Results from TIMSS 2011

In 2011 Northern Ireland participated in TIMSS for the first time. 136 schools took part in the survey. Irish-medium schools were offered the option to offer the TIMSS assessment to all of their pupils in Irish instead of English.

How were schools and pupils chosen to participate in TIMSS 2011?

  • Schools were randomly selected by an international team which runs the survey.
  • The international team also specified which class(es) and pupils should participate.
  • The sample was stratified by region and deprivation level.

What did pupils do?

  • Pupils answered questions on mathematics and science.
  • They also answered some questions on their background and on their attitudes and experiences.
  • The survey took place at their school, during normal school hours.
  • There was no need for any special preparation or studying.

The most important findings for Northern Ireland from TIMSS 2011 were:

Attainment in mathematics and science

  • Pupils in Northern Ireland performed very well in TIMSS 2011 mathematics, significantly outperforming 44 of the 50 participating countries.
  • The average score for science was lower than for mathematics, although still above the TIMSS science international average.
  • In Northern Ireland, there were no significant gender differences in attainment for either mathematics or science.
  • Almost a quarter of pupils in Northern Ireland reached the Advanced International Benchmark in mathematics, the sixth highest proportion internationally.
  • Only five per cent reached the Advanced International Benchmark for science.
  • For mathematics and science respectively, four per cent and six per cent of pupils failed to reach the Low International Benchmark.
  • In the mathematics content domains, pupils did significantly better on Number and less well on Data Display.
  • In the science content domains, pupils did better on Life Science and Physical Science, but less well on Earth Science.

Pupils’ engagement

  • In several cases, the highest-performing countries in mathematics or science had relatively low percentages of pupils who liked these subjects, were confident or engaged in mathematics and science lessons.
  • In Northern Ireland across science and mathematics, the pupils who liked learning mathematics and science and who were confident in these subjects were also the pupils with the highest average achievement scores.

School resources

  • In terms of teaching space, teaching materials and supplies, teachers in Northern Ireland rated their working conditions relatively highly compared with international averages.
  • For mathematics and science, Northern Ireland had among the highest levels of computer provision among all participating countries. The majority of Year 6 pupils in Northern Ireland attended schools in which a computer was available for every one or two pupils.

School learning environment

  • The vast majority of pupils in Northern Ireland attended schools which were categorised as safe and orderly (teacher reports) and had hardly any or minor problems of discipline and safety (principal reports). These factors appeared to relate to higher pupil attainment.
  • Just over half of pupils were taught by teachers who feel very well prepared to teach the TIMSS science topics. This was lower than the equivalent percentage for mathematics for this age group, where the vast majority of pupils were taught by teachers who feel very well prepared.

The curriculum and learning activities

  • Teaching time for mathematics was higher than the international average. However, for science, teaching time was lower than the international average.
  • A small proportion of Year 6 pupils were taught science by teachers who reported emphasising science investigation in at least half their lessons. This proportion is considerably below the international average.

Characteristics of pupils and their homes

  • Pupils with access to more home resources for learning had higher average achievement in mathematics and science.
  • The proportion of pupils whose teachers reported lack of sleep as a limiting factor was greater in Northern Ireland than the international average for all subjects.