Irish children prove the best in Europe at reading

Irish children are the best in Europe at reading, thanks to major improvements among fourth-class pupils in the last five years.

Results of tests in 50 countries last year further vindicate an increased focus on literacy that has seen most primary teachers undergo specific training to target improvements in this area.

Only children in Russia and Singapore scored significantly better than the 4,607 Irish fourth-class pupils tested at 148 primary schools in April 2016 for the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.

In the online reading test called ePIRLS, Ireland’s scores were only bettered by those of pupils in Singapore. Irish and Norwegian children did significantly better than those in the 11 other countries.

The children taking part here started primary education at the same time as the Department of Education’s literacy and numeracy strategy began to be implemented in the country’s 4,000 primary and second-level schools.

While nearly half of the 41 countries that also took part in the international study in 2011 recorded higher average scores this time around, the improvement in Ireland was among the biggest.

The average Irish pupil’s score increased by 15 points to 567, the latest data shows.

This average score puts Ireland in what the Educational Research Centre in Dublin, which carried out the testing here, described as a “statistical dead heat” with Northern Ireland, Poland, Finland and Hong Kong.

They had scores in a range from 565 to 569 but all 43 remaining countries got significantly lower average scores than our pupils.

As well as being Europe’s best, Irish pupils’ average score beat all other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

More than one in five passed an “advanced” reading mark of 625 points or higher, compared to just 10% average elsewhere, and up from 16% in the 2011 international study. The 62% of high-scoring Irish pupils (scoring 550 or more) is up from 53% in five years, and compares to 47% internationally this time.

Although their numbers are marginal, the 2% of Irish children who failed to reach the lowest score benchmark of 400 is half the international average.

“There was a huge improvement at the top end of the scale. But throughout the entire spectrum of achievement, we’ve gone up in all elements,” said the Educational Research Centre’s lead researcher Eemer Eivers.

Education Minister Richard Bruton paid tribute to principals and teachers for the improvements, which he said are consistent with findings in other national and international reports.

The reforms introduced since 2011 include changes to how literacy is taught in pre-service training for teachers. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said unequal pay for those entering the profession since then is fuelling emigration and teacher shortages.

Asked if the role of new teachers in the improvements justifies union claims for equal pay, Mr Bruton told the Irish Examiner the matter is being dealt in ongoing talks about recent entrants’ pay in the wider public service and that good progress is being made.

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