Information for schools taking part in the National Reference Test

Project code: OFMT

What is the purpose of the National Reference 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. More information about the NRT is available here.

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 2017. To reflect the importance of the new test and to ensure high participation rates, the government has introduced legislation that requires the participation of state schools that are selected to take part. For maintained schools, this obligation is placed on the school directly through legislation. For the vast majority of academies and free schools, the requirement has effect through their funding agreements.

How are students selected to take part?

Schools have been requested to provide student data for all their year 11 students, aged 16 by 31 August 2017, who are eligible to take part in the test comprising forename and surname, gender, date of birth and subjects studied. Students will be eligible to take the test if they are being entered for GCSE English language or GCSE mathematics in summer 2017. (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.)

From the list of eligible students provided by each school, two separate groups of up to 30 students have been randomly selected to sit the test. Please note that 30 students is the upper limit of the number of students we will sample for each subject; there is no lower limit.

Where a student is eligible to sit both subjects, they have been randomly allocated either to the English or mathematics test. Instructions on how to access a list of the students selected to take the test and the subject they have been allocated has been provided to each participating school. Each student has been assigned either the English or mathematics test; no student will take both subjects.

We expect all students in the selected group of students to take the test in order to avoid bias in the sample. However, the legislation passed by the Government gives headteachers the right to withdraw students in exceptional circumstances.

Headteachers may withdraw students from the test only in the following circumstances:

If you are unsure whether a student’s particular circumstances warrant withdrawal, please contact NFER for guidance.

How will parents be informed?

We will provide a letter via our school portal that each school can use to provide parents with information about the NRT. We recognise that a small number of parents may not wish for their child to take part, but we ask the school to support the test and ensure participation, if necessary by explaining to parents that the school is legally required to enter selected students into the test, as well as reassuring them that individual students’ results in the NRT will not affect their GCSE results.

What does taking part involve?

The NRT will take place in schools from 20 February to 3 March 2017. The date in this testing period that has been selected for each school and the name(s) of NFER’s administrator(s) who will be visiting each school will be sent to the main school contact in an email in the week beginning 16 January 2017. Schools are asked to contact NFER if the selected date is no longer convenient. The time of the testing is to be arranged with the NFER administrator at a time that is convenient to the school. However, we strongly encourage the test to be held at the beginning of the morning or afternoon session to prevent students from having to leave lessons part way through.

Please ensure that students who have been selected to take the test are not asked to attend other school activities at the same time, e.g. mock GCSEs.

What information will be given to students taking the test?

We have provided an information sheet for students that have been selected to participate in the NRT. It gives students an overview of the test, why it is important they take part and informs them that all participating students will be entered into a prize draw to win an iPad mini. Please ensure that the information sheet is given to all selected students ahead of the testing date so they fully understand their contribution.

How will the test be administered?

One or two representatives from the NFER will come to each school to administer the test. All of the test administrators are trained teachers and have enhanced DBS checks. One of the administrators will telephone the nominated school contact before they visit to arrange the most convenient time of day for the testing to take place and to confirm all arrangements. 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. Please arrange for a teacher or another member of school staff also to be present throughout the session.

What is the composition and timing of the test?

The English test comprises a reading and a writing part. For both English and mathematics, the test lasts one hour. Schools should plan for a total test administration time of one hour and 30 minutes, to allow for students to be seated and have instructions read to them by the test administrator. After the test students will be asked to complete a short five minute survey about their experience of the NRT and their preparation in general for their GCSE exams.

The test has been carefully designed to be accessible to all students who are due to sit their GCSEs in summer 2017. 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 new GCSEs to be awarded from summer 2017.

The questions in the English and mathematics test are aimed mostly at grades 3 to 7 but also include some questions aimed at grades 1 and 2 to help make them accessible to all students. Unlike the GCSE mathematics exams, the mathematics test is not a tiered assessment. In the mathematics test most of the questions are based on the GCSE content that all students taking the qualification have to study and includes some more straightforward questions at the start to help encourage students. A few questions drawing on higher tier content are at the end of the test booklet.

How should we ensure the tests are kept secure?

The security of the test materials is paramount. The NFER administrator is responsible for the security and confidentiality of the test materials. No photocopies of the test may be made by anyone. During the administration of the test, test materials must not be taken out of the room. All teachers/ other adults who are present in the test room, for example, those providing support with access arrangements, will be required to sign a statement of confidentiality, declaring that the content of the test will not be discussed with any other person.

What arrangements do schools needs to make for the test?

As the students sampled to take part in the test are likely to be from various classes, please ensure that preparations have been made for all the selected students to be brought to the test room at the time you have agreed with NFER’s test administrator. Please prepare a seating plan in advance of the test date, as you do for GCSE exams, so students know exactly where to sit when they enter the examination room and which test should be given to them.

The test will be administered under exam conditions similar to those at GCSE. Please ensure any relevant displays and posters in the test room are covered and desks are positioned an appropriate distance apart so students cannot see each other’s test. Mobile phones are strictly prohibited in the room where the testing is taking place.

What access arrangements will be made available to students?

NFER will apply access arrangements similar to those used at GCSE. The following access arrangements and reasonable adjustments can be used for any student who is expecting to receive the arrangement/adjustment in their GCSEs:

Reading pens are only suitable for assisting with reading one or two words in a sentence and are not suitable for all candidates who qualify for a reader. Candidates should be familiar and experienced with using these pens in order to get an accurate reading.

The following modifications to the test and computer based arrangements can be used:

NFER will provide students expecting to use a word processor for their GCSE exams with access to a secure online tool in order to type their answers to the test. For this access arrangement, schools will need to provide laptops with internet access for each student.

In advance of the test date, schools will be sent a link to a diagnostic tool to test the compatibility of the online tool with the laptop the student will be using on the day and the internet connectivity in the exam room.

Under no circumstances should a student use their own laptop to type answers into any software or tool other than the NFER secure online tool, as this could compromise the security of the test.

Translated versions of the test will not be available. The use of a dictionary is not permitted in the English test. The use of a bilingual dictionary is permitted in the mathematics test for students for whom English is not their first language and if it only provides a translation of the mathematical term, not the definition or illustration.

What equipment will students need?

For the test, students require a black pen or sharp HB or 2B pencil. Students must not use gel pens. If the student is using a pencil, they must write firmly.

For the mathematics test, students will be required to have a scientific calculator (suitable for use in a GCSE exam) and a ruler. NFER will provide students with mirrors.

How will my school benefit from taking part?

We aim to make participation in this test as easy as possible for schools. We will make every effort to select the date and timing of the test to suit schools, our test administrators will administer the test and NFER will mark it. We will however require a member of staff from the school also to be present during the test to ensure arrangements run smoothly and to help finalise arrangements before the day of the test. In recognition of the time taken in your school to participate in the NRT we will provide each participating school with a cheque for £190. Participating students will be entered into a draw with a prize of an iPad mini.

We are unable to provide schools with results for individual students due to the confidential nature of the test and because each student will only take a part of the complete National Reference Test. We are also unable to provide overall results for each school because the students that are selected to take the test will not be representative of all students at that school.

How will NFER use and protect the data collected?

The data collected by NFER will be shared with Ofqual for the purposes of analysis. All data relating to this project will be kept confidential by NFER and Ofqual, and no individual school or student will be identified in any way in any ensuing reports about the analysis. Starting in 2018, Ofqual will publish national measures of performance each year when GCSE results are announced. Data from the test will not be provided to the Department for Education, Ofsted or local authorities, and will not be used in any measures of school performance. The results of individual students will not be used in awarding their GCSEs. All data collected on access arrangements for individual students will be securely destroyed after the testing has been completed.

Who can you contact for more information?

If you have any questions or queries about the tests, please contact NFER by telephone on 01753 637 383 or by email to