What is the purpose of PIRLS?
The study aims to assess attainment in reading amongst pupils in countries world-wide. PIRLS provides the opportunity to compare attainment internationally and to learn from different countries’ experiences. PIRLS is not solely focused on reading attainment. It also collects information about characteristics of schools, teachers, pupils and their homes to examine the learning environment in which pupils learn and teachers teach. This information can be used to identify factors that influence academic attainment and pupils’ attitudes towards learning and to provide educational policymakers, school leaders, teachers and researchers with powerful insights in order to inform teaching and learning.

How were schools chosen to participate in PIRLS 2021?
PIRLS sets high participation targets in order to ensure that data is of good quality and that valid comparisons between countries can be made. Around 150 schools were randomly selected to represent Northern Ireland by the international team who run the study. The schools were then invited by NFER to participate. The international team also specified which of their Year 7 class(es) and pupils should participate. In total, a sample of 4050 pupils participated from 143 schools.

What was involved for schools in PIRLS 2021?

The study took place during the period 20 September to 22 October. The school session took around two and a half hours.

NFER supported schools throughout their participation with the aim of ensuring that the burden on schools was as low as possible. For instance, a trained NFER PIRLS administrator with teaching experience delivered the study in schools. Our administrators brought everything to the school and ran the session and all marking was done by NFER. In a small number of cases, schools had restrictions on visitors due to the pandemic. In these instances, a staff member delivered the session, with support from a study administrator before, during and after the session.

How did schools benefit from taking part in PIRLS 2021?

  • The opportunity for them to tell us about their school and to be a part of a study that informs policy making in Northern Ireland and around the world.
  • The opportunity for pupils to represent Northern Ireland in an important global study.
  • The chance to contribute to a study which can explore the implications of Covid-19 on education and learning world-wide.
  • Certificates to celebrate the participation of each pupil and school.
  • As a recognition of any additional organisation which may have to be done by schools, they received one day of teacher supply.
  • Schools received two feedback reports for taking part. The first, shared in May 2022, provided overall findings on the Covid-19 related questions from the school and teacher questionnaires. The second, shared after the publication of the national report, included information collected from the pupil questionnaire, for instance, on attitudes to reading.

What was involved for pupils in PIRLS 2021?
The study took place at school during normal school hours. Pupils were asked to complete one paper-based booklet containing reading texts and questions. There was no need for any special preparation or studying. Following the assessment, pupils were asked to complete a questionnaire containing questions on their background, attitudes towards school and experiences.

The contributions of pupils and teachers are what make PIRLS a success, and we are very grateful to all the pupils and teachers who took part – thank you! Pupil and teacher contributions are highly valued and of great importance to the Department of Education and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

Who carried out PIRLS in 2021?
PIRLS 2021 was delivered in Northern Ireland by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on behalf of the Department of Education. NFER also delivered the 2011 and 2016 PIRLS cycles in Northern Ireland.

PIRLS is coordinated internationally by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

How NFER looks after the data
NFER and the Department for Education take data protection very seriously and ensured the study complied with both the General Data Protection Regulation (2018) and the Data Protection Act (2018).

The Department of Education received the names of schools and pupils selected to take part in PIRLS to help with recruitment, the administration of the study, and for the purposes of matching to national data. However, they did not receive the feedback that is provided to schools, nor any school or pupil response data that allows individual schools’ or participants’ responses to be identified. The information collected has been used to compare how well pupils can read, around the world. No school, teacher or pupil is named or can be identified in any of the reports or any information which is published.

Please view the School privacy notice for further details about the information we collected and how we used it.

See FAQs for schools for more information.