Express & Star

Fact check: A study put England fourth in the world for primary school reading

The study gave England a higher score than any country in Europe or North America.

A schoolgirl wearing a blue jumper puts her hand up in a classroom

Conservative minister Mark Harper said in an interview on Sky News that primary school children in England are “the best readers in the world”.


One study has put England fourth out of 43 countries for reading ability. The results received a response from the UK Government when they were released last year, and are likely to be the statistics to which Mr Harper is referring.

The facts

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) involves a standardised assessment given to year five pupils (aged about nine or 10) in different countries across the world.

The latest iteration was carried out in 2021, with results released last May.

England had the fourth highest reading achievement score, behind Singapore, Hong Kong and Russia.

The UK Government published a press release at the time celebrating the result.

The results also mean England scored higher than any country in Europe or North America.

A variation of this claim, which specifies that England has the best reading in the western world, is therefore accurate. This was used by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in an interview with the BBC.


Sky News Interview (archived)

About the PIRLS (archived)

PIRLS results for reading, 2021 (archived)

Government press release (archived)

Rishi Sunak BBC Interview

Election Check 24

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