1)     What is PIRLS?

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), is an assessment of reading comprehension that has been monitoring trends in pupil achievement at five-year intervals since 2001. PIRLS takes place in approximately 60 countries and provides internationally comparative data about how well children from different countries read by the time they reach Year 5.

PIRLS provides analysis of how pupils perform, what kinds of reading strategies they use, and how their performance is related to their attitudes, gender and background. In addition, PIRLS includes teacher questionnaires, which provide valuable information on teachers’ views on teaching and reading.

2)     When does the study take place?

The Main Study will take place between during May – June 2022.

In the welcome letter, addressed to your Headteacher, a date was given for the study to be conducted at your school. We hope that this date is convenient for your staff and pupils, and that suitable room(s) can be made available. If for any reason this date is not suitable, your PIRLS School Coordinator can contact our PIRLS Support Team to suggest an alternative date between Monday 16th May and Friday 17th June 2022 for the study to take place. Our PIRLS Support Team will reply to confirm a new date.

3)     Why has my school been selected to take part in PIRLS?

Following a rigorous sampling process your school has been randomly selected to participate in PIRLS by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). One of the requirements of the study is to ensure that the sample of schools which participate is unbiased and representative of schools in England. So we are therefore only able to approach schools that are selected through the random sampling approach, thus ensuring the results show a true representation of the full range of primary schools in England in respect of size, location and school type.

If too few of the sampled schools in England participate in the study, then England’s results will not be representative and our data will not be included in the international comparison. Your participation is therefore very important for the success of the PIRLS 2021 study.

Please see https://www.iea.nl/studies/iea/pirls for detailed information on the study methodology.

4)     Why does England take part in PIRLS?

PIRLS is a major international study monitoring reading comprehension achievement. It is a vital part of the international evidence base, allowing the Department for Education (DfE) to benchmark England’s performance against other countries, to measure trends over time, to identify and analyse factors that impact pupil attainment, and to learn from policies and practices in other countries.

5)     What are the benefits of your school taking part in the study?

– The schools and pupils that participate in PIRLS are making a valuable contribution to the understanding of our education system and it is only with this participation that we can realise the opportunities that PIRLS brings to improve our educational policies and practices.

– By participating in PIRLS your school and pupils are contributing to a world-wide evidence base that can inform policies and strategies to help address the challenges associated with raising standards and reducing attainment gaps.

– Your pupils will have the experience of representing England in an international study, and, if the number of participating pupils in your school is high enough to protect pupil confidentiality, your school will receive a personalised feedback report containing information on your pupils’ attitudes to reading and an overview of England’s national data. A sample of this report is included in the welcome pack.

6)     How is our contribution recognised?

As a thank you for your support, schools and pupils will be awarded certificates of participation. Your school will also receive a personalised feedback report containing information on your pupils’ attitudes to reading, survey data and an overview of England’s national data. A sample of this report is included in the welcome pack.

In recognition of your valued contribution, your school will also receive a £100 administration payment. If a member of school staff completes the Test Administrator role (including attending mandatory online training) an additional test administration payment of £150 will be provided. You will be sent an electronic version of the payment form following your initial call.

7)     Will school staff be required to invigilate the study?

This depends which test administration option you choose.

If you choose to have a PIRLS Test Administrator administer the test, then school staff will not be required to invigilate the study. The National Research Centre (Pearson) will provide a Test Administrator who will visit the school on the assessment day and have responsibility for running the study. PIRLS Test Administrators are experienced education professionals, often ex-teachers, and all have DBS clearance. However, we do ask that a member of the school staff stays in the room during the assessment.

If you elect a Test Administrator from within your school, they will invigilate the test; please refer to FAQ 7 for more information on this option.

8)     What will be required if we choose for a member of school staff to administer the test?

The Headteacher should elect a member of school staff to be the Test Administrator (hereafter referred to as the School Test Administrator) and inform the PIRLS Support Team of your choice to administer the test. The School Test Administrator role can be carried out by another teacher, teaching assistant or member of SLT from within your school.

Mandatory online training will be provided for your School Test Administrator (elected member of school staff) so that they understand their role: a second staff member will also be required to complete the training in case the School Test Administrator is absent on the test day. The training will comprise of a series of short pre-recorded sessions and live Q&A sessions will also be provided. Test Administrator training will take place March – April 2021.

On the day of the test, the School Test Administrator will be required to administer the test and pupil questionnaires, complete a pupil register, ensure test materials (including completed school and teacher questionnaires) are packaged and securely stored ready for collection. An additional test administration payment of £150 will be provided to the school to remunerate for the School Test Administrator’s time.

9)    What does the assessment consist of?

Pupils will complete an assessment, followed by a short questionnaire. The whole process will take approximately two and a half hours, including the assessment itself, survey and breaks. No prior preparation is required by pupils. Test booklets and the pupil survey are both completed on paper.

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. Examples of the kinds of reading passages and questions in the PIRLS reading assessment for these two purposes, as well as how they are scored can be found here.

The pupil questionnaire asks participating pupils about aspects of their home and school lives, including demographic information, their home environment, school climate for learning, and their attitudes toward reading.

The school questionnaire asks a range of contextual questions about the participating schools, including demographic characteristics of the school’s pupils, the availability of resources for teaching, and the school’s learning environment. 

The teacher questionnaire asks participating teachers about their education, professional development, and experience in teaching, as well as their teaching of reading classroom activities and strategies. 

10)   What if a pupil does not want to answer a particular question?

Pupils are encouraged to do their best when answering the assessment questions to demonstrate what they know and can do.  In the questionnaire, pupils are encouraged to give honest answers, with the knowledge that their responses will remain confidential throughout the process. However, pupils may refrain from answering any question(s) they do not feel comfortable answering.  

11)    Do pupils need to bring anything or prepare?

No prior preparation or work is required for pupils to be able to complete the assessment and minimal administration is required from school staff.

Pupils should bring a book to read quietly in the event of finishing the assessment early.

12)   Where should the study take place?

Pupils can sit at their normal desks in the classroom, an exam room does not need to be set up.

13)   When will I know which class/classes have been chosen?

You will be informed of the class/classes chosen as soon as the sampling is complete; we expect this to be between February-March 2021. The majority of schools will have one class selected, but some larger schools will have two classes selected to participate. It is important that all the pupils in the sample carry out the required activity, however pupils with Special Educational Needs or EHC plans can be excluded by the school. You will be informed of the chosen class(es) as soon as the sampling process is complete, and you will have the opportunity to notify us if the test would not be appropriate for any of your pupils.

14)    What are the main duties of the PIRLS School Coordinator?

The PIRLS Support Team will support your PIRLS School Coordinator throughout the process and aim to keep administration to a minimum. A Year 5 class teacher or teaching assistant is often selected for the role. The main duties include:

– Being the main point of contact for Pearson and the PIRLS Test Administrator;

– Agreeing the date and making the arrangements for pupils to complete the activities in the school;

– Working with Pearson to confirm details of all eligible pupils and then those sampled to participate;

– Informing pupils and parents of the study, e.g., using the letter templates provided by Pearson (see FAQ 15);

– Informing the board of governors about the school’s participation in the PIRLS study (your Headteacher may wish to do this);

– Ensuring receipt of the test booklets and questionnaires along with the secure storage of said materials prior to the study;

– Overseeing the distribution, completion and collection of school and teacher questionnaires prior to the test date. These questionnaires will be available to complete online from March 2022 or can be completed a week before the test date if you opt for the paper-based version. School Coordinators will have the opportunity to monitor the completion of the questionnaires using the PIRLS Online Survey System if they wish to.

– On the assessment day, supporting the PIRLS Test Administrator (see Next Steps document ‘Day of the study’ here).

To check that the study is being delivered in a similar way in all schools a Quality Monitor may also attend your test session. If this happens they may ask you some questions about the arrangements you were asked to make and your views of the way in which the study was organised.

15)   How will pupils and parents be informed about the study?

We will provide template letters for you to send to pupils taking part in the study and their parents/guardians. These templates will be emailed to you so you can edit them as necessary and print or distribute electronically. We will also provide you with a letter on data privacy which must be included with your letter to parents and should not be altered. Letters should be sent once we have confirmed the pupils taking part in the study (not before).

To find out more, parents/guardians can look here and pupils can look here.

16)   Will results remain confidential?

Yes – pupil and school identities will remain confidential and data will only be shared with the study organiser, the IEA, via secure channels.

The information collected from your school will only be accessible at individual school and pupil level (but not containing any personal identifiers) to the PIRLS project team. The dataset shared with the international study organisers will be pseudonymised, meaning pupil, teacher and school details will be removed and replaced with a code so that no individual school or pupil can be identified. The Department for Education and any organisation granted access to the data for the purposes of international comparison or research will not publish information which identifies or makes it possible to identify any individual or school participating in the study.

17)   How will my school’s results be used?

Your school’s results will be combined with results of other schools in England to give a picture of how England has performed overall. Your data will contribute to the IEA’s international report and also England’s national report looking at our results in more detail (see FAQ18). At the end of the PIRLS 2021 project, the England National Study Centre will provide the Department for Education with the PIRLS 2021 dataset so that the Department may use the results for further international comparisons or research purposes. The Department may share the pseudonymised dataset with other organisations for the purposes of international comparison and research.

18)   Will my school’s PIRLS results be published?

No – the PIRLS data collected from your school will be analysed alongside that of other schools in England and other countries. Findings about each country are published in an international report by the IEA, and a report about England will be written on behalf of the Department by academics at the University of Oxford in 2023. The results of individual schools or pupils will not be published.

19)   How will the study protect my school’s data?

We take data protection very seriously and follow the Data Protection Act 2018 and General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Any personal information we collect will be held securely and no individual pupil or school will be identified or identifiable in any report or publication.

20)   What have we learned from PIRLS?

Results from the previous cycle of PIRLS, which took place in 2016, were released on 5th December 2017. A two-page summary of the key findings can be viewed here, and a video by OUCEA researchers summarising the findings is available here. Other recent analysis by OUCEA using data from PIRLS 2016 is available here.

21)   Where can I get support/further information?

The PIRLS Support Team can be reached Monday to Friday between 8am-4pm on 020 7010 2010, or by email on pirls2021@pearson.com.