Primary teachers achieve world-leading pupil literacy

INTO President Dorothy McGinley has commended union members after national and international reports today confirmed that Irish primary pupils are rated among the best in the world for literacy.

The INTO attended today’s launch of three major reports: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2021; National Assessments of Mathematics and English Reading (NAMER) 2021; and the NAMER DEIS reports.

PIRLS study

The PIRLS study found that Ireland retains its place among a subset of high-achieving countries in relation to primary school reading and that no EU or OECD country achieved a score that was significantly higher than Ireland’s score in PIRLS 2021.

Ireland is now ranked at No 2 in the world on the Average Reading Achievement and Scale Score.

The comparative national trend for Ireland is positive, with a mean score of 577 being 11 points higher than the comparable national score in 2016 and 25 points higher than in 2011.

As pupils in 2021 were older than those in 2016, due to the delay in testing during the pandemic, this is interpreted as suggesting that reading achievement has at least remained stable between the last two PIRLS cycles.

Commenting on the findings, INTO President Dorothy McGinley said:

These results are validation for the for the commitment and dedication shown by Irish primary teachers, highlighting the support and educational leadership they have provided to their pupils throughout the last number of challenging school years.”

NAMER report

The NAMER and NAMER DEIS reports covered testing which took place in 2021, shortly after COVID-19 school closures. Tribute was paid at the launch to the 188 schools who participated at such a challenging time. A larger sample of DEIS schools participated in 2021 therefore a separate DEIS study was not required.

While some of the ambitious targets set out in the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy were not met, no significant learning loss was reported.

Tribute was paid to teachers who focused on literacy and numeracy with their pupils during school closures. It was noted that while a gender gap in performance between boys and girls does exist, it is less significant in Ireland than in other countries. It was also noted that the performance of pupils in DEIS schools is lower than that of pupils in non-DEIS schools, but this gap is not as wide in Ireland as in other countries.

Joanne Kiniry, Educational Research Centre, said:

It is reassuring that despite the disruption to schooling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the results seen in NAMER 2021 point towards stability of performance in English reading and mathematics since 2014.”

Other notable findings

While performance in literacy and numeracy remained relatively stable, it was reported that there was a decline in some wellbeing indicators. More children reported feeling tired, hungry or bullied in PIRLS 2021 than in 2016.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, teachers’ responses to the trend items about their job satisfaction remained relatively stable from 2016 to 2021 as the majority reported that they felt “proud, enthusiastic, purposeful and content” in relation to their jobs.

Tributes to teachers

Launching the reports, Minister for Education Norma Foley TD highlighted teachers’ contribution in supporting learning during the very challenging COVID-19 period when testing was carried out.

Yvonne Keating, Chief Inspector at the Department of Education (DE), pointed out that high-quality teaching has most impact on high quality learning and emphasised how lucky we are in Ireland to have teachers with excellent pedagogical skills. She also acknowledged the contribution of initial teacher education to excellence in teaching in Ireland.

The full reports can be accessed via