England’s students have significantly improved their average reading performance over the past decade, new Oxford University research reveals.
Now in its fourth cycle, the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) assessed more than 300,000 10-year-olds, across 50 countries, to build an internationally comparative picture of reading literacy.
The PIRLS 2016 research was conducted in England by the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment (OUCEA), in collaboration with Pearson and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).
Earlier this week, Dr Joshua McGrane, research fellow in the OUCEA and primary author of the PIRLS 2016 National Report for England, launched the report at an event in the British Library along with England’s Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb.
The findings show a distinct improvement in the average reading performance of England’s students, compared to previous cycles, with them climbing from 10th position in 2011 to joint-eighth in 2016. The results also show that England’s average performance is among the best in Europe and is substantially above the international average. England’s gender-gap in reading performance for this age group of students has also historically been among the largest of all participating countries in PIRLS, but in 2016, this has narrowed to be consistent with the international average gender-gap.
Dr Joshua McGrane said: ‘Reading is a skill that is fundamental to children’s academic development, well-being, and future life opportunities. PIRLS assesses students at a stage in their schooling when they are transitioning from learning to read, to increasingly being expected to read to learn in an independent manner. Students who have not sufficiently mastered reading at this stage face significant barriers in their future academic attainment. So, it is very encouraging to see the significant average improvement by England’s students in PIRLS 2016. The most heartening finding, from my perspective, is that this average increase has been primarily driven by improvements among the lower performing students, compared to previous cycles.
'This provides evidence that there are fewer academically at-risk students in England, and is encouraging for recent reading-related educational reforms. However, the impact of these reforms will become clearer through more in-depth analysis of a range of sources of evidence, particularly at the individual student level, as well as in the future PIRLS 2021 cycle.’
Juliet Sizmur, a Senior Research Manager at the Centre for International Education at the National Foundation for Educational Research, said: ‘The children who took part in PIRLS  started school in 2010 shortly after the coalition government was elected. These results will be taken as evidence that recent reforms have been a success.
'It is important, however, not to jump to simplistic conclusions – further analysis will be necessary.’
The full report can be read here.