Nine and 10-year-olds in England have been ranked fourth in a major international literacy study comparing the reading abilities of children of the same age in 43 different countries, up from joint eighth last time they were assessed .
The results saw English students jump in the rankings in high-performing countries such as Finland and Poland, while students in Singapore topped the league table, followed by Hong Kong in second and Russia in third.
Despite ranking improvements, England’s score in Progress in International Reading remains almost unchanged since the last round of assessment literacy study (girls), which took place in 2016, its average is actually falling marginally from 559 to 558.
However, other countries saw their scores decline significantly during the period that saw widespread disruption to education due to the COVID pandemic. Of the 43 countries testing pupils of the same age in Pirles 2021, only 11 managed to avoid significant declines, including England.
Finland’s score fell from 566 to 549 in 2016, while Poland’s score fell from 565 to 549, still above the international average of 520 and the European average of 524. At the top of the table, Singapore achieved an average score of 587, Hong Kong 573 and Russia 567.
Tuesday’s results were welcomed by Rishi Sunak, who said: “Raising the literacy rate is at the heart of our plan to grow the economy, one of my top five priorities, which is why England has been ranked fourth in the international ranking for reading But it’s great to see.”
The government also highlighted a narrowing in the attainment gap between the highest and lowest performing pupils and between boys and girls, although this appeared to be mainly due to a slight decline in the average marks of girls. The Prime Minister said, “While there is always more progress to be made, students and teachers across the country should be incredibly proud of this achievement today.”
Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said England’s success follows the introduction of phonetic tests in 2012 and the English Hub program in 2018, a scheme designed to develop expertise in the teaching of reading in schools.
Asked about the decline in girls’ reading scores, Gibb said it was minimal. In England, the average score for girls was 562, while the average score for boys was 553, compared to 566 for girls and 551 for boys in 2016.
Dr Dirk Hasted, executive director of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), which administers the Pills, said the latest results show England’s improved performance in reading since 2006.
“Overall, we have to acknowledge that teachers in England have clearly done a good job despite Covid,” Hasted said. “They were able to teach students so that they join countries without any harm. This is a significant achievement, so we can certainly congratulate teachers and schools for the wonderful work they have done during COVID-19 Are.”
John Andrews, head of analysis at the Education Policy Institute, said: “Today’s Pearls results resonate with our own findings that reading outcomes have returned to their pre-pandemic levels. However, our analysis also shows that in math, primary school students are nearly a month and a half behind pre-pandemic norms in their learning.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This is a badly needed piece of good news for an education system that feels troubled. The excellent results are testimony to the hard work, skill and dedication of the primary school teachers and leaders.