News story

First National Reference Test to be held in spring 2017

Ofqual’s Board gives go-ahead for test to help inform GCSE awarding.

The first National Reference Test (NRT), which will be taken by about 18,000 students, will be held in February and March 2017, the exams regulator, Ofqual, confirmed today (2 September).

Each year a sample of students will take the same test so it will show, over time, if there is any change in how students perform at a national level. Exam boards currently have limited evidence of how performance can change from year to year, so the test has the potential to provide valuable additional information to inform their awarding of GCSEs.

The test was developed by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). Today’s announcement follows careful consideration by Ofqual’s Board of the outcomes of a trial test held in March. The trial showed that the test materials were ready and that NFER’s administration had worked well. Marking of students’ responses and analysis of the test data also went to plan.

Sally Collier, Chief Regulator, Ofqual, said: “The trial went very smoothly and has demonstrated that the test is ready to go live. We will make sure that schools taking part are well supported and more generally explain how the results have a clear potential to benefit GCSE awarding.”

About 1 in 40 students in year 11 in England will take the test annually. The first test will be held between 20 February and 3 March 2017. NFER will contact the 300 schools that have been selected to take part later this month. Up to 30 students will take the test in English and another 30 students will take the maths test in each of these schools. NFER will select students so that the test results will be nationally representative.

Results from the NRT will only be used to measure changes in performance nationally and these will be published. There will be no results for individual students or schools.

The test reflects the content and style of the new English language and maths GCSEs. We would expect to see an improvement in early NRT results as student and teacher familiarity with those new qualifications increases. This, alongside the need to compare the performance of student cohorts over several years, means information from the test will not be immediately used in awarding.

We have today published separately a set of guidance issued by NFER to schools who will take part in the test. A postcard along with an overview of the test are also available and we have published a blogpost. We are also publishing our contract with NFER.