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COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – support and guidance
Why are the arrangements designed as they are?

The arrangements for the award of the Access to HE Diploma in 2021-22 were designed to ensure that students studying an Access to HE Diploma during the pandemic had every opportunity to be assessed and acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to facilitate their progression into HE, building upon the arrangements for the 2020-21 academic year.


The Access to HE Diploma is not only intended to demonstrate that a student has achieved the necessary academic qualification to progress into HE, but it is also designed to prepare students fully for their experience of higher study. Giving students every opportunity to be assessed will help them build confidence that they have the necessary tools to succeed. It will also provide assurance to higher education providers that a student is prepared for higher education.


Many Access to HE students have been out of study for several years, and the teaching and learning model used on the Diploma is designed to provide them with the best possible foundation for the discipline of higher education study.


This is why it is important that teaching and assessment continue whenever possible. However, during the pandemic it is possible that in some exceptional circumstances not all assessments will be able to take place. For students, the additional pressures of work, caring responsibilities or illness may affect their ability to engage with teaching, learning and assessment.


For providers, the current circumstances may make the delivery and/or assessment of the Diploma challenging. To ensure fairness, tutors can adapt assessments where these situations arise.


The key points are listed below.

  1. Where all assessments for the qualification have taken place as normal or in an adapted form, they will determine the student’s level of attainment.
  2. To ensure grades are fair, equitable and robust, effective quality assurance arrangements will be applied. These can take account of:
    • adaptations to the delivery, assessment or units delivered on the Diploma
    • extenuating circumstances that may have affected student performance in assessment.
    Based on evidence presented, a moderator may adjust grades either upwards or downwards to ensure no student is advantaged or disadvantaged in relation to their peers.
  3. In those exceptional cases where a student cannot be assessed, the student may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation. The tutor/provider will draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to satisfy the award of unit.

We believe that the approach being taken is fair and ensures students have the best preparation possible to help them transition into higher education, whilst also providing additional support measures for students in recognition of the challenges of the pandemic.


How are you ensuring parity between Access to HE students and A level students and other Level 3 qualifications?

The arrangements for the award of the Access to HE Diploma provide as much parity as we are able to give within the different cohorts of students studying courses which are intrinsically very different.


There are necessary differences in the arrangements between Access to HE Diplomas and other Level 3 qualifications that facilitate progression to HE (that is, quality assurance processes and in those exceptional cases where a student cannot be assessed, the student may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation). These differences recognise the variations in the qualifications themselves and the students that study them.


The Access to HE Diploma is:

  • a credit-based qualification designed for adults wishing to enter higher education. Therefore, in order to achieve the award of the Diploma the student must complete the units that make up the programme of study
  • usually completed by the majority of students over the course of one academic year
  • assessed through continuous assessment - this means students complete assessments throughout their course of study.

The Extraordinary Regulatory Framework (ERF) that was introduced in response to the pandemic allows for providers to adapt the course to meet the needs of students to give them the best opportunity to complete. Adaptations are proposed at provider level because they know their students best in addition to any local issues caused by the pandemic, and courses can be designed to meet related needs.


The ERF in 2021-22 has also been designed to allow for adaptations to be made according to students’ personal circumstances. To ensure grades are fair and robust, effective quality assurance arrangements will be applied. These can take account of extenuating circumstances that may have affected student performance in assessment. Based on the evidence presented, a moderator may adjust grades either upwards or downwards to ensure no student is advantaged or disadvantaged in relation to their peers.


How much flexibility are providers allowed?

The ERF in 2021-22 gives providers considerable flexibility to adapt the Diploma so it can be taught and assessed during the pandemic. It sets out the parameters under which AVAs can operate which allows them to discuss and approve with providers adaptations for the award of the Diploma.


Providers can adapt assessments, delivery and/or changes to units delivered, 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 public health guidance
  • safeguard against any future disruptions relating to the pandemic, such as local lockdowns or closure of facilities.

In addition, there are provider flexibilities in place to support students who are finding it difficult to learn or be assessed at this present time. 


These may include:

  • further adaptations to assessment schedule/tasks, delivery and/or units delivered
  • additional study support where there are extenuating circumstances (for example, counselling support)
  • breaks in learning
  • extensions to length of learning programme or assignment deadlines
  • continuing into the next academic year.

It is important to appreciate that providers are given flexibility of approach in individual circumstances. It is also important that providers and AVAs are able to discuss and agree how these approaches might operate in different circumstances.


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 2021-22, 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.


What do the arrangements look like for units where a student cannot submit all of the evidence required for the award of such units?

In those exceptional cases where a student has been unable to submit all of the assessments required for the achievement of each unit, through no fault of their own, the tutor/provider can draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to determine whether the unit can be awarded.


Sufficient evidence will need to be available for tutors/providers to make a judgement on the award of a unit. This means that tutors/providers may map to existing evidence or may need to ensure additional student assessment or alternative evidence is generated. The available evidence must relate to the learning outcomes of each unit being assessed. For graded units, the available evidence must relate to the learning outcomes of each unit being assessed and the grade descriptors assigned to the unit.


Continued teaching of the Diploma will be vital to ensure that the most complete sources of evidence are available on which the tutor/provider can base their judgement.


Tutor/provider judgements can only be based on evidence of what the student can do, not what a student has the potential to achieve.


To ensure students have confidence in the results awarded this year, the evidence submitted to support the award of a unit will be subject to quality assurance arrangements.


On completion of the Diploma, students will continue to receive a unit transcript and it will not be possible to identify from the transcript units awarded through extenuation.


Why can’t the credit volume be reduced?

The Diploma is a credit-based award and, in order for the Diploma to be awarded, evidence must therefore be presented to demonstrate that all credit required for the award of the Diploma has been achieved. There is no overall grade for the Access to HE Diploma as is the case for A levels. Access to HE students will receive a unit transcript that outlines the unit grades awarded.


If the credit volume was reduced, it would not be possible to make the award of the Diploma needed to support progression into higher education.


While it is not possible to reduce the number of credits, other adaptations, such as reducing the volume of assessment needed, are possible. In those exceptional cases where a student cannot be assessed, the student may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation. The tutor/provider will draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to determine whether the unit can be awarded.


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. 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 ensure grades are fair, equitable and robust, effective quality assurance arrangements will be applied. These will take account of:

  • adaptations to the delivery, assessment or units delivered on the Diploma.

Based on evidence presented, a moderator may adjust grades either upwards or downwards to ensure no student is advantaged or disadvantaged in relation to their peers.


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, what should they do?

Students have been advised to contact their course provider if they are concerned about the additional support they are receiving to discuss what additional support or tools are available to help them.


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 that 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 ensure grades are fair, equitable and robust, effective quality assurance arrangements will be applied. These will take account of:

  • extenuating circumstances that may have affected student performance in assessment.

Based on evidence presented, a moderator may adjust grades either upwards or downwards to ensure no student is advantaged or disadvantaged in relation to their peers.


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.


Options include:

  1. making an application for extenuating circumstances
  2. applying for an extension to assessment submission dates
  3. 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
  4. 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.


In those exceptional cases where a student cannot be assessed, the student may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation. The tutor/provider will draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to determine whether the unit can be awarded. Course providers should speak to their AVAs regarding the circumstances under which an award through extenuation can take place.


A continuing student who started their course before 1 August 2021 feels the work that they produced during a previous lockdown (local or national) does not reflect their current or previous performance, what should they do?

Students have been advised that if the work produced during a lockdown (local or national) 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 ensure grades are fair, equitable and robust, effective quality assurance arrangements will be applied. These will take account of:

  • extenuating circumstances that may have affected student performance in assessment.

Based on evidence presented, a moderator may adjust grades either upwards or downwards to ensure no student is advantaged or disadvantaged in relation to their peers.


A continuing student who started their course before 1 August 2021 and was unable to study and submit assessments during a lockdown (local or national), what should they do?

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


Options include:

  1. making an application for extenuating circumstances
  2. applying for an extension to assessment submission dates
  3. 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
  4. 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.


In those exceptional cases where a student cannot be assessed, the student may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation. The tutor/provider will draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to determine whether the unit can be awarded. Course providers should speak to their AVAs regarding the circumstances under which an award through extenuation can take place.


A continuing student who started their course before 1 August 2021 had their assessments rescheduled by their course provider to be submitted at a later date because of a lockdown (local or national). 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.


These will take account of:

  • adaptations to the delivery, assessment or units delivered on the Diploma
  • extenuating circumstances that may have affected student performance in assessment.

Based on evidence presented, a moderator may adjust grades either upwards or downwards to ensure no student is advantaged or disadvantaged in relation to their peers.


What are extenuating circumstances and how are they evidenced?

Any circumstances or factors likely to impact adversely on student achievement and progression. These circumstances or factors are usually either unforeseen or unpreventable and outside the control of the student.


Examples of extenuating circumstances arising from the last two years of the pandemic have included:

  • students suffering from COVID and any associated after-effects of the infection
  • students having limited study time because of key worker commitments, or having to work to support family members as a result of the illness or redundancy of their partner/parents
  • students having limited, or no, access to equipment to complete their studies (including computers and broadband connectivity)
  • students having to home-school children during national lockdowns.

For many students, the pandemic will have impacted their learning experience. The exact nature and severity of that impact will be dependent on a complex interaction of factors at provider (centre), Diploma and student (individual and/or cohort) level.


Providers will have procedures for dealing with cases of extenuating circumstances. In most cases, extenuating circumstances that affect achievement on individual units (for example, in relation to requests for extended deadlines) are handled at course level, and appropriate action and decisions taken according to the provider's approved procedures.


AVAs will have processes in place to also consider cases where extenuating circumstances have affected performance in more than one area, or in any other way that falls outside the provider's normal processes. This will also include exceptional cases where extenuating circumstances have affected the completion or submission of work for assessment.


If extenuating circumstances impact student performance, such circumstances will be taken into account when quality assuring grades, through the process of moderation and standardisation. Tutors, Internal Moderators and External Moderators will ensure decisions are fair, robust and equitable based upon careful consideration of the extenuating circumstances and student overall performance across their programme of learning.


These procedures have been developed through collaboration with our key stakeholders including Access Validating Agencies (AVAs), the Department for Education (DfE), Ofqual, Qualifications Wales, UCAS and other organisations, and based on the experiences of students and providers during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years.


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.


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

You should speak to your AVA to determine their processes under the ERF 2021-22.


Can I apply for extenuating circumstances for a whole cohort of students?

Yes, 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 I apply for extenuating circumstances on behalf of my students?

You should speak to your AVA to determine their processes under the ERF 2021-22.


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.


Course providers should be mindful of the potential implications for students when offering multiple extensions across their Diploma, to avoid placing unnecessary pressure on students at the end of their course. You may also wish to consider the impact of managing extensions on staff workloads, for example, related to marking and quality assurance.


It may be possible to offer alternative solutions in these cases and you should speak to your AVA to discuss what options may be available.


In those exceptional cases where a student cannot be assessed, the student may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation. The tutor/provider will draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to determine whether the unit can be awarded. Course providers should speak to their AVAs regarding the circumstances under which an award through extenuation can take place.


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.


In those exceptional cases where a student cannot be assessed, the student may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation. The tutor/provider will draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to determine whether the unit can be awarded. Course providers should speak to their AVAs regarding the circumstances under which an award through extenuation can take place.


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.


In those exceptional cases where a student cannot be assessed, the student may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation. The tutor/provider will draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to determine whether the unit can be awarded. Course providers should speak to their AVAs regarding the circumstances under which an award through extenuation can take place.


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 (for providers in England) and Welsh Government (for providers in Wales) has information about the options available.


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’s website 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 impact of the continued pandemic on the mental health of students, providers and AVA staff. While it is not possible for this to be addressed directly through our arrangements, the health and well-being of students, teachers and AVA staff has been considered in the development of the arrangements. We are aiming to reduce the impact where we can by allowing AVAs and providers to adapt the Diploma as necessary and appropriate to their local situation, and by providing clear and timely communications.


The challenges faced by adult students during the pandemic are varied and different to those faced by students studying other Level 3 qualifications, and we 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 may make adjustments to aspects of teaching and assessment to account for the impact of the pandemic and will have in place mechanisms and services to support students.


In those exceptional cases where a student cannot be assessed, the student may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation. The tutor/provider will draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to determine whether the unit can be awarded. Course providers should speak to their AVAs regarding the circumstances under which an award through extenuation can take place.


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 the pandemic 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.


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. Providers will have arrangements in place to notify students of their confirmed results.


How will students' grades be quality assured and standardised?

In addition to the principles of quality assurance aligned to the QAA grading scheme, other quality assurance measures may also be applied. Your AVAs will ensure that information and communications are made available to you (including internal moderators) on the quality assurance arrangements.


To make sure grades are fair, equitable and robust, AVAs and providers have processes in place to ensure grades go through internal moderation, external moderation and standardisation. These effective quality assurance arrangements will take into account:

  • adaptations to the delivery, assessment or units delivered on the Diploma
  • extenuating circumstances that may have affected student performance in assessment.

Based on evidence presented, a moderator may adjust grades either upwards or downwards to ensure no student is advantaged or disadvantaged in relation to their peers.


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 performance.


Students have been advised to speak to their course tutor and if they have concerns about assessment decisions relating to the achievement of credits or grades, they should discuss these with the relevant member of the course team when the assessed work is first returned to them. A student may subsequently make a representation through the provider’s formal procedures. They may appeal the grading decision that results as a consequence of a representation, but only on the grounds of evidence of administrative or procedural error.


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


A student is currently studying GCSE's 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 is not due to complete their studies until after 31 July 2022. 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 2022. Students and providers will be supported if advice from DfE or Public Health England means that adaptations need to be continued beyond 31 July 2022.