Key findings from PIRLS 2021 in Northern Ireland


16 May 2023

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an independent worldwide research study, taking place every five years and providing data about trends in reading literacy over time. It assesses the knowledge and skills of pupils aged 9–10 in 57 countries. PIRLS 2021 updates the picture of performance from 2016 and this key insights briefing summarises the key findings from the study in Northern Ireland, which was administered by NFER on behalf of the Department of Education.

Due to the school disruptions and closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, PIRLS 2021 data collection extended over 22 months. Pupils in Northern Ireland were at the beginning of Year 7, as opposed to the end of Year 6 as for many other countries and, on average, four to five months older in PIRLS 2021 compared to previous cycles. The change in timing introduced additional factors that may affect overall attainment.

Key Findings

  • Pupils in Northern Ireland continue to perform very well in PIRLS 2021. They significantly outperformed those in 52 of the other 56 participating countries and were significantly outperformed by pupils in just two, Singapore and the Republic of Ireland.
  • Girls’ reading scores were significantly higher than those of boys in Northern Ireland. This was the case in 51 of the 57 PIRLS countries. In 2021, Northern Ireland had a gender gap of 24 score points. A steady increase in girls’ attainment over time has resulted in a widening of the gender gap.
  • Socio-economically disadvantaged pupils had, on average, lower attainment than their non-disadvantaged peers. This was true when looking at free school meal eligibility and the international measures of socio-economic status.
  • Pupils in Northern Ireland appeared more confident in reading than the international average but liked reading less.

The full report for PIRLS 2021 in Northern Ireland can be found here.

Sponsor Details

Department of Education