Irish teens outperform peers in literacy – OECD tests

Irish 15-year-olds outperform their peers across the EU and all OECD countries when it comes to literacy, according to the outcome of tests administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

They are also performing significantly higher than the OECD average in mathematics and science.

The organisation’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, which measure skills and knowledge in the three key domains, are normally held every three years.

However the most recent round, which saw 690,000 15-year-olds tested across 81 countries, was delayed for a year due to the pandemic.

In reading, the performance of Irish teens puts them ahead of every other OECD country, and second only to Singapore among the 81 countries and regions that participated.

In science, Irish 15-year-olds are estimated to be in 12th place, while in maths their scores place Ireland 11th.

In 2018, Ireland was placed 21st and 22nd in maths and science.

The latest data also shows a significant improvement in science performance here compared to four years earlier. While on average across the OECD science scores fell slightly between 2022 and 2018, in Ireland they rose by 7.7 points.

Read the report on Ireland in full here

Department of Education staff who have analysed the data say a new science curriculum and its inquiry based approach may have contributed to this improvement.

In maths, Irish performance has disimproved. Our latest score, at 491.6 points, is eight points lower than that of 2018. However this compares with a greater decline of an average of almost 15 points in maths scores across the OECD.

Ireland’s Educational Research Centre has sounded a small note of caution when it comes to the close interpretation of the data in some regards. A slightly smaller than expected cohort of Irish students participated in the 2022 tests and they say there is evidence that overall performance was slightly stronger as a result.

However researchers say that broadly the trends and patterns that have emerged from the latest tests are consistent and that this indicates that the data is robust overall.

High and low achievers

Across the three domains measured – reading, maths, and science – Ireland has fewer high achievers compared to many other countries, but also fewer low achievers.

In maths, while 30% of students tested across the OECD fell into the ‘low achiever’ category, just 16% of Irish students did.

In reading, 11.4% of Irish teens are low achievers compared to an OECD average of 26.3%.

In science, 15.6% of Irish teens are low achievers compared to 24.5% across the OECD.

However, Ireland has a smaller than average proportion of top performing students in maths compared to other OECD countries. 7.2% of 15-year-olds here are high achievers, compared to the OECD average of 8.6%. The data shows that the proportion of high achievers in maths has been in steady decline since 2012 when it was 10.7% of students tested.

Researchers say the distribution between low and high achievers here points to the strength of the Irish system and the success of teachers in catering to the needs of weaker learners.

The Department of Education has said, however, that the average or below average proportions of higher achieving students indicate that a challenge remains in supporting some students to maximise their potential. It has set up a working group to develop a policy on students who are exceptionally able or gifted.

At a briefing on the PISA data organised by the department, Irish experts said any intervention should be carefully done to ensure that improvement at the top does not come at the expense of students at the lower end.


Boys here are more likely to be high performers in maths compared to girls, according to the data. 9.6% of boys here performed at the highest level in the subject compared to just 4.7% of girls.

When it comes to reading, Irish girls have the advantage over boys. 14.5% of boys here performed at the lowest level in these tests, compared to 8.2% of girls.

In science 9.5% of males achieved at the highest level compared to 5.5% of females.

5,569 students in 170 post-primary schools here participated in the tests. Most of the students were in Transition Year.

Minister for Education Norma Foley has welcomed the PISA results, saying that they were “extremely positive news for Ireland”.

“We have retained our place among a small set of high achieving countries at a time where particular strain was put on school communities globally due to Covid-19. We have also ensured that the number of low achieving students remains amongst the lowest in the 81 countries tested.

“The pandemic presented unprecedented challenges, but the resilience shown by schools during this time is to be commended,” she said.

By Emma O Kelly
Education Correspondent
Source – RTE News