Safety net – measures agreed to mitigate impact of Covid-19 in the 2020/21 academic year
The University, following consultation with the Students’ Union, has agreed new measures as part of its 2020/21 ‘safety net’ package. Along with steps already taken over the summer to change teaching and assessment of modules, these measures should further mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on students.
This includes the reintroduction of the grace period for many semester two assessments, and the provision of further data and advice during moderation and to Exam Boards so that pre- and post-Covid marks can be compared for assessments completed during semesters one and two. This will further ensure that student performance is judged fairly in an academic year that has been severely impacted by the pandemic.
What we've done already
What we’re doing post-assessment for semester one and two
Semester two assessments – grace period
Over the summer of 2020 we:
- reviewed each UG and PG course/degree programme to make sure that we would be able to cover all learning outcomes if there was major Covid-19 disruption
- reviewed the assessments used for each degree to make sure that as many of these as possible could be completed remotely if necessary
This preparation meant that students should be able to complete their modules and assessments in a Covid-impacted year.
Large numbers of students needed to self-isolate during term one, which had knock-on effects for their studies. In response, the University gave a one-week grace period during term one, allowing students more time to complete assessed work in December 2020. Alongside changes to curriculum and assessment described above, this was intended to reduce pressure on students with coursework deadlines during this period. The grace period was paused in the lead-up to exams in January 2021, but has been reinstated for appropriate semester two assessments – though there are some exemptions.
The exceptional Extenuating Circumstances policy developed in spring 2020 continues to ensure that students are not unfairly disadvantaged, and that they will get an individual response to their specific needs. In most cases, this does not require students to submit evidence of the impact of Covid on their health or performance.
If the impact of Covid becomes long term for some students and leads to a recognised disability, the Disability Support Services Team will work with them to establish support plans to make reasonable adjustments to assessments.
The pandemic has had an impact on all of us. This has been considered by the University during the various processes that take place once students have submitted their coursework or sat their exams, including: marking, moderation, and examination boards – and we will continue to consider the impact as the pandemic progresses.
The Covid learning and assessment environment is different to that pre-Covid. Staff are already marking and moderating with this in mind. In addition, students’ use of the Extenuating Circumstances policy is there to highlight exceptional cases of difficulty.
Following consultation with the Students’ Union, we have agreed that we will ask moderators and Exam Boards to compare pre- and post-Covid marks where they have identified concerns. This will further ensure that student performance is judged fairly in the Covid context.
Moderation is the process Universities use to check that marking is fair. Moderation may include different staff assessing a sample of student work for a module and then checking to see if their marks are the same as those of the original marker, or double ‘blind marking’ in some instances (dissertations for example). During the moderation process, Schools and Departments will access historic data on the performance of cohorts of students on particular modules. This will allow moderators to see how students have typically performed on these modules pre-Covid. If discrepancies are identified, this will allow colleagues to recommend adjustments to the marks for the whole cohort where appropriate.
2, Exam boards
The School or Department Exam Board is responsible for confirming marks and making decisions regarding progression and Exams Boards will consider historic data on the typical performance of a cohort of students on a module, or across a year of study. This will allow Exam Boards to see how students have typically performed pre-Covid, and what a historic distribution of marks and degree classifications looks like.
If discrepancies are identified, the Exam Board can make a decision to adjust overall module outcomes, which can affect degree classification. Where moderation of semester 1 assessments has already taken place without comparison of marks, Exam Boards will be notified and asked to pay particular attention to those assessments. Where modules are new, Exam Boards will be able to draw on historic data from comparable modules. Exam Boards are attended by independent External examiners who oversee quality and ensure that all outcomes and awards match standards across the higher education sector.
These measures, combined with those already in place, ensure that we have as much confidence as possible in the consistency of our degree standards pre Covid and during Covid, and thereby protect the personal and professional aspirations of students. We hope these measures will provide additional confidence that student performance and outcomes will be comparable with historic trends, and that students are appropriately supported through a very challenging period.
A five-day grace period for substantial coursework assessments will be reintroduced for semester two.
Though many assessments will be included in the grace period, a blanket approach will not be applied. Your School or Department may identify some assessments exempt from the grace period where it is not operationally or pedagogically possible to apply a deadline extension. Types of exempt assessment could include, but are not limited to:
- In-class tests
- Live presentations
- Lab activities
- Short written assessments
Students may apply for an extension at any time via the Extenuating Circumstances route, whether or not an assessment is subject to a grace period. The Grace Period applies to undergraduate and taught postgraduate coursework assessments for both Semester 2 and full-year modules.
Assessment deadlines have not changed. Where possible, students should work to these original deadlines. Changing deadlines will impact assessments and workload in the year ahead, and managing this should be considered before deciding to make use of the grace period.
The grace period will apply to all eligible assessments with deadlines that run from the start of Spring Semester (Monday 1 February) until two weeks (ten working days) before the start of the Semester two assessment period. This is expected to be the middle of May, but the date is not yet confirmed. We will communicate with you as soon as it is.
Where coursework deadlines fall after that final date, students may apply for extensions via the exceptional Extenuating Circumstances policy, but should consider the effect of those extensions on any exams they will be sitting. For students who have extensions due to support plans, the grace period applies from that extended deadline.