Children in England have scored impressive results in a set of highly-regarded international maths and science exams published this week.

13-14 year olds in England ranked 8th out of 39 countries in science, in the four yearly Trends in International Mathematics and Science study (TIMSS), rising one place.

Primary school children in Northern Ireland also scored good results, ranking sixth overall in maths, out of the 49 countries listed. Their results were the best in Europe, the Guardian reports.

Other factors have contributed to rankings this year. Whilst England’s science results score ahead of the USA, Canada and Australia, the study notes that Finland did not enter any pupils in the 13-14 age group, which is significant, as Finland has been the best performing European country in that age group since 2011.

The UK’s results are also still behind the world leaders of Singapore and Hong Kong.

The TIMSS results showed minor improvements on the part of UK pupils, but were enough for England to rank among countries showing a sustained improvement in science since 1995.

East Asian countries dominated the mathematics rankings unsurprisingly, led by Singapore in primary and secondary age groups, with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan a significant distance behind.

Commenting on the results, Robert Coe, professor of education at the University of Durham, said: “These look like a respectable set of results for England. Although the media focus is often on the rankings, these are misleading, as each round of TIMSS (and each different age and subject) has a different set of countries included.

A better indicator is to look at the actual score and compare it with previous performance. All four of the results for England are up on the previous round [2011], though mostly by a marginal amount, either within the range of sampling variation or simply regaining the loss that was suffered between 2007 and 2011.

A rise of 11 points in the score for age 14 maths is more substantial and looks like an upward trend, bringing it a bit more into line with the other three.”