter the top five.

The British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, applauded the results, saying, “Driving up literacy rates is central to our plan to grow the economy, one of my five key priorities, so it’s great to see England move up to fourth in the international rankings for reading”.

Copyright 2023 The AP
All about the economy - Rishi Sunak has praised England's schoolchildren for the impressive resultsCopyright 2023 The AP

The PIRLS tests are typically taken every five years and, while Finland and Poland’s results both showed drops - from 566 to 549 and 565 to 549 respectively - since the 2016 ranking, they were still both well above the international average of 520 - as well as the European average of 524.

Singapore topped the list with an average score of 587 and was closely followed by Hong Kong, with 573, and Russia with 567.

In Europe, Sweden, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic also did well, but the worst performers on the continent were Belgium, which achieved just 494 for French speakers and 511 for Flemish speakers, Cyprus with a score of 511 and France with 514.

Copyright 2023 The AP
The gender gap has slightly closed, according to the PIRLS resultsCopyright 2023 The AP

Commenting on the 14 countries which delivered results from older children, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), which runs the study, explained that direct comparisons must be made "with great care". It added that England, which pushed back testing until 2022 to avoid negative effects of Covid, could be reliably compared with other countries as they tested the same age group.

As has been the case for years, girls came out ahead of boys in almost all of the ranked countries, but results show the gender gap has been slightly narrowed since the last round of testing.

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