Skip to main content Accessibility Statement

12 August 2020

The response of specialist providers to COVID-19: Reflections from the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance


Stef Jones
Deputy Registrar, Quality and Student Engagement - ‎ICMP - The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance


The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP), based in London, has been developing and delivering music education and training to students of contemporary music for over 30 years. We are a small and specialist provider of higher education offering a range of specialist undergraduate and postgraduate programmes aligned to the needs of the music industry, validated by the University of East London.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, like many other providers, we decided to move our provision online. This was a significant change to the highly practical face-to-face delivery that we were used to delivering.

As we needed to take swift action, adjustments to our provision went through modified approval procedures. Every effort was made to offer alternative assessments so that our students could continue to meet the learning outcomes of the programme and modules, which led to our next question: How do we demonstrate that the quality and standards of our provision has been maintained during this transition and how can we provide ongoing assurance to our students?

What we did

Even during the pandemic, ICMP’s Quality Framework continued to support the design and delivery of high-quality academic programmes and our key mechanisms for the maintenance and management of quality and standards remained broadly unchanged.

  • Our committees took place virtually and continued to produce auditable records of decisions taken and items discussed.
  • Our ongoing monitoring and evaluation via module evaluation surveys, annual module and programme leader reports, and Programme Committee meetings (our formal student/staff liaison meetings) took place as scheduled.
  • Robust marking and moderation procedures continued to be adhered to.

To provide assurance to our Academic Board and awarding bodies, the Quality Team conducted a Quality Audit using the QAA guidance as a framework. The Quality Audit detailed and evaluated the approach taken to manage our transition and provided considerations to inform the remainder of our delivery for 2019-20 and planning for 2020-21.

Our student community plays an important part in the quality assurance and enhancement of our provision – and there has been no exception to this during the pandemic. Students continued to be represented through our governance structure and we ensured that Programme Committee meetings provided a direct way for students to provide feedback into the quality management and enhancement of individual programmes during the transition to online.

A particular challenge for ICMP was that our Student Officer elections fell during the announcement of the national lockdown, however our outgoing Student Officers agreed to extend their contracts to support ICMP in preparations for September delivery. This included regular Townhall meetings with the student community to explore their experience of the transition and consider their ideas to support our September offer. The student community have been fully engaged in defining the guiding principles and consulted on the decisions.

During the pandemic, our Quality Team has benefitted from our QAA Membership, as the team was able to engage with the sector by sharing best practice with other providers through the QAA discussion forums and webinars. Additionally, the team has attended some of the events organised by QAA and shared relevant events with colleagues in other departments.

So, what about September?

It’s been clear to us from the beginning of this pandemic how developing a flexible, progressive and high-quality approach to providing our courses from September is vital. Our highest priority is the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and visitors, and we’ve been working tirelessly during the lockdown period to make this happen.

To ensure we effectively support our students through this period we’ve established, together with our students and staff, 10 principles to support the high-quality, rewarding and enriching educational experience that students will receive from ICMP in September 2020 and beyond.

Drawing upon the QAA guidance - Preserving Quality and Standards Through a Time of Rapid Change- our existing quality assurance processes have been enhanced to ensure that they support our blended delivery. This includes external examiner endorsement for 2020-21 assessment modifications; regular student Townhall meetings; additional sampling of online material and programme documentation during the first semester. We are not expecting everything to be perfect, however these mechanisms should alert us to where we may need to take action when necessary.

Reflecting on the past four months, I could not be more impressed with what the ICMP community has achieved. One of the joys, but also a challenge, of working in a small and specialist provider is that our staff structure is often much simpler with staff members taking on perhaps more responsibilities than you would see in a traditional provider. The ICMP community managed to deliver our provision during a global pandemic whilst still engaging and completing routine monitoring and evaluation of our provision.

The QAA guidance has provided us with additional assurance that our actions taken in response to the pandemic were in line with the sector. It has also provided us with confidence in our existing quality framework and cycle enabling us to demonstrate institutional maturity, which we hope to use as evidence to support our future development.