Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is PIRLS?

A: PIRLS is the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. It is run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and is taken by pupils aged 9-10 worldwide.

Q: What does PIRLS assess?

A: PIRLS assesses the reading achievement of pupils. It focuses on two main purposes for reading: reading for literacy experience and reading to acquire and use information.

The item formats comprise multiple choice and open-ended questions

The information collected is used to compare pupils’ knowledge and skills in reading around the world.

Q: What is PIRLS used for?

A: The PIRLS assessment is designed to be used in any country. This means comparisons can be made across countries in order to compare the performance of education systems. It also allows comparisons to be made within countries over time. When the results from PIRLS 2021 are available, Northern Ireland will be able to compare its performance with other participating countries as well as comparing it with the results from 2016 and 2011.

Q: How are schools and pupils chosen to participate in PIRLS 2021?

A: From a list of all the schools in Northern Ireland, international researchers use a computer program to choose a representative group of schools to take part in the study. Selected schools will then need to provide a list of Year 6 classes within their school. If there is only one year 6 class, they will be the participating class. If there is more than one Year 6 class then up to three classes will be randomly selected. For small schools all pupils in Year 6 may be selected.

Q: How will PIRLS 2021 be adapted to deal with COVID-19?

A: We will support your school throughout the PIRLS 2021 process, by strictly following the latest Government guidance and any local measures in place during the assessment period, endeavouring to accommodate your school’s preferences for administering the assessment.

Additionally, the school and parent questionnaires both include questions on Covid-19. Answers to these questions will help to explore the impact of Covid-19 on education world-wide.

Q: What do participating schools need to do?

A: NFER will support schools throughout their participation to ensure that PIRLS is a rewarding experience for teachers and pupils. We will arrange a convenient date for the PIRLS study. The team at NFER and the NFER PIRLS study administrator will work closely with the school to ensure that the study runs smoothly and adheres to the latest Government Covid-19 guidance and any local measures in place at your school.

In addition, the Principal and one teacher from the sampled Year 6 class(es) will be asked to complete a questionnaire, collecting information about their background and experiences.

Q: Why is it important for schools to take part?

A: In order for the results to be meaningful, it is important that the schools that take part are representative of the country as a whole. That is why we are very keen that invited schools agree to take part. There are strict requirements about the numbers of schools that participate in the study, and if these requirements are not met, the data that is collected will not be considered good enough to appear in the international report. We will work with participating schools to make sure delivery runs as smoothly as possible.

Q: Is my school’s data confidential?

A: The information collected will be provided in de-identified form to the international study organisers. For recruitment and administration purposes, the Department of Education will receive the names of the selected schools and participating pupils. However, your school feedback and individually identifiable response data for your school or pupils will not be shared with the Department or any other organisation. The Department of Education receives de-identified information on the outcomes for international comparison and research purposes.

The final data that will be available on the IEA website will be anonymised so that no school, class or pupil can be identified. The Department of Education may permit other organisations to link PIRLS data to existing national datasets for the purposes of research only. All data processing will be GDPR compliant (see PIRLS 2021 School privacy notice).

Q: Why is it important for pupils to take part?

A: Schools and classes are randomly selected. This random selection means the pupils chosen will, therefore, give a fair representation of all pupils in Northern Ireland and this is important for an international study such as PIRLS. If an invited pupil does not take part, they cannot be replaced by another pupil from another class. There are strict rules about the number of schools, classes and pupils who take part in the study, and if these are not met then the data collected will not be considered good enough to appear in the international report.

This is an opportunity for pupils to represent Northern Ireland in an important global study and the chance to contribute to a study which will begin to explore the impact of Covid-19 on education world-wide.

Q: Are there sample materials from previous cycles?

A: There are sample questions available from earlier rounds of PIRLS. These give a good idea about the type of questions that appear in the assessments.

Q: What happens in schools on the day of the PIRLS assessment?

A: Usually, on the day of the PIRLS assessment, a study administrator will lead the sessions in schools. The study administrator will read some instructions and answer any questions. Pupils complete one paper-based booklet containing reading texts and questions. Afterwards, pupils complete a questionnaire about their learning and their attitudes to school. The whole session will last around two and a half hours.

We will work closely with you to ensure the administration adheres to Government guidance and any local measures your school may have in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic during the study.

Q: Who marks the tests?

A: All answers will be marked by staff at NFER. All markers will be trained according to strict international rules to make sure each country marks their pupils' answers in the same way.

Q: What languages will the assessments and questionnaires be available in?

A: Assessments and questionnaires for Northern Ireland pupils will be in English.

Q: How can the same assessment be taken in different languages across the world?

A: There are strict procedures for the translation of texts and materials used in PIRLS. Any changes that are made by countries to the assessment materials have to be verified by the international researchers to ensure that the same text is interpreted in the same way, using questions and terminology worded in the same way.

Q: What if a pupil does not want to answer a particular question?

A: Pupils are encouraged to do their best when answering the assessment questions so that they can show their true ability. For the questions in the questionnaire, pupils are encouraged to be honest (answers are provided in confidence). However, pupils do not have to answer any questions that they do not want to.

Q: How will PIRLS 2021 be adapted to deal with COVID-19?

A: We will support your school throughout the PIRLS 2021 process, by strictly following the latest Government guidance and any local measures in place during the assessment period, endeavouring to accommodate your school’s preferences for administering the assessment.

Additionally, the school and parent questionnaires both include questions on Covid-19. Participating in PIRLS gives your school a chance to contribute to a study which will begin to explore the impact of Covid-19 on education world-wide.

Q: Why is it important for pupils to take part?

A: Schools and classes are randomly selected. This random selection means the pupils chosen will, therefore, give a fair representation of all pupils in Northern Ireland and this is important for an international study such as PIRLS. If an invited pupil does not take part, they cannot be replaced by another pupil from another class. There are strict rules about the number of schools, classes and pupils who take part in the study, and if these are not met, the data collected will not be considered good enough to appear in the international report.

Q: Are there sample materials from previous cycles available?

A: There are sample questions available from earlier rounds of PIRLS. These give a good idea about the type of questions that appear in the assessments.

Q: How long will it take?

A: The whole session will last around two and a half hours and will be administered during normal school hours.

Q: What if a pupil does not want to answer a particular question?

A: Pupils are encouraged to do their best when answering the assessment questions so that they can show their true ability. For the questions in the questionnaire, pupils are encouraged to be honest (answers are provided in confidence). However, pupils do not have to answer any questions that they do not want to.

Q: Is the data confidential?

A: We take privacy and confidentiality very seriously and no individual pupil or parent will be identified or identifiable in any reporting. The information collected will be provided in de-identified form to the international study organisers. No identifiable pupil or parent data will be shared with any third party organisations.

The final data that will be available on the IEA website will be anonymised so that no school or pupil can be identified. The Department of Education may permit other organisations to link PIRLS data to existing national datasets for the purposes of research only. All data processing will be GDPR compliant (see PIRLS 2021 Parent and Pupil notices).

Q: How will PIRLS 2021 be adapted to deal with COVID-19?

A: We will support your child’s school throughout the PIRLS 2021 process, by strictly following the latest Government guidance and any local measures in place during the assessment period, endeavouring to accommodate the school’s preferences for administering the assessment.

Additionally, the school and parent questionnaires both include questions on Covid-19. Answers to these questions will help to explore the impact of Covid-19 on education world-wide.