Information for National Reference Test 2021 Markers

Marker privacy notice

What is the purpose of the test?
Ofqual’s National Reference Test (NRT) will provide additional information to support the awarding of GCSEs. The information from the test will be considered each year by Ofqual and the exam boards prior to GCSEs being awarded. The NRT will provide information on changes in performance standards over time and will be based on results from a nationally representative sample of students who will take the test shortly before taking their GCSEs. Currently, exam boards have limited evidence of how performance standards can change over time. The test will indicate if, over several years, there is a change in how students perform at the national level, which exam boards can then consider during awarding. The impact of Covid-19 means that in 2021 there are new challenges in grading. The NRT results are an important part of the evidence which will help manage that challenge.

Ofqual has appointed NFER to develop, administer and analyse the test on its behalf.

How have schools been selected to take part?
Schools have been selected as part of a sample to participate in the statutory NRT, which will take place in the spring term of 2021. The school sample is designed to be nationally representative of the secondary school population and is based on school size and prior GCSE results.

How are students selected to take part?
Schools will be asked to confirm the number of students in year 11 who will be aged 16 by 31 August 2021 and who will be entered for either or both GCSE English language and GCSE maths in summer 2021. (Note: students may not take part if they are taking only the international GCSE, sometimes referred to as a level1/level 2 certificate, in that subject.)

NFER will then ask schools to provide a list of all these students. From this list, NFER will randomly sample up to 24 students to sit the English test and a separate group of up to 24 students to sit the maths test. Students will only be selected to take the test if they are entered for the GCSE in that subject. Each student will be assigned either the English or mathematics test; no student will take both subjects.

All selected students are expected to take the test in order to avoid bias in the sample. However, the legislation passed by the government gives head teachers the right to withdraw students in exceptional circumstances.

What does taking part involve?
The NRT will take place in schools from 22 February to 5 March 2021. This testing window is in spring to avoid the main GCSE exam period, but also chosen to be towards the end of the students’ course of study.

How will the test be administered?
One or two representatives from NFER will administer the tests in schools. NFER test administrators will be trained in and comply with all public health requirements in place at the time of testing (including the use of PPE) and will follow current Government advice and guidance in relation to Covid-19. All of NFER’s test administrators are trained teachers and have enhanced DBS checks. They will bring all the materials required for testing along with them on the day and they will take away with them the completed tests for NFER to mark. They will liaise with schools in advance of the administration to ensure that they understand and can follow any specific Covid-19 policies or protective measures that are in place at schools.

What is the composition and timing of the tests?
The English test will comprise a reading and a writing component. Both the English and maths tests will last one hour. The test has been carefully designed to be accessible to all students who are due to sit their GCSEs in summer 2021. Students will be asked to make their best attempt at the whole test. The test has a look and feel that is similar to the GCSEs and the content of the test is based on the GCSEs to be awarded in summer 2021.

What is the role of the marker?
Markers will be appointed by NFER to undertake the marking of the English reading, English writing and mathematics tests. Markers must have experience of teaching and marking the relevant subject at key stage 4 and will be required to attend a training day on Saturday 6 March 2021 remotely, i.e. from home. Following the training day, marking will be carried out at home using NFER’s online marking system. Markers will be assigned to teams and will be supported by a supervisory marker throughout the process. All markers must pass a standardisation exercise before progressing to marking of live tests and the quality of their marking will be frequently audited and monitored throughout the marking period.

Markers must be able to commit to being available for the whole of the marking period: from 7 March to the end of 21 March 2021 and expect to work around 2-3 hours per day. Markers’ availability for an extended marking period to 2 April 2021 would also be desirable.

Applications should be submitted by completing NFER’s application form. The closing date for receipt is 3 January 2021.

What is the remuneration rate?
Markers should expect to receive a payment in the range of £1.80 and £2.50 per script.

Confidentiality and Conflicts of Interests
The security of the test materials is paramount. You must not copy any test materials that are supplied to you or retain any after you have completed the marking. You must not discuss the content of the test with anyone beyond those in the marking team, or communicate any information about the tests and their marking by email or through social media. All markers must sign a confidentiality agreement form before attending the training session to pledge that their knowledge of the content of the tests will remain confidential and specify any interests in schools and examination boards and inform NFER if, subsequently, they are approached by anyone in any regard in connection with their marking of the NRT.

It may be necessary to share confidential marking materials electronically via our online secure NFER portal to fulfil marker responsibilities. Any confidential materials downloaded by markers onto personal computers will need to be deleted securely. Any confidential materials printed at home will need to be either returned to NFER or confidentially shredded at home. Instructions on how to securely delete downloaded files from your computer and securely dispose of printed materials will be sent to all markers.

Disclosure and Barring Service
All new applicants and those who did not mark the NRT in 2020 will be required to provide proof of valid basic DBS certification, should their application be successful. Those with valid DBS certification, will need to provide a copy of the original documentation to NFER, who will then arrange a video conference to validate it. Applicants who do not have valid DBS certification, will be provided with a link to the application and guided through the process. As part of this process, copies of the original documentation and a video conference will be required by the NFER to confirm identity.

Right to Work
All new applicants and those who did not mark the NRT in 2020 will be required to provide proof of right to work in the UK, should their application be successful. NFER will require a copy of a valid passport. If a valid passport is not available, NFER can advise on alternative acceptable documentation. In either case, NFER will arrange a video conference to validate any documentation.

How will NFER use and protect your data?
All the information provided will be held securely by NFER whether the information is in electronic or physical format. NFER do not collect more information than is necessary to fulfil their stated purposes and will not retain it for longer than is necessary.

The full privacy notice for this project can be found here.

Thank you for your interest in the test. For more information about the NRT please visit this page.

If you have any questions or queries about making the NRT, please contact NFER by telephone on 01753 637432 or by email to