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National reference test – help or hindrance?

13 April 2015

The new proposed national reference test (NRT) is intended to provide evidence on changes in performance standards over time. From March 2017 Ofqual will require that sample students from approximately 300 schools will sit tests of under an hour in maths, English language and English literature.

The requirement derives from the Education Reform Act 1988 which introduced the national curriculum and requires that attainment is carefully monitored in order to ensure improvements. However, concern has been raised that the NRT might not be fit for purpose; academics believe that whist it might be a useful general indicator of standards, it will not be an appropriate tool to inform precise GCSE grade boundaries. Unions believe that as the results are only recorded nationally, and not individually, they will not be comparable with GCSEs. Some head teachers have expressed concern that, being scheduled for March, the NRT could interfere with revision programs for summer exams.

At a time when there is evidence of growing mental health issues in students, with exam stress almost certainly making a significant contribution to the figures, there might be a risk that an additional exam could add to the anxiety levels or alternatively, without any individual record it could be seen as another hoop to jump through that is not taken seriously.

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