Strategy and Vision

Overview | Annual Report | Impact Review 2015 | Our Vision for 2020 | History of NFER

History of NFER

Early Years

NFER was formed in 1946 following The Education Act of 1944, which introduced free secondary education for all children and included powers for the Ministry of Education and local education authorities to fund research on educational provision.

Our purpose was to explore new ways of undertaking systematic educational research in this country, and to introduce more co-ordination and effectiveness into whatever research was being done by university departments of education and training colleges, and to supplement this by undertaking research our-self.

By 1949 the Foundation was a self-governing body based in London’s Wimpole Street and supported by all local education authorities, universities and national teachers associations who became corporate members. A Tests Division was also set up.

Middle Years

During the 1950s and 60s the Foundation experienced enormous change. The first NFER publications appeared; From a publications list in 1955-56 which contained only nine research articles and a small bulletin, by 1968-69 it comprised a major series of research publications,  two journals, an occasional publications series and a paperback series as well other publications and a newsletter.  Educational Research, the Foundation’s peer-reviewed journal which is still published today, was launched in 1958.

Our research projects grew and included research into secondary school examinations and later into comprehensive schools. The Foundation continued to raise its profile both within and outside this country and staff from overseas institutes, particularly in America and Australia, were eager to base themselves with us for a period.

The 1960s was a decade of rapid growth. The Foundation’s Test Services and Test Agency experienced significant growth and, as interest grew in the use of tests and other instruments as part of a continuous programme of educational guidance, NFER Publishing was formed for publishing tests. This later became known as NFERNelson before leaving NFER to become part of the Granada Learning Group in 2000 and changing its name to GL Assessment in 2007.

Our main offices moved out of London to The Mere at Upton Park in Slough in 1964. Three years later, NFER became an incorporated, charitable body. Regional offices were later set up in Wales and at the University of York.

The 1960s saw the first of the studies resulting from cooperation with a number of research centres in Europe, America and Asia published on the educational achievements of 13-year-olds in 12 countries. Today NFER is still involved with and carries out international comparative surveys such as TIMSS, PIRLS, PISA, PIAAC and ESLC.

In the 1970s we published our first Register of Current Educational Research and Development and by 1970-71 our programme of research programme consisted of 18 different projects. During the 1980s a new era of education evaluation began for us with major contracts secured from the Department of Education and the Manpower Services Commission. Funding was also attracted for the first time to set up an information service named BRIEF.

We became heavily involved in the development of the new National Curriculum assessment techniques following the Education Act of 1988

NFER Today

The work of the Foundation continued to grow significantly right through the turn of the 21st century but like many organisations it became clear by 2010, with a new coalition government and public spending cuts all impacting significantly on the levels of research commissioned by government departments and agencies, that NFER needed to review how it was best placed to deliver its objectives and charitable aims in such a challenging environment.

As a result the Foundation broadened its activities to include more of its own research work with partners, the development of NFER products and support services for schools and practitioners and a wider range of clients who are looking to carry out educational research. Today we work with a range of organisations from national government to local authorities, charities and private sector companies delivering contract research, evaluation and assessment work. In 2014-15 our research teams worked on 168 contracts throughout the year for a wide range of clients. In this ever-changing world, our independence and expertise remain at the heart of everything the Foundation does.