Press release

International tests results published

The results for English pupils taking part in a major international educational test show marks down in science, up in English, and plateauing in maths.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Results in key international tests in maths, science and reading demonstrate the urgent need for the government’s reforms, Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said today.

In a speech this morning, she said it was only when England’s education system matched those of the world’s leading performers that standards would rise for all children.

The results for the tests in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), taken in May and June 2011 but published today, show England has:

  • fallen in science at age 10 - down to 15th out of 50 jurisdictions from 7th out of 36 in 2007;
  • risen in reading at age 10 - up to 11th out of 45 jurisdictions from 15th out of 40 in 2006; and
  • plateaued in maths at ages 10 and 14 between 2007 and 2011, and in science at age 14.

Table 1: England’s rankings in 2011 compared with previous years and the world leaders in 2011

Study  1999 2001 2006 2007 2011 Top performers in 2011
TIMSS age 10 science - - - 7/36 15/50 Korea
TIMSS age 14 science 9/38 - - 5/45 9/42 Singapore
PIRLS age 10 reading - 3/35 15/40 - 11/45 Hong Kong
TIMSS age 10 maths - - - 7/36 9/50 Singapore
TIMSS age 14 maths 20/38 - - 7/45 10/42  Korea

The South East Asian jurisdictions of Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong dominate the tables, with some US states like Florida also doing well. These education systems are characterised by outstanding teaching, autonomous schools, external testing and marking, strong accountability, and rigorous exams - all of which underpin the Government’s education reforms.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said:

These tests were taken in summer 2011 and reflect changes in the period 2006 and 2007 to 2011.

The rise in performance in reading is encouraging but there is too long a tail of under-performance. The lack of progress in maths and the decline in science, linked to the removal of compulsory tests for all 11-year-olds, is a real concern.

That is why we are driving forward the academy programme and giving schools the freedom to make their own choices. That is why we are bringing in new rigorous exams that will be on a par with the best in the world and reforming the curriculum to focus on core arithmetic, algebra and geometry like high-performing jurisdictions.

This is what they do in the world’s most successful education states - and we are following suit.

The Government’s rigorous programmes of study for primary school science, maths and English are designed to give all children a first-class start in education. It is vital that every pupil gets a thorough grounding in the basics so that they can then go on and thrive at secondary school and in later life.


England’s top performers are at the levels of the best 10-year-olds in the world, those in Singapore.

But the percentage of weak readers remains high and this long-term problem is what is holding England back from greater improvement. Five per cent of 10-year-olds in England do not reach the lowest level of performance in reading, compared to just one per cent in Hong Kong and only two per cent in the USA.

The systematic teaching of phonics - internationally proven to be the best method to learn how to read - in all primary schools, not just some, will mean all children become strong readers. This year’s phonics check identified 235,000 six-year-olds who need extra help to become good readers. There has been a rise in the proportion of children reading for pleasure and we want to see this go higher.


Performance in maths has plateaued. Other jurisdictions’ performance is improving faster than in England. Compared to the best in the world, students in England do less well in arithmetic and study too much data, which is holding pupils back. This is why arithmetic is at the heart of the new primary curriculum, and why calculators will be banned in maths tests for 11-year-olds from 2014.

We are placing a high priority on providing a solid grounding in the basics early in primary schools to drive up standards. Pupils will then be able to progress at secondary school to more complex problems including algebra and geometry. We are also encouraging more new primary teachers to specialise in maths by prioritising funding for graduates with a 2:1 or first class degree in the subject.


The fall in science at age 10 is a major concern.

We need to address the quality of science teaching in primary schools. year 5 science teachers report being less prepared to teach their subject than year 9 science teachers.

That is why we are recruiting the brightest science graduates into teaching to inspire pupils, as well as spending £135 million up until 2015 in science and maths education.

This decline also coincides with the decision to drop compulsory tests in science for all 11-year-olds (the last tests for all 11-year-olds were in 2009). England’s results underline that externally marked tests drive up standards and that teacher assessment alone cannot improve, or even maintain, standards.

Elizabeth Truss added:

We must produce a workforce that is literate, and strong in maths and science, able to be successful in a highly competitive global jobs market, and attract the high-quality jobs that will secure the future of our economy. That is exactly what our reforms are designed to achieve.

Notes to editors

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tested pupil performance in reading (age 10) and in mathematics and science (age 10 and 14) in May and June 2011. TIMSS takes place every four years, PIRLS every five years.

PIRLS assessed 300,000 students in 49 countries. TIMSS assessed 600,000 students in 63 countries. In England, 129 schools (3,927 pupils) participated in PIRLS. TIMSS tests were taken by 3,397 pupils in Year 5 (age 10) at 125 schools, and 3,842 pupils in Year 9 (age 14) at 118 schools.

This is a representative sample which includes independent schools. School and pupil results are not released. As with all sample surveys, results will be subject to degrees of uncertainty owing to sampling measurement error.

PISA is an international study which evaluates education systems worldwide every three years by assessing 15-year-olds’ competencies in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science.

In measuring trends over time, performance is presented in both absolute and relative terms. Relative comparisons need to be made with care as they can also be affected by new countries joining the studies or existing countries leaving.

  • England’s average score in PIRLS has increased since 2006, which is a statistically significant change. England’s relative ranking compared to other jurisdictions appears also to have improved, albeit against a changing set of participants.
  • England’s average score in science at age 10 in TIMSS has decreased since 2007, which is a statistically significant change. England’s relative ranking has also declined, albeit a changing set of participants.
  • England’s average scores in science at age 14 and mathematics at ages 10 and 14 in TIMSS show no statistically significant changes since 2007. The relative position of England in the rankings is broadly unchanged after accounting for new, higher performing countries joining the studies in 2011.

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Published 11 December 2012