New report looks at Republic of Ireland’s reading policy to explain high PISA performance

Press Release

Thursday 20 May 2021

New research PISA 2018 Additional Analyses: Using PISA 2018 to inform policy: Learning from the Republic of Ireland by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) suggests that good links with the community, a stable policy environment and greater autonomy for schools, are some of the factors which contribute towards Republic of Ireland pupils having higher reading scores than UK countries.

The Republic of Ireland has a history of high reading scores in PISA, with analysis from the last study in 2018 showing that although the country has many cultural similarities to the four UK nations (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), 15-year-old pupils in the Republic of Ireland achieved higher scores for reading literacy.

NFER interviewed policy makers and education experts in the Republic of Ireland to develop an in-depth understanding of its policies, its history and to understand more about their perceptions on what impacts most on its higher performance in PISA reading. Comparing PISA results and policy history across the country and the four UK nations, the report draws out findings which provide potential lessons that could be applied more widely in the UK.

A long history of policy tackling disadvantage
The report highlights two major, long-term policy initiatives, Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS, 2005) and the National Strategy (2011), which policy experts identified as  instrumental in driving reading improvement in the Republic of Ireland and contributing to the historically strong levels of basic literacy over many years.

These integrated and complementary policies provide a wide range of interventions to address learning for disadvantaged pupils that are perceived to have impacted positively on reading and literacy. The policies also encompassed a wider set of structural changes to the way that teachers are trained and supported, from changes to teacher training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to the availability of services linking schools and their communities.

Successful policy implementation
Policy experts in the Republic of Ireland see a number of factors as being significant for the successful implementation of these policies. They state that the policies were designed to integrate, build upon and widen access to many previous policies targeting disadvantaged pupils. By ‘staying the course’ with policies that work and providing continuity, they felt this would enable gains among pupils to be consolidated and policies to become embedded in communities.

They stressed that policies were carefully developed through meaningful dialogue with stakeholders and focused on placing trust in schools to select the appropriate supports and interventions that make the most sense for their pupils, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Policies also focused on outreach to the local community and engaging with families with the goal of sharing, supporting and embedding good learning practices at home. Finally, by engaging with families and the local community, policy experts believe this further strengthens an already strong culture that values reading and education more widely, resulting in ‘a really strong thread of shared understanding’ that runs from policymaking, through schools and stakeholders, and into families and the local community.

Commenting on the report’s findings, lead author, Neal Hepworth, Research Manager, Centre for Assessment at NFER said:

“Building upon previous successful policy, creating links with the community and providing schools with greater autonomy and input in policy creation are successes which we, in the education community, can learn from. There will be wider factors which have contributed to the Republic of Ireland’s PISA performance and these wider factors, particularly the reform of teacher training, warrant further exploration.”