TIMSS – primary schools in Northern Ireland continue to rank among the best in the world in maths – NFER research

A major international survey of pupil achievement in mathematics and science shows that pupils aged 9 -10 in Northern Ireland continue to perform very well in maths.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) carried out the research for the Department of Education. Achievement in science was found to be not as high, but is still above the international average.

Data from the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) reveal that only five of the 50 countries taking part in the mathematics assessments outperformed Northern Ireland.

Education Minister Peter Weir said: “The report shows that primary schools here have maintained a strong performance in the subject as demonstrated in the previous TIMSS study in 2011.

“It also highlights that primary schools in Northern Ireland have highly qualified principals and teachers who are committed to continued professional development. The level of participation in professional development activities for mathematics was higher in Northern Ireland than that seen internationally.”

Continuing, the Minister said the findings reflect those of the Chief Inspector’s report (2014 -16) published on 16 November 2016 which found that in 89% of primary schools inspected, achievements and standards in mathematics and numeracy were good or better.

The Minister said he was very encouraged by the findings of this study which show local children have a positive attitude towards educational achievement both at home and school.

He said: “The vast majority of children have parents with a positive attitude towards mathematics and science.

“In addition, our principals and teachers were reported to have some of the highest levels of emphasis on academic success. A positive attitude towards learning is also fostered by our pupils with the majority reporting that they enjoy learning maths and science.”

Most children in Northern Ireland attend schools with an environment that is conducive to learning, according to the study. Schools which have few disciplinary problems are safe and orderly places of learning where pupils report relatively low levels of bullying. These positive aspects of the school learning environment have remained unchanged since the 2011 TIMSS study.

Carole Willis, Chief Executive of NFER, commented: “TIMSS provides a valuable way for nations to benchmark the performance of their education systems, and Northern Ireland has continued to perform well in this latest round. NFER has been involved in running TIMSS since it first began in 1995, and brings a unique combination of expertise in education systems and robust research. The insights we provide through TIMSS on students, their teachers and schools will help policymakers and schools in Northern Ireland to build on their strengths and address areas where its performance could be improved further.”

Ben Durbin is an expert in international education surveys and is NFER’s Head of International Education. He is responsible for leading NFER’s growing portfolio of international work, which includes delivery of international studies such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) in the UK. Ben recently spent a week in Oslo at the General Assembly of the IEA – the organisation responsible for TIMSS where he had a preview of the results. He says of their forthcoming publication:

“It will be tempting for reporting of the findings just to focus on countries’ rankings. However, a country’s ranking may change from year to year simply because the number of countries participating in the study has changed. And small differences between countries, or changes over time, may simply be due to chance – rather than indicating genuine differences or changes in the performance of education systems.

“The value of these international studies will be realised far beyond the initial flurry of headlines. Student and school questionnaires provide a rich source of information on students’ attitudes and experiences of school, teachers, professional development and school organisation. By comparing countries and tracking changes over time, key education issues can be explored in ways that are not possible with any other data source.

“The international studies also promote cooperation between educators around the world. The conversations and relationships formed through networks such as the IEA and OECD (who are responsible for PISA) enable genuine dialogue and learning to take place – not just an over-simplified policy borrowing from the top performing nations.”

The full national reports for TIMSS can be found at http://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/TMSS01

Notes to editors:

1. TIMSS 2015 is the sixth in the IEA’s series of comparative international surveys on mathematics and science achievement. It has been administered on a four-yearly cycle since 1995 and reports on the achievement of Year 6 and Year 10 pupils (9 -10 and 13-14 year old respectively). Northern Ireland participated only at the younger age range. TIMSS 2015 provides a 20-year trend measure for countries that participated in the first TIMSS assessments in 1995.

2. NFER is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. We are a charity and our robust and innovative research, assessments and other services are widely known and used by key decision-makers. Any surplus generated is reinvested in projects to support our charitable purpose.www.nfer.ac.uk @TheNFER

2. Ben Durbin is an economist with over ten years’ experience in education, research and consultancy. From 2013 to 2016 Ben was NFER’s founding Head of Impact, leading a team which pioneered new approaches to getting evidence acted upon across the sector through commissioning new research, engaging extensively with external stakeholders, and working closely with communications and media experts. He was previously a Senior Research Manager at NFER where he designed and managed randomised control trials, led advanced statistical analysis of pupil and teacher data, developed techniques for evaluating the value for money of interventions, and provided psychometrics expertise on test development and outcome measurement.

3. TIMSS 2015 results will be released on 29 November 2016, at 10h00 Central European Time at timssandpirls.bc.edu

4. PISA 2015 results will be released on 6 December 2016 at 11h00 Central European Time on the OECD’s site.

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