Please note that due to the continuing health situation, the Minister of Education in Northern Ireland has decided to postpone the PIRLS study in schools from May/June to September/October 2021. For more information, see the PIRLS timeline on this page, FAQs for schools and FAQs for parents.


What is involved in PIRLS?
PIRLS gathers information from two sources: the assessment and the questionnaires.

  • Pupils complete a single test booklet containing questions assessing their reading skills.
  • In order to contextualise the results, pupils will also answer a short questionnaire about themselves and their schools.
  • Principals and class teachers will each receive a questionnaire to provide important background information to help better understand what makes successful learners.
  • The study also includes a questionnaire for parents in order to gain information about home learning environments.
  • PIRLS 2021 will include a Covid-19 module, which includes questions in the school and parent questionnaires.

What does PIRLS measure?
The PIRLS assessments are designed to reflect the skills children need when reading for different purposes and to explore the different processes they use as they try to understand what they read.

PIRLS focuses on two main purposes for reading:

  • reading for literary experience
  • reading to acquire and use information.

It also examines four main comprehension processes of reading. These are the abilities to:

  • focus on and retrieve information explicitly stated in text
  • make straightforward inferences from a text, understanding parts of a text that are not stated
  • interpret and integrate ideas and information
  • examine and evaluate content, language and features of texts.

More information is available in the PIRLS 2021 Assessment framework.

Who is conducting the PIRLS study in Northern Ireland?
PIRLS is being delivered in Northern Ireland by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on behalf of the Department of Education. NFER also delivered the 2011 and 2016 cycles in Northern Ireland.

PIRLS 2021 will be the third time Northern Ireland have participated in the study, and is a chance to see if the positive findings from 2016 have continued. 


PIRLS timeline

October to December 2020 – pupils from countries in the Southern Hemisphere take part in the PIRLS 2021 study.

From January 2021 – schools that have been selected to participate in the study are contacted by NFER. We will support schools throughout the study to ensure that participating is a rewarding experience for teachers and pupils.

From May 2021 – pupils from countries in the Northern Hemisphere take part in PIRLS.

September and October 2021 – pupils in Northern Ireland take part in the PIRLS 2021 study. Other countries from the Northern Hemisphere may also take part around this time.

From July 2021 to February 2022 – international researchers collate and analyse the data from all participating countries and prepare reports on the results.

December 2022 – the IEA publishes the International report about all countries. The National report for Northern Ireland is written by NFER and published by the Department of Education.


NFER Quality Assurance
For PIRLS results to be comparable across different countries, it is really important that strict international standards are met. These relate to how participating schools are selected, how the tests and questionnaires are translated and how they are administered in schools. All modern international surveys are conducted to high standards of quality control and quality assurance and procedures are closely scrutinised by international referees.