Skip to main content Accessibility Statement
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – support and information

Update for students - 2 March 2021


The Access to Higher Education Diploma is a nationally recognised level three qualification specifically developed to prepare adults to transition to higher education. QAA has regulated the qualification through the QAA Recognition Scheme for Access to Higher Education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1997.

On 6 January 2021, QAA advised course providers to continue to apply the modified arrangements for the Award of the Access to HE Diploma in 2020-21, published in September 2020. These arrangements were designed to recognise the changes course providers had already made for teaching and assessing the Access to HE Diploma and allow for additional adaptations to be made as necessary under this and any future lockdowns.

Following analysis of the joint Ofqual1 and the Department for Education (DfE) consultation, and to reflect the direction from the Secretary of State to Ofqual on the arrangements for how GCSE, AS and A level grades should be awarded in summer 2021, Ofqual arrangements were published on 25 February 2021. While there are commonalities with the arrangements for the Access to HE Diploma and other level 3 qualifications that facilitate progression to higher education (HE),2 covered in Ofqual’s announcement, there are also some differences.

In terms of commonalities, the arrangements for the award of the Access to HE Diploma and the approaches set out by Ofqual for level 3 qualifications that facilitate progression to HE will each include a process of teacher assessment. There will be no provision for estimated or calculated grades for students studying an Access to HE Diploma, A Levels or other level three qualifications that facilitate progression into HE.


There are necessary differences in the arrangements between Access to HE Diplomas and other level 3 qualifications that facilitate progression to HE. These differences recognise the variations in the qualifications themselves. 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.

Further to this, we wish to highlight the modified arrangements for the award of the Access to HE Diploma that have been designed to ensure standards continue to be met and present the differences with other level three qualifications that facilitate progression into HE.

Assessment and Evidence

As a credit-based qualification, it is our expectation that providers will continue to deliver a programme of learning to cover all units on an Access to HE Diploma so that their students have the opportunity to be assessed and achieve the credit required to achieve the Diploma.

Providers have flexibility to use a range of assessments to inform their grade judgements, in line with the QAA Grade Scheme Handbook. The assessments will be undertaken through the course of study and may include exam or time-constrained assessments. The assessments may be produced in lessons or at home and will be marked by Access to HE course tutors.

Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) can permit providers to adapt assessments to assist in mitigating any possible effects of disruptions to teaching, learning and assessment relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Adaptations to assessment may include a reduction in volume of assessments completed, as well as changes to the types of assessments.

Support materials

QAA has provided guidance on the arrangements for the Award of the Access to HE Diploma on its website. For clarification or further information over individual support needs, course providers have been advised to contact their AVA to discuss their individual support needs.

Quality assurance

To ensure the process is as consistent as possible, there will be quality assurance processes developed by AVAs and overseen by QAA. AVAs will apply effective quality assurance arrangements where there have been changes to the delivery, assessment or changes to the units delivered on the Diploma made in response to the pandemic.

Extenuating circumstances will be taken into account when grades are confirmed. Extenuating circumstances are 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.

An ‘active dialogue’ will take place between tutors, Internal Moderators and External Moderators to ensure that decisions are fair, carefully considered and equitable based upon careful consideration of the circumstances and overall student performance across their programme of learning. 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, by the current extraordinary circumstances.

QAA will maintain overall oversight of the framework and will undertake additional monitoring activities, where necessary, to assure itself and stakeholders that students’ results continue to be accurate, fair and robust.

Appeals and results

If a student is not satisfied with their grades they can appeal. Confirmed results will be released by AVAs to providers no later than the deadline for results to be uploaded to UCAS which will be around 26 July 2021. AVAs will confirm with each of their providers the exact date that confirmed results will be released to them. There may be exceptions to the release date. Queries on result dates should be sent to your AVA regarding the release of confirmed result dates.

[1] Ofqual regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England.
[2] Other qualifications most similar to A Levels that are used for progression to HE.