The chart below is an example taken from data collected in England. The number of terms in pre-school is plotted against mathematics ability at the start of school. The mean score and 95% confidence intervals are shown. There is a clear relationship between pre-school and mathematics ability at the start of school. By contrast, in Scotland no clear pattern was found raising questions about pre-school provision.

History and basis of iPIPS (PIPS)

In recent years there has been an increased international interest in early childhood education, development and care, with a particular focus on the provision of pre-school (kindergarten) education. National and regional administrations across the world have been investing in this area, knowing the importance of a good start to children’s future educational progress. However, there is as yet no systematic comparative international study of children’s development at this age which will allow policy makers to evaluate the effectiveness of this investment.

The PIPS assessments on which iPIPS is based have been proven to provide highly robust and accurate baseline data over the past 20 years in the UK and a number of other countries. They have been used both for school improvement purposes and to help inform policy. As yet, however, they have not been used systematically in a comparative international context, although they are suitable for such use. In response to the rising interest from educational policy makers around the world, PIPS is being adapted for use in an international comparative study.

The Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) On-entry Baseline was originally created in 1994 for use in schools in England, with the intention of providing a firm point from which later educational progress could be measured. The content of the assessment was designed after examining the results of longitudinal studies that had monitored the progress of children from the ages of three to five years, to the end of primary education and beyond. Over the first years of the project the assessment was refined as predictive data became available.

Thousands of schools now use the assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses of individual pupils, classes and schools, to monitor progress against national and international norms and to provide information whilst supporting them to help their children. The assessment is carried out during the first few weeks of starting school and again at the end of the academic year thus providing information about progress and ensuring that firmer information can be recorded based on more than one investigation.

Video of use in classrooms


The use of the PIPS assessment in the UK and around the world has generated a large bank of data which has been used to conduct research. One such study, commissioned by the Scottish Government, looked at what children know and can do when they start school and how this varied between countries.

This large-scale study looked at ability on entry to school with variations by home background, sex, age and pre-school experience within Scotland. Comparisons were then made with the cognitive development of children starting school in England, New Zealand and Western Australia, concentrating on children whose first language was English. Surprising differences were found between Scotland and other countries. The chart here shows what children in Scotland knew and could do when they started school in 2002. The questions are ordered by difficulty and alongside is the distribution of children’ scores. We can see that, on average, children could identify half of the alphabet although some children can’t name any letters, some can name the full alphabet and read some words. The most difficult question in the assessment is 42–17, and virtually no children could answer that at the start of school.

The following chart compares the reading scores of children starting school in different English-speaking countries. Children start school at different ages so we have created age categories. The vertical axis is the reading ability of children at the start of school. We have then plotted each country separately. Although children in England are quite young when they start school and children in Western Australia somewhat older, the relationship between age and reading ability at the start of school is linear overall. Children in New Zealand deviate from the trend. They start school on or around their fifth birthday so there is only one age category. Their reading ability at the start of school is higher than other countries. Scotland also deviates from the linear trend. The older children are lower than their peers in other English speaking countries at the start of school.

The above examples are not necessarily based on systematic samples in each jurisdiction but they demonstrate the value of data collected at this stage in a child’s life and education, and it is from this ground work that the current study is proposed.

Report for Scotland (January 2016)

Report for England (June 2014)

Report for Scotland (July 2005)

Report for South Africa (October 2016)

iPIPS Brochure