This year’s national reference test will take place between April 19 and May 21, after it was pushed back from the spring term.
Ofqual introduced the National Reference Test in 2017 to provide more information about the awarding of GCSEs.
However, the results of the NRT will not be used in GCSE awarding this year, following the decision to cancel summer exams and replace them with a system of teacher assessment.
But the results “will provide important evidence about the impact of lost learning during the coronavirus pandemic and help to understand the context of the 2021 cohort when they take other qualifications in the future,” Ofqual said.
As in previous years, the English and maths test for year 11 pupils will be administered by the National Foundation for Educational Research. Schools that have been selected to take part will have been contacted by the research organisation.
First piloted in 2016, the tests involve a sample of Year 11 students sitting the exams each year in order to monitor, over time, how well cohorts of pupils are performing. The results act as a guide for increases or decreases in that cohort’s GCSE grades.
Ofqual committed to future of NRT
Last year, Ofqual restated its commitment to running a national reference test, despite delaying a decision over the test’s future following “unexpected results”.
The current contract with NFER ends after the 2022 cycle. It was anticipated a new contractor would be procured last year for a handover year before sole delivery in 2023. However, it was confirmed last year that NFER would continue to run the tests in 2023 and 2024.
Ofqual said last year it would “make arrangements for procurement of a future provider after publication of the 2021 results”.
Schools selected to take part in this year’s tests must now “indicate which dates are convenient” on a reply form supplied by NFER, which will then choose one of the dates indicated and write back to schools “by late March” with a confirmed date and the names of administrators who will visit.
Schools should “contact NFER as soon as possible if the selected date is no longer convenient”.
All pupils selected should take part
In its guidance, Ofqual said it was “aware that as a result of school closures and periods of self-isolation due to the pandemic, students in this year’s cohort may not have covered the English language or mathematics curriculum as fully as they would have in other years”.
“However, we expect all students in the selected group of students to take the test in order to avoid bias in the sample and to ensure that the results of the test provide evidence about the impact of this lost learning.”
Ofqual also said it was “important that all students taking part are reassured that information about how they perform on the test will not be shared with their school and will have no impact on the GCSE grade they are awarded this summer”.
Schools have a legal obligation to take part in the test if selected, but heads can withdraw pupils in “exceptional circumstances”, such as where they would normally have an access arrangement for GCSE English or maths, or if a there are “temporary circumstances which, had they occurred during a student’s GCSE exams, would have resulted in the student not taking a GCSE exam or being eligible for special consideration”.
Heads can also withdraw pupils in “other circumstances which the headteacher assesses could cause significant distress for the student were they to take the test, such as exacerbation of an existing medical condition”.
Each participating school will be sent a cheque for £190 “in recognition of the time and resource required to participate in the NRT”.