Press release

11 December 2012

Schools in Northern Ireland rank among the best in the world, says report

Analysis of two major international surveys of pupil achievement by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) for the Department of Education Northern Ireland shows that pupils aged 9 -10 in Northern Ireland (NI) performed very well in both reading and maths with science lower but still above the international average.

Data from the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) reveals that NI was outperformed in reading by only four of the 45 countries taking part in PIRLS and in mathematics by only five of the 50 countries taking part in the mathematics assessments.

NI took part in PIRLS and TIMSS for the first time in the 2011 cycle of both surveys. Principals and teachers in NI reported the highest levels of emphasis on academic success out of all the countries involved in the survey.

In addition schools in NI would appear to be providing an effective learning environment with strong parental support for pupil achievement; teachers reporting that schools are safe and orderly places of learning; and pupils reporting relatively low levels of bullying.

Dr Newman Burdett, Head of Centre for International Comparisons at NFER, said: “The results from TIMSS and PIRLS show that NI ranks highly in terms of academic achievement, but education is more than just ranks of achievement. The data also helps us understand how NI achieves academic success and helps policymakers, principals and teachers focus on how to improve and continue to deliver the best learning for NI’s young people.

“NFER’s expertise in handling data of this volume and complexity, as well as our close relationship with and understanding of schools, means we are perfectly placed to offer deeper insights into what the results from these surveys mean for pupils and practitioners – and what those results tell us, among other things, is that NI produces excellent results at primary level.”

The full national reports for TIMSS and PIRLS can be found at


Contact information:
Sarah Fleming, NFER Media & Communications Officer: 01753 637155;
Jane Parrack, NFER Marketing & Communications Manager: 01753 637245;

Note to editors:
TIMSS 2011 is the fifth in the IEA ’s series of comparative international surveys on maths and science achievement. It has been administered on a four-yearly cycle since 1995 and reports on the achievement of Year 5 and Year 9 pupils (9-10 and 13-14 year old respectively). Northern Ireland participated only at the younger age range.
PIRLS 2011 is the third in the IEA’s series of comparative international surveys of reading achievement of fourth grade (Year 6) pupils. It is administered on a five-yearly cycle, and was first run in 2001.

About NFER
The NFER is the UK’s largest independent provider of research, assessment and information services for education, training and children’s services.