Statement to Parliament: National reference test: implementation

Today, 30 November 2015, I am launching a public consultation on the introduction of secondary legislation to require selected schools to take part in the national reference test (NRT). The legislation will come into force on 1 September 2016 and the first full NRT will take place in March 2017.

The NRT is the next step in the government’s reform agenda, which will deliver robust and rigorous qualifications for England’s students. Before 2010, pupils received successively higher grades at GCSE each year, but in international league tables England’s performance stagnated. Ofqual has halted this grade inflation through the use of comparable outcomes.

Ofqual is now introducing the NRT which will indicate if GCSE results should change from year to year. Over time, this will provide an additional method of measuring real changes in national performance at GCSE which is distinct from the use of international comparisons such as the PISA study.

This consultation is an opportunity for teachers, parents, pupils, and all those with an interest to provide their views, which will be taken into account when preparing the final legislation.

The national reference test

Each year, a different sample of 300 secondary schools, both in the state and independent sectors, will be selected to take part. Random samples of pupils from each selected school will take a test lasting about an hour. About 30 pupils will take the English language test and another 30 will take the mathematics test.

Ofqual will publish information about overall test performance each summer when GCSE results are announced. The results will not be used for school accountability purposes and results will not be given to individual pupils. Instead, the NRT will provide Ofqual with additional evidence on year-on-year changes in performance.

Participation in the test will benefit both schools and pupils, as it will help to provide more direct evidence of improving school performance at the national level which can be reflected in the grades that are awarded at GCSE, ensuring higher attaining cohorts are rewarded.

The proposed legislation would apply to maintained schools. It would also apply to most academies and free schools through an existing provision in their funding agreement that requires them to comply with guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to assessments. It would not apply to independent schools although pupils at independent schools will also be asked to take the test to ensure that the sample of pupils that take the test is nationally representative.

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