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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
English children 'excel' at reading
Children in library
English children have good access to books, a study found
Ten-year-old pupils in England are the third best of that age group in the world at reading, a survey shows.

They lagged behind only the Swedes and Dutch in a study involving more than 140,000 children in 35 countries.

Among those who did worse were primary school children in France, Germany, the US and Scotland, according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls).

It targeted nine and 10 year olds because, at this point, they are supposed to have learned to read and are now "reading to learn".

Education Secretary Charles Clarke said: "We have much to be proud of and I congratulate our primary school children for performing so well on the international stage.

'Strategy working'

"The fact that our 10 year olds are reading at a higher level than almost every other country is a credit to them and our education system.

"It shows that the national literacy strategy we set up five years ago to raise standards in primary schools is working."

But Mr Clarke acknowledged there was "no room for complacency", as 25% of 11 year olds left primary school without a sound grasp of the basics of reading and writing last year.

Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke praised children's efforts

Pirls showed that, on a scale where the international average was 500 points, English pupils averaged 553, The Netherlands 554 and Sweden 561.

US pupils averaged 542 points, Germans 539 and those in Scotland 528.

English pupils came joint top with Swedes at reading fiction.

But they were less good at reading non-fiction texts, gaining fifth place behind Sweden, The Netherlands, Bulgaria and Latvia.

In England, 3,156 children were tested in 2001 for the survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

The previous international survey, in 1991, did not include it.

Performance gaps

But the NFER ran a similar study in 1996 covering England and Wales, which placed the two countries close to the 1991 international average.

An NFER spokesman said: "There does appear to be a marked increase in the international standing of England from the mid-1990s to 2001."

However, English pupils had the widest gap between highest and lowest-performing pupils.

By contrast, this was narrowing in continental Europe.

Also, the gap between the sexes was wider in England than the international average, the study found.

Children in England had been in formal education for five years by the time of the tests, along with those in Scotland and New Zealand.

However, four years of formal schooling was the norm in every other country in the study, apart from the Russian Federation (three or four) and Slovenia (three).

The survey showed children in England had access to more books, both at home and at school, as well as to specialist reading staff than those in any other country.

NFER assistant director Chris Whetton said: "The survey emphasises the current high standing of the performance of reading of children in England, reflecting the hard work of primary teachers and the support of parents."

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