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COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – support and information

This page is being regularly updated to reflect the latest advice.

 

QAA is in close contact with the Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) to ensure we are doing everything possible to support Access to HE students during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. You can find contact details for the AVAs on our website.

 

If you have any further questions or concerns relating to COVID-19, you can email the QAA Access to HE Team at AHE@qaa.ac.uk.

 

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.


The Access to HE Diploma is not only intended to demonstrate that a student has achieved the necessary academic qualification to progress into higher education, but it is also designed to prepare students fully for their HE experience. 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 not studied for several years, and the teaching and learning model used to deliver 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 students studying A level and other Level 3 qualifications?


The arrangements for the award of the Access to HE Diploma provide as much parity with A levels and other Level 3 qualifications as we are able to give within the different cohorts of students studying courses which are intrinsically very different for all students.


There are necessary differences in the arrangements between Access to HE Diplomas and other Level 3 qualifications that facilitate progression to HE. The two main differences are:

  • quality assurance processes designed to safeguard you if your academic performance is affected by the issues arising from the pandemic. 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 your 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.
  • award through extenuation which provides a safeguard in those exceptional cases where you cannot be assessed, you 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
  • not subject to an overall grade. Access to HE students receive a grade transcript which provides a breakdown of the grades achieved over their course of study.

The Extraordinary Regulatory Framework (ERF) 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 and the local issues caused by the pandemic, and courses can be designed to meet those needs. The ERF has also been designed to allow for adaptations to be made according to students’ personal circumstances.


What types of adaptations have been made?


Please contact your course tutor who will explain how your course has been adapted and may be adapted in the future.

  • Assessment submission dates are set by course providers. If you are not able to meet the submission date, let your course provider know and you may be given an extension. Records of extensions granted will be held by course providers as part of their normal record keeping processes. This information will not normally be shared with universities.
  • 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 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.
  • It may mean that any exams planned will be replaced by a different type of assessment under the current arrangements.

Tutors will follow the QAA grading scheme when marking your assignments.


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.


I am finding it difficult to study where lessons, materials and/or assessments have been adapted and am worried it will affect my grades and completing the Diploma, what should I do?


You should contact your course provider if you are concerned about any adaptations made to your course in year. You may be able to get access to additional support or tools to help you 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 your 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.


I need additional support to help with my specific learning needs, will this be available if my course is adapted, and I have to work from home for example?


You should contact your course provider if you are concerned about any adaptations made to your course, especially where you need additional support, to discuss what additional support or tools are available to help you.


I need additional support to help with my specific learning needs and I am worried adaptations to my course will affect my grades and completing the Diploma, what should I do?


You should contact your course provider if you are concerned about any adaptations made to your course, especially where you need additional support, to discuss what additional support or tools are available to help you.


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 your 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.


If there is a further lockdown (local or national) and I feel the work I produce during the lockdown does not reflect my previous performance, what do I do?


If you feel that the work produced during a local or national lockdown does not reflect your previous performance, please speak to your provider. Providers 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 your 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 I am unable to study because I am a key worker/carer or now have additional commitments, what should I do?


Access to HE Diplomas have been designed to be responsive to changes in circumstances, for example, during a period of illness. If you are unable to study, please talk to your course provider about the best way to continue with your Diploma.


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 (relates to publicly funded provision in England)
  4. a formal break or suspension in learning.

If your course is not publicly funded, your course provider will be able to discuss other options that may be available to you.


You should contact your course provider to agree the appropriate steps taken that will be based on both you and your course provider's circumstances.


In those exceptional cases where you cannot be assessed, you 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. You should speak to your course provider regarding the circumstances under which an award through extenuation can take place.


I am a continuing student who started my course before 1 August 2021. What do I do if I feel the work I produced during a lockdown (local or national) does not reflect my current or previous performance?


If you feel that the work produced during a national lockdown does not reflect your current or previous performance, please speak to your provider. Providers 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 your 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.


I am a continuing student who started my course before 1 August 2021 and I was unable to study and submit assessments during a lockdown (local or national). What should I do?


If you were unable to study and complete your assessments during a national lockdown, please talk to your 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 (relates to publicly funded provision in England)
  4. a formal break or suspension in learning.

If your course is not publicly funded, your course provider will be able to discuss other options that may be available to you.


You should contact your course provider to agree the appropriate steps taken that will be based on both you and your course provider's circumstances.


In those exceptional cases where you cannot be assessed, you 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. You should speak to your course provider regarding the circumstances under which an award through extenuation can take place.


I am a continuing student who started my course before 1 August 2021 and my provider rescheduled my assessments to be submitted at a later date because of national lockdown(s). What do I do if I feel my performance is affected by these changes?


If the work was rescheduled and the volume of work is unmanageable, your provider will be able to advise you about the options available to you, for example, making an application for extenuating circumstances.


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 your 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.


What are extenuating circumstances?


Extenuating circumstances are external to study on your course. These are circumstances that you believe have affected your performance in assessment (or ability to study or engagement with your programme of study) and are usually either unforeseen or unpreventable and outside of your immediate control. 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 have made adjustments to many aspects of teaching and assessment to account for the impact of the pandemic but if your studies are affected particularly badly it is worth following your provider’s extenuating circumstances process. Please contact your provider to discuss the process of application.


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. Access Validating Agencies (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. In those exceptional cases where you cannot be assessed, you 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. You should speak to your course provider regarding the circumstances under which an award through extenuation can take place.


If extenuating circumstances impact your performance, such circumstances will be taken into account when quality assuring grades, through the process of moderation and standardisation. 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 your 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.


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 I apply for extenuating circumstances?


Yes. Access to HE providers and Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) already have in place procedures to allow you to identify extenuating circumstances that may affect your academic performance, should the current situation make studying difficult.


To discuss your specific circumstances, please speak directly to your course tutor.


How do I apply for extenuating circumstances?


Please contact your course tutor who will explain how to apply.


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


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


To discuss your specific circumstances, please speak directly to your course tutor.


How do I apply for an extension to an assessment submission deadline?


Please contact your course tutor who will explain how to apply.


Can I apply for a break in learning?


Yes. Access to HE providers and AVAs already have procedures in place to allow you to take a break in learning should the current situation make studying difficult. You and your course provider can agree to suspend learning while you take a break. This allows you to continue later with the same eligibility that applied when you 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.


To discuss your specific circumstances, please speak directly to your course tutor.


How do I apply for a break in learning?


Please contact your course provider who will explain how to apply.


I am unable to access online lessons and materials, what should I do?


If you are unable to access online lessons and materials, you should contact your course provider.


I have concerns about the support available to me, what should I do?


If you have concerns about the delivery of your course or support available to you on course, you should follow your course provider’s complaints process in the first instance. Details of this will be on their website and should be included in your student handbook. You can contact the Access Validating Agency (AVA) that will issue your Diploma if you are still not satisfied with the outcomes of the complaint investigation.


I feel my well-being and mental health are being affected, what should I 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 you 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. Your course provider will have in place mechanisms and services to support you and you should contact them to find out more about the student support services available to you.


I am worried about my progression to university, what should I do?


If you have any concerns about your progression to university, please speak to your course provider and the universities you 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 do I get my results?


Confirmed results will be released to students after the Final Awards Board. The results will be released to you no later than the deadline for results to be uploaded to UCAS. Please speak to your course provider regarding the specific date you will receive your results.


How will you ensure my grades will be fair?


In addition to the principles of quality assurance aligned to the QAA grading scheme, other quality assurance measures may also be applied. Your AVA will ensure that information and communications are made available to you 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 you are not advantaged or disadvantaged in relation to your peers.


Can I appeal my grades?


AVAs and providers have processes in place to support students who feel their grades during their course of study do not reflect their performance. Your AVA will follow the procedures for student appeals as detailed in Grading Scheme Handbook Section C: Using the Grade Descriptors in Assessment.


Please speak to your course tutor if you have concerns about assessment decisions relating to the achievement of credits or grade. You should discuss these with the relevant member of the course team when the assessed work is first returned to you. You may subsequently make a representation through the provider’s formal procedures. You 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.


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


In those exceptional cases where you have been unable to submit all of the assessments required for the achievement of each unit, through no fault of your own, your tutor/provider will 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 your 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 you can do, not what you have the potential to achieve.


To ensure you 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, you will receive a unit transcript. It will not be possible to identify from the transcript any units awarded through extenuation.
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. Therefore, evidence must be presented to demonstrate that all credit required for the award of the Diploma has been achieved.


You will receive a unit transcript that outlines the unit grades you have been 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 you cannot be assessed, you may still be awarded unit(s) that make up the Diploma, through extenuation. Your tutor/provider will draw upon either further adaptations to assessments or alternate lines of evidence to determine whether the unit can be awarded.


I am not due to complete my studies until after 31 July 2022. What are the arrangements for the award and assessment of the Access to HE Diploma for me?


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.


Further advice and information


If you need further information, please take a look at our frequently asked questions and/or contact your provider.


FAQs for Access to HE providers

 

Frequently asked questions for Access to HE providers are published on the QAA website.