Published on: 08 Dec 2017

20% of children from England claimed not to like reading at all; a figure higher than the international average of 16%.

England’s 10 year olds come in the world top 10 for reading

By Hilary Fine, Senior Publisher, GL Assessment

This week saw the publication of the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which tested over 300,000 10-year-olds from across the world.

England has been ranked 10th out of 50 countries in the study, and as there are only seven countries which had statistically significant higher scores, England could be considered as joint 8th, having moved up from 11th place in 2011. Northern Ireland is 7th and the top places were achieved by the Russian Federation and Singapore.

England achieved an average 559 points for reading achievement. This score was up from the 2011 average score of 552. The DfE had stated in 2015 that it would utilise international benchmarks such as PIRLS to measure the effectiveness of their policies and of the system. Nick Gibb has hailed the government’s primary school reforms, including the phonics programme,  as being responsible for the rise up the ranks, saying the ‘results put the success of our increased emphasis on phonics and continued focus on raising education standards on a global scale.’ The pupils participating in PIRLS will have been the first to undergo the phonics screening check in Year 1.

There have been congratulations to teachers and schools from many corners. Dame Alison Peacock of the Chartered College of Teaching congratulated our ‘brilliant early years and primary teachers’ and ASCL’s Geoff Barton praised the work of schools saying the PIRLS score demonstrated ‘the huge focus that schools have placed on the teaching of reading over the course of many years’.

The PIRLS framework is organised around two overarching purposes for reading – for literary experience, and to acquire and use information. As well as the assessments taken by 10 year olds, PIRLS includes school, teacher, and student questionnaires, and a survey completed by students’ parents or caregivers. As a result, we now have a wealth of information about the home, school, and classroom contexts in which students learn to read.

Some of the key points include:

  • There is an increase in the numbers of good readers internationally
  • Girls had higher average achievement than boys in 48 of the 50 PIRLS 2016 countries
  • A home environment that supports literacy learning is related to higher achievement in reading, however parental attitudes towards reading declined in 31 of the 50 countries
  • Those with an early start in literacy learning – engagement in literacy activities with parents and attendance at preschool – achieved higher reading scores
  • Lower achievement in reading was associated with hunger and absenteeism with 26 percent of the pupils reporting they were hungry every day and 15 percent said they were absent at least once every two weeks
  • High reading achievement was on average most evident in schools which are well-resourced and academically orientated
  • Literacy is a high priority in primary schools with over a third of the available time devoted to language instruction
  • Positive attitudes towards reading were associated with higher reading achievement
  • Those with high reading achievement had little difficulty conducting reading tasks online (this was measured by ePIRLS).

The PIRLS report, entitled ‘What makes a good reader’, also found that good readers have a positive attitude to reading – something that should not be a surprise.

The National Curriculum 2014 encourages reading for pleasure. While internationally 43% ‘like reading’ (a figure based partially on how much they choose to read outside school), in England it is only 35%. 20% of children from England claimed not to like reading at all; a figure higher than the international average of 16%.

The National Literacy Trust’s Read On Get On campaign, the goal of which is getting all children reading well by the end of primary school by 2025, emphasises that ‘the vital importance of teaching phonics and comprehension in schools needs to be complemented by approaches that help every child to engage with and develop a love of reading’.

2016 also saw the debut of the ePIRLS assessment of online reading. While England was not one of the countries who took part in ePIRLS, the results see Singapore, who scored second highest in PIRLS, achieve the highest scores for ePIRLS. If you are curious about what children who took the ePIRLS were asked to do, you can take the two ePIRLS tasks for yourself.