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English pupils rise in international reading results

5th Dec 17

English ten-year-olds are now joint eighth in the world in reading as measured by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study results for 2016.

However, while the government has taken credit for the rise from joint tenth to the joint eighth placement in 2016 - and attributed the improvement to teaching reading using synthetic phonics - the biggest improvement in children's reading in England occurred before those changes took effect.

In the previous PIRLS study, English ten-year-olds rose from 19th place in reading in 2006 to joint tenth place in 2012 - a far more dramatic improvement, but one that occurred before the government's changes took place.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibbs has attributed the 2016 improvement to the government's decision to "require schools to use phonics to teach children to read" after 2010, and the introduction of the phonics screen test for six year olds.

Schools, though, were already using phonics to teach, and experts have warned against attributing the improvements in either year, 2012 or 2016, to any specific factor(s), without proper research into their effect.

The 2016 PIRLS tests, which were taken by more than 319,000 students, also showed a big improvement for Poland, which rose from 28th place in 2011 to 6th place in 2016, and for Norway, which rose from 31st place to 8th place.

The PIRLS tests are run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) in Amsterdam, and Boston College, USA.

Overall in the tests, fourth grade students in the Russian Federation and Singapore had the highest reading achievement on average, while Hong Kong SAR, Ireland, Finland, Poland, and Northern Ireland also performed very well. Girls scored higher than boys in 48 of the 50 countries.

Despite the success in reading tests for England, one in five 10-year-olds in England still does not like reading - a proportion that has remained the same since 2011. However, the percentage who like reading has risen from 26 per cent to 35 per cent, with the remaining children saying they 'somewhat' like reading.

In other findings in today's statistics, 92 per cent of students have a classroom library in England compared with 72 per cent on average across all countries, and 78 per cent of students in England have more than 50 books in their classroom library compared to 33 per cent on average internationally.

The results also found that 26 per cent of pupils in England have teachers who ask them to read digital texts at least once a week, compared with an international average of 19 per cent.

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