What is PIRLS?

The Progress in International Reading Study (PIRLS) is conducted in nearly 60 countries and compares education systems worldwide. Developed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), the study takes place every 5 years and helps understand how well Year 5 pupils can apply knowledge and skills in reading. 

PIRLS enables countries around the world to make evidence-based decisions to improve educational policy by building a national picture of pupil achievement after 4 years of primary schooling (or around age 10). The study also collects valuable information on pupils’ attitudes and motivations to help understand how they contribute to pupil performance.

PIRLS 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of PIRLS. A sample of England’s Year 5 pupils has participated in PIRLS every five years since 2001, so PIRLS 2021 provides data on trends in comparative reading achievement in England over the last 20 years.

Due to the Covid 19 Pandemic, the PIRLS 2021 Main Study took place in England in May – June 2022, rather than in 2021 as originally planned.

What does the assessment consist of?

The PIRLS reading assessment is based on a comprehensive framework that covers two major purposes of reading — for literary experience, and to acquire and use information.

The PIRLS assessment consisted of four components in England:

– a paper-and-pencil reading assessment;

– a pupil questionnaire for pupils;

– a teacher questionnaire for teachers;

– and a school questionnaire for headteachers.

How is PIRLS delivered?

Pearson and the OUCEA were appointed as the PIRLS 2021 National Study Centre for England by the Department for Education. Pearson was responsible for school recruitment and the administration, processing and scoring of the PIRLS assessment in England. The OUCEA, which is based at the Department of Education, University of Oxford, was primarily responsible for the reporting and dissemination of PIRLS 2021 findings in England.

View the Team.

PIRLS 2021 timeline:

Please note that dates of the main study and subsequent activities have been adjusted. February to April 2020, pupils in England took part in the field trial.

2021 – PIRLS main study postponed in England due to the Covid 19 pandemic

May to June 2022, pupils in England participated in the PIRLS main study.

November 2022, the PIRLS 2021 Encyclopaedia was published by the IEA.

February 2023, international researchers analyse the data from all participating countries and prepare reports on the results.

May 2023, findings are published in an international report by the IEA.

May 2023, the national report for England containing England’s findings is written and published by the OUCEA, on behalf of the Department for Education.

Further information:

You can view past national reports here.

More information can also be found on the IEA’s PIRLS website.

The following video provides information on the IEA’s studies, including PIRLS: