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COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – support and guidance
What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called Coronavirus and was first identified in Wuhan City, China.


What is the current risk to the UK from Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

We are following government advice as to the risk of Coronavirus.


What are the symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Symptoms of coronavirus include:

  • feeling tired
  • difficulty breathing
  • high temperature
  • a continuous cough.

For more information about symptoms, please visit the NHS webpages.


Will students receive calculated grades?

There will be no provision for estimated assessment grades (calculated grades) this academic year. The award of the Access to HE Diploma will be made only on the work a student completes during their course of study.


Why can students not receive calculated grades?

This year the arrangements for the award of Access to HE Diplomas were designed to support students while studying during the pandemic. We recognise that for many students, the additional pressures of work, caring responsibilities or illness may make study even more challenging and, in some cases, impossible at the present time. However, we have confidence that there are sufficient measures in place to ensure that these extenuating circumstances can be dealt with under the current arrangements to support students through their studies.


Last academic year, students were eligible for estimated grades if they were due to complete by 31 July 2020. In addition, it was our expectation that such students will have completed a minimum of 50% of planned assessed work by 20 March 2020. Estimated assessment grades were applied to all remaining assessments with a planned submission date after 20 March 2020. These arrangements were developed to ensure students who were due to complete their studies by 31 July 2020 received fair and robust grades, based on the circumstances that students faced in March 2020.


At this stage in the year there is not sufficient evidence to support the estimation of grades.


We want to ensure that students have every opportunity to continue their studies (acquire knowledge and apply that knowledge), so that they are prepared as far as it is possible to transition into higher education or other progression routes for higher study. We are confident that the current arrangements based on current circumstances will allow for this.


We have confirmed our assessment strategy with our Access Validating Agency and now need to adapt assessments in response to local or national lockdown requirements. What do we do?

Providers can adapt assessments and delivery, where necessary and appropriate, to:

  • support teaching and learning, and assist in mitigating any possible effects of previous or future disruptions to teaching, learning and assessment relating to the pandemic
  • make assessments as manageable and flexible as possible, for example, to address the impact of compliance with social distancing or other public health guidance
  • safeguard against any future disruptions relating to the pandemic, such as local lockdowns or closure of facilities.

You should speak to your AVA to discuss how you can do this.


Our proposed adaptations do not meet the requirements of the Diploma’s rules of combination. What do we do?

We recognise that some adaptations will affect the rules of combination for some Diplomas. This would ordinarily require AVAs to follow their major modifications processes. However, under the ERF 2020-21, AVAs may adapt the rules of combination for a named Diploma where, if changes were not made, it would be impossible for students to complete their Access to HE Diploma, where this is necessary and appropriate to:

  • support teaching and learning, and assist in mitigating any possible effects of previous or future disruptions to teaching, learning and assessment relating to the pandemic
  • make assessments as manageable and flexible as possible, for example, to address the impact of compliance with social distancing or other public health guidance
  • safeguard against any future disruptions relating to the pandemic, such as local lockdowns or closure of facilities.

Your AVA will have received information from QAA about how to deal with this type of situation and you should speak to your AVA to find out more/discuss how you can do this.


How do I know which processes should be applied, for example for quality assurance or appeals, where there are centre and AVA processes?

You should speak to your AVA to confirm the processes that apply in your circumstances.


Other organisations are modifying their curricula to take into account adaptations, for example blended or online delivery. What plans are there for Access to HE Diplomas?

Providers can adapt assessments and delivery, where necessary and appropriate, to:

  • support teaching and learning, and assist in mitigating any possible effects of previous or future disruptions to teaching, learning and assessment relating to the pandemic
  • make assessments as manageable and flexible as possible, for example, to address the impact of compliance with social distancing or other public health guidance
  • safeguard against any future disruptions relating to the pandemic, such as local lockdowns or closure of facilities.

This can include changes to the units delivered. The Diploma Specification requires 60 credits to be completed for an award to be made and it is on this basis that the Diploma was confirmed in the UCAS tariff. Changes to credit value of the Diploma could undermine the Access to HE Diploma as a valued progression qualification.


Will the achievement benchmark for 2019-20 be adjusted as a result of the pandemic?

Access Validating Agencies report to QAA on the evaluation of their provision against National Achievement Rate Tables (NARTs) published by the Education and Skills Funding Agency. These are published each Spring.


Students who are finding it difficult to study where lessons, materials and/or assessments have been adapted and are worried it will affect their grades and/or completing the Diploma, what should they do?

Students have been advised to contact their course provider if they are concerned about any adaptations made to their course in year. As the course provider you may be able to offer additional support or tools to help them study.


Providers can adapt assessments and delivery, where necessary and appropriate, to:

  • support teaching and learning, and assist in mitigating any possible effects of previous or future disruptions to teaching, learning and assessment relating to the pandemic
  • make assessments as manageable and flexible as possible, for example to address the impact of compliance with social distancing or other public health guidance
  • safeguard against any future disruptions relating to the pandemic, such as local lockdowns or closure of facilities.

To make sure that grades are fair and not unduly affected by any adaptations, AVAs and providers will ensure that effective arrangements for quality assurance will be applied.


Students who are finding it difficult to study because the additional support they received in college to help with their specific learning needs is not available now they are working from home, and they are worried it will affect their grades and completing the Diploma, what should they do?

Students have been advised to contact their course provider if they are concerned about any adaptations made to their course in year, especially where they previously had additional support, to discuss what additional support or tools are available to help them.


Through quality assurance processes moderators may adjust the assessment grades of some assessments - upwards or downwards accordingly - to ensure that no student is advantaged or disadvantaged as the result of the extenuating circumstances identified.


If there is a further lockdown (local or national) and a student feels the work they produce during the lockdown does not reflect their previous performance, what should they do?

Students have been advised if they feel that the work produced during a local or national lockdown does not reflect their previous performance, to speak to their course provider. AVAs and providers will have in place arrangements to deal with such extenuating circumstances.


To make sure that grades are fair and not unduly affected by any adaptations, AVAs and providers will ensure that effective arrangements for quality assurance will be applied. Through these quality assurance processes moderators may adjust the assessment grades of some assessments - upwards or downwards accordingly - to ensure that no student is advantaged or disadvantaged as the result of the extenuating circumstances identified.


A continuing student who started their course before 1 August 2020, feels the work that they produced during the national lockdown (March to July 2020) does not reflect their current or previous performance, what should they do?

Students have been advised that if the work produced during the national lockdown does not reflect their current or previous performance to speak to their course provider. AVAs and providers will have arrangements in place to deal with such extenuating circumstances.


To make sure that grades are fair and not unduly affected by issues relating to the national lockdown, AVAs and providers will ensure that effective arrangements for quality assurance will be applied. Through these quality assurance processes moderators may adjust the assessment grades of some assessments - upwards or downwards accordingly - to ensure that no student is advantaged or disadvantaged as the result of the extenuating circumstances identified.


A continuing student who started their course before 1 August 2020 and was unable to study and submit assessments during the national lockdown (March to July 2020), what should they do?

Students have been advised that if they were unable to study and complete their assessments during national lockdown to talk to their course provider about the best way to continue.


Options include:

  • making an application for extenuating circumstances
  • applying for an extension to assessment submission dates
  • a short pause* of less than four weeks - for example, if you are in self-isolation - this will not necessarily affect the planned end date of your course
  • a formal break or suspension in learning.

If the course is not publicly funded, the provider should discuss other options that may be available to the student.


Course providers should agree with their students the appropriate steps to be taken that will be based on both your and your student’s circumstances.


* relates to publicly funded provision in England.


A continuing student who started their course before 1 August 2020 had their assessments rescheduled by their course provider to be submitted at a later date because of the national lockdown (March to July 2020). What should they do if they feel their performance is affected by these changes?

Students have been advised that if the work was rescheduled and the volume of work is unmanageable to seek advice from their course provider who will be able to advise them about the options available to them. For example, this may include making an application for extenuating circumstances. To make sure that grades are fair and not unduly affected by the rescheduling of assessments, AVAs and providers will ensure that effective arrangements for quality assurance will be applied. Through these quality assurance processes moderators may adjust the assessment grades of some assessments - upwards or downwards accordingly - to ensure that no student is advantaged or disadvantaged as the result of the extenuating circumstances identified.


If there is a further lockdown which means a student is unable to study because they are a key worker/carer or now have additional commitments, what should they do?

Students have been advised to speak to their course provider about the best way to continue with their Diploma if they are unable to study.

  • making an application for extenuating circumstances
  • applying for an extension to assessment submission dates
  • a short pause* of less than four weeks - for example, if you are in self-isolation - this will not necessarily affect the planned end date of your course
  • a formal break or suspension in learning.

If the course is not publicly funded, the provider should discuss other options that may be available to the student.


Course providers should agree with their students the appropriate steps to be taken that will be based on both your and your student’s circumstances.


*relates to publicly funded provision in England.


Can students apply for extenuating circumstances?

Yes. Course providers and AVAs already have in place procedures to allow students to identify extenuating circumstances that may affect their academic performance, should the current situation make studying difficult.


A student should discuss their specific circumstances directly with their course tutor.


Course tutors will be able to explain how to apply for extenuating circumstances.


What constitutes extenuating circumstances?

Extenuating circumstances are external to study on the course. These are circumstances that the student believes has affected their performance in assessment (or ability to study or engagement with their programme of study) and are usually either unforeseen or unpreventable and outside their immediate control.


Providers have made adjustments to many aspects of teaching and assessment to account for the impact of the pandemic but students have been advised if their studies have been affected particularly badly it is worth following the extenuating circumstances process and to contact their provider to discuss the process of application.


Do I have to notify my AVA each time an application for extenuating circumstances is made?

You should speak to your AVA to agree the processes for extenuating circumstances during this time.


Can I apply for extenuating circumstances on behalf of my students?

If, as a course provider, you consider the academic performance of a whole cohort of students has been adversely affected and you are unable to manage the issues through your own extenuating circumstances processes/measures, your senior managers should speak to your AVA.


Can students apply for an extension to an assessment submission deadline?

Yes. Course providers and AVAs already have procedures in place to allow students to apply for an extension, should the current situation make studying difficult.


A student should discuss their specific circumstances directly with their course tutor. Tutors will be able to explain how to apply for an extension.


As a centre if it is not viable for us to reschedule assessments, what should we do?

You should speak to your AVA to discuss the options available to your students.


If is not viable for us to adapt the delivery of learning and assessment, what should we do?

You should speak to your AVA to discuss the options available to your students.


Can students apply for a break in learning?

Yes. Course providers and AVAs already have procedures in place to allow students to take a break in learning should the current situation make studying difficult. Course providers and students can agree to suspend learning. This allows a student to continue later with the same eligibility that applied when they first started their learning.


Publicly-funded courses in England and Wales already have provision for 'breaks/suspension in learning', or for a range of circumstances.


Guidance from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) (for providers in England) and Welsh Government (for providers in Wales) has information about the options available. You can find the three main documents, and where to find details in those documents to areas such as policy (funding rules) and how to code learners (provider support manual and ILR).


Students have been advised to speak directly to their course tutor to discuss their individual circumstances. Course providers will be able to explain to students how to apply for a break in learning.


Students are unable to access the online lessons and materials, what should they do?

Students are advised to contact their course provider if they are unable to access online lessons and materials so that they can discuss the options available to them.


Students have concerns about the support available to them, what should they do?

Students have been advised that if they have concerns about the delivery of their course they need to follow their course provider’s complaints process in the first instance. They have also been advised that details of this will be on provider websites and should be included in the student handbook. Students can also contact the Access Validating Agency that will issue their Diploma if they are still not satisfied with the outcomes of the complaint investigation.


Students feel their well-being and mental health are being affected, what should they do?

We recognise the challenges faced by adult students under the COVID-19 restrictions and want to assure students that all comments, views and feedback received on course experiences are considered as part of our continual assessment of the arrangements.


Colleges have made adjustments to many aspects of teaching and assessment to account for the impact of the pandemic but if their studies have been affected it is worth following the extenuating circumstances process that their course provider has in place. They have been advised that the course provider will have support mechanisms in place to help them and they should contact their provider to find out more about student support services.


Why has there been no reduction to the content of the course?

Access to HE Diplomas are credit-based qualifications. In order for the Diploma to be awarded all credits must be achieved. It is not possible to reduce the number of credits required to achieve the Diploma.


Under the arrangements for the award of the Diploma in 2020-21 course providers will have been able to adapt assessments, the delivery of the course, and/or make changes to units delivered, where necessary and appropriate, to make assessments more manageable and flexible. Such adaptations may include adaptations to the volume of work.


How will students' grades be quality assured and standardised?

To make sure that grades are fair, AVAs and providers have processes in place to ensure grades go through internal moderation, external moderation and standardisation. These quality assurance processes will take into account any extenuating circumstances identified. As part of the moderation process, AVAs may adjust the assessment grades of some assessments, upwards or downwards accordingly, to ensure that no student is advantaged or disadvantaged.


In addition to the principles of quality assurance aligned to the QAA grading scheme, other quality assurance measures may also be applied.


Can students appeal their grades?

AVAs and providers have processes in place to support students who feel their grades during this period do not reflect their previous performance. Students have been advised to speak to their course tutor.


Your procedures to address representations and appeals will apply. Your AVA will be able to provide more information.


Students are worried about their progression to university, what should they do?

If students have any concerns about their progression to university, they have been advised to speak to their course provider and the universities they have applied to.


Our priority is to support students to meet the challenges to learning and delivery presented by COVID-19 and ensure that all Access to HE students are as well prepared as they can be for their transition to higher education and minimise lost learning as far as possible.


The current arrangements will ensure as far as possible that quality, standards and student outcomes can be maintained.


A student is currently studying GCSEs or functional skills alongside their Access to HE Diploma, what happens about these qualifications?

GCSEs and functional skills are regulated by Ofqual and we recommend that students speak to their course tutor or refer to the information produced by Ofqual.


A student was not due to finish their Diploma until after 31 July 2021, but their circumstances have changed which means they have more time to study - can they finish earlier?

Students have been advised to speak to their course provider to find out if it is possible for them to complete earlier. In some cases, it may be possible to complete some units of study earlier than planned which may mean students can complete their Diploma before their original end date.


In these cases, the Access to HE Diploma will continue to be awarded and quality assured according to the QAA grading scheme. In addition to the principles of quality assurance aligned to the QAA grading scheme, other quality assurance measures may also be applied.


When will course providers receive confirmed results from their AVA?

Confirmed results will be released to course providers after the Final Awards Board. The results will be released to you no later than the deadline for results to be uploaded to UCAS (it is estimated this will be around 26 July 2021). Providers will have arrangements in place to notify students of their confirmed results.


A student is not due to complete their studies until after 31 July 2021. What are the arrangements for the award and assessment of the Access to HE Diploma for them?

This year, the current guidance also applies to all students due to complete after 31 July 2021. Students and providers will be supported if advice from DfE or Public Health England means that adaptations need to be continued beyond 31 July 2021.