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18 February 2022

Adaptations to enhance the Access to HE student experience: Reflections from QAA’s National Standardisation Event


Ann-Marie Karadia

Access Officer, QAA

As a change to the usual focus of QAA’s Access to Higher Education (HE) National Standardisation event, last month QAA brought together Access to HE assessors and moderators, and officers from Access Validating Agencies (AVAs), to share practice in adaptations to QAA-recognised Access to HE Diplomas under the Extraordinary Regulatory Framework (ERF) during 2020-21.

Providers were invited to showcase their work to attendees and smaller subject-specific sessions were also held. Participants discussed scenario-based solutions to the challenges they had faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and considered whether the lessons learnt from the adaptations had a place in supporting the delivery, assessment and award of the Diploma in the future.


QAA’s Extraordinary Regulatory Framework

The ERF was designed in collaboration with AVAs - who are licensed by QAA to develop, quality assure and award the Access to HE Diploma - and in consultation with stakeholders. The ERF put in place arrangements to:

  • ensure students had the opportunity to achieve their Diplomas by being taught and assessed so they were prepared to transition to higher education
  • continue to safeguard against any potential future disruption caused by the pandemic.



One element of the ERF is adaptation. This allows for assessments, delivery and/or units to be adapted, where necessary and appropriate, to support students to continue learning during the pandemic. Providers at the event showcased examples of how they adapted units, assessment and delivery to support their students in achieving the Diploma.


Unit adaptations

Rebecca Kay at Bishop Burton College explained how the course team built on their usual course review  to identify and implement unit adaptations that ensured student workloads were minimised. They did this by mapping compatible learning outcomes and associated assessment criteria for each unit of study across the Diploma. Students still received assignment briefs and feedback sheets for each unit, but where learning outcomes had been mapped, these were linked to other activities - for example, research projects - thereby reducing their overall workload.

By identifying compatibility across learning outcomes, assessment criteria and assessments, the College retained individual assignment briefs and feedback sheets, but the briefs were related to a broader task thereby reducing workload across the course. The College has seen benefits through reduced student and staff workloads, although establishing this approach was time-consuming.



Marie Andrews from Stockton Riverside College shared examples of how students had completed assessments via Microsoft Sway. Microsoft Sway is a presentation programme (part of the Microsoft Office suite) that allows students to develop professionally presented material . Using Sway in assessment allowed students to demonstrate their fluency of communication and to integrate visual and interactive information while developing their digital and literacy skills.

While embedding the use of Sway for assessment purposes, the course team considered the outputs, potential to reduce any possible areas of over assessment, and opportunities for designing new ways to assess students. Support with the development of digital literacy skills was available from the beginning of the course to help students to develop relevant skills.



Julie Pritchard and Kevin Grovell from Cardiff and Vale College shared how the course team used Class Notebook to adapt the delivery of its Diplomas, highlighting a range of benefits including the ability to track submissions and easy distribution of formative work across different Diploma cohorts. The College also noted that, as with other activities resulting from the pandemic, there were challenges associated with online delivery including screen fatigue for students and a blurring of working hours for staff.

The team noted numerous positive outcomes of this activity for students including reduced student absence, increased digital literacy skills and a smoother transition between online and face-to-face delivery for students. For staff, the use of a central cloud-based storage facility proved a more efficient solution for uploading student submissions and extracting samples for internal and external moderation.

Denis Lacy from South and City College Birmingham outlined the benefits of using simulation software to complete practical activities, and assessments for the College’s Engineering Diploma students. Students were able to access the free online software and create, test and produce a Printed Circuit Board without the need to have electrical equipment at home. The tool proved to be useful in many ways, including in building student confidence, and the College intends to embed it as a core teaching tool for Engineering Diplomas in the future.



A recurring theme throughout the event was  the resilience of the Access to HE Diploma and those involved in its delivery and completion, noting the Diploma was adaptable in challenging circumstances during the pandemic. Some of these adaptations may shape the future of the Diploma, not least the development of a suite of stronger digital skills to support students’ transition to higher education.

Participants also shared a range of online resources which will be added to the adaptation information sheet developed by QAA and AVAs to support Access to HE course providers. The information sheet is available to course providers from their AVA.

For more information on the Access to Higher Education Diploma, visit the Access to HE website