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.

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

See here for more information on the study.

Why is PIRLS important?

PIRLS enables countries around the world to make evidence-based decisions to improve educational policy by building a national picture of pupils’ reading achievement after 4 years of primary schooling (Year 5 in England). The study also collects valuable information on pupils’ attitudes and motivations to help understand how they contribute to pupil performance. 

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 template for this report is included in the welcome pack and can be found here.

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 questionnaire 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, 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 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. 

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. 

Do pupils need to bring anything or prepare?

No prior preparation or work is required for pupils to be able to complete the assessment.

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

What have we learned from PIRLS?

Results from the previous cycle of PIRLS, which took place in 2016, were released on 5th December 2017. You may like to view:

A two-page summary of the key findings

A video by OUCEA researchers summarising the findings

Other recent analysis by OUCEA using data from PIRLS 2016.

Where can I get support/further information?

For further information please see our FAQs for Schools. If you are a School Coordinator, please see our Next Steps document.

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