Chapter 2 - Managing Education Provision in the event of Exceptional Circumstances

 

  1. Managing Education Provision in the Event of Exceptional Circumstances
    1. Recovery of learning opportunities in the event of exceptional circumstances
      1. Introduction
        1. In exceptional circumstances, teaching and other learning opportunities may not be provided or may not be provided in the way initially planned. This guidance is intended to suggest alternative ways for providing teaching and other learning opportunities that have been disrupted by exceptional circumstances.
      2. Guiding Principles
        1. If teaching and other learning activities1 have not been provided as originally intended, an initial assessment will need to be undertaken by the College as to whether or not the learning opportunities can be recovered. For example, if a transmissive (non-interactive) lecture is cancelled, it is likely that this can either be rescheduled or suitable alternative delivery methods can be employed to recover the learning opportunity. However, in the event that a field trip is cancelled, it is unlikely that the learning opportunity can be recovered in its totality.
        2. This guidance applies to all Colleges within the University as well as Partner Intuitions.  Where the College/ Partner Institution deems that a learning opportunity cannot be recovered satisfactorily by alternative means, advice must be sought from the Taught Faculty Office.
        3. When recovering learning opportunities through alternative provision, this should take place in advance of any assessment related to this learning. Where this is not possible, it is likely that the assessment will need to be adjusted following the guidance set out in Chapter 2 ‘Adjustments to assessment process and ratification of taught student progression and awards in exceptional circumstances.
        4. If learning opportunities cannot be recovered in advance of assessment, then they should be recovered by the end of the academic year, as this may have implications for student success on subsequent modules and assessments.
        5. Where roles are named, these may need be substituted for an equivalent role at a Partner Institution.
      3. Alternative Provision
        1. Finding an appropriate method of alternative provision for missed teaching and other learning opportunities will be dependent on the type of learning activity that has been disrupted.
        2. The alternative provision should, as far as possible, provide students with the same learning opportunity, taking into account the aims and objectives, intended learning outcomes and student experience of the provision that was originally planned.
          For example, if a transmissive (non-interactive) lecture is cancelled, the provision of lecture notes, reading materials, and/or a recording of the same lecture given previously, alongside an invitation for students to ask follow-up questions in Office Hours, may be sufficient. However, if exceptional circumstances prevent the provision of a seminar session, in which students would have been able to interact with peers as well as academic staff, alternative provision may have to provide equivalent opportunities for student-student and student-staff interaction (whether virtually/face-to-face, synchronously/asynchronously, etc).
        3. A list of possible alternative methods of provision are listed below. This list is not exhaustive, and provides examples. In the event of disruption due to exceptional circumstances, it is recommended that multiple methods are considered to ensure learning opportunities are appropriately recovered, but it is not intended that all need to be undertaken.

          • Upload previous lecture recordings (or equivalent presentations) to the online Virtual Learning Environment.
          • Upload additional learning resources to the Virtual Learning Environment, including readings, web-based and other electronic resources.
          • Provide notes and teaching materials from cancelled taught sessions online.
          • Provide a sample of coursework or other assessments online.
          • Organise one-to-one or group drop-in sessions to discuss module content or more general concerns about the disrupted teaching and learning opportunities.
          • Encourage students to attend Office Hours sessions, and extend the quantity and duration of such provision.
          • Organise replacement and/or additional lectures, tutorials, workshops, etc. to address some or all of the missed content and/or to discuss forthcoming assessments.
          • Within the parameters of what is permissible in terms of module/programme approval processes, and in consultation with the students, re-design the remainder of the course in terms of syllabus plan, learning activities and/or teaching methods.
        4. Associate Deans for Education will be responsible for deciding if the alternative provision is satisfactory in terms of mitigating the effects of teaching and learning opportunities that have been disrupted due to exceptional circumstances.
        5. It is advised that records are kept, detailing how missed teaching learning opportunities have been provided by alternative means. These records will be need to be reported to APACs and may be needed when considering academic appeals or complaints
    2. Adjustments to assessment process and ratification of taught student progression and awards in exceptional circumstances
      1. Introduction
        In exceptional circumstances, changes to existing assessment processes may be necessary to ensure as far as possible that student outcomes are not impacted by those circumstances. A circumstance would normally only be so judged if it has the potential to have a material impact on student academic performance, or if it will not be possible to assess student academic performance in the usual manner.
        1. The guidance set out below is provided to address exceptional circumstances that require adjustments to the assessment process and the ratification of taught student progression and awards. It is presented in four sections as follows:

          a) Guiding Principles
          b) Adjustments to assessments
          c) Actions at APACs
          d) Referrals to the University APAC
        2. In undertaking adjustments the two following principles should be upheld:

          a) The interests of students should be protected (allowing students to graduate or progress).
          b) The standard of the Exeter award cannot be compromised.
        3. Where roles are named, these may need be substituted for an equivalent role at a Partner Institution.
      2. Guiding Principles
        If circumstances prevent learning activities (either planned or substituted) from being provided, or from being provided in time to allow all students to engage with the content in advance of assessments, the approach to assessment may need to be adjusted. This document provides information to assist Colleges in determining when a change to assessment should be made, what change might be needed, and what process should be followed.
        1. Principle

          Within each College, decisions should be made about where adjustments may be necessary to ensure that students are only assessed based on the learning activities that have been provided. A flow chart set out in annex 1 is provided to assist in making decisions about what form of adjustment will be appropriate in which circumstances, and what level of authority and oversight may be required.
        2. Communication with students

          At module level, students will need to know of any precise adjustments being made. Of all adjustments, students must be informed, and with regard to adjustments that may have a material impact, students must be consulted (e.g. significant changes to the form of assessment). Further advice on appropriate consultation is provided below corresponding to each type of adjustment.
        3. General points to note in formulating mitigation plans

          1. The advice in this document is provided in the context that overarching institutional timelines for assessment cannot be changed, therefore plans must not be made which require alterations to dates for APACs, submission of marks to APACs or for the release of results to students.
          2. Assessments will need to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which they have met the learning outcomes for the module and the programme, and any adjustments made must not compromise the integrity of academic standards.
          3. Adherence to the Teaching Quality Assurance Manual, and the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook within that, should be upheld. If circumstances arise which necessitate divergence from either, advice must be sought from the Taught Faculty Office.
          4. Where changes are made to the timing of individual assessments, to accommodate revised schedules of planned learning activities or the provision of substituted learning activities, care must be taken to review the balance of assessments overall, to avoid the bunching of deadlines and to provide sufficient time for student revision/preparation. This will be assessed by the Associate Dean for Education (or nominee).
          5. Revised assessment papers, model answers and assessment criteria should be agreed in advance with the relevant External Examiner, and with involvement from the Module Convenor in accordance with Chapter 2 of the Assessment Progression and Awarding Handbook.
          6. Any adjustments to the approach taken to module assessment must be recorded in the minutes of the relevant Programme/Discipline APACs. Further advice on the operation of the APACs, including the recording of decisions and the approach to be taken to exceptional circumstances and unanticipated impact on assessment, may be requested from the Taught Faculty Office.
      3. Adjustments to assessments
        The following questions relate to the flowchart set out in Annex 1 (numbered boxes relating to the numbered guidance below).
        1. Have the original planned learning activities been provided on time?
          1. Colleges should undertake a review of the impact of exceptional circumstances with a view to identifying those modules and assessments potentially affected.
          2. In many cases, the original planned learning activities will have been provided on time and no adjustments will be required. In some circumstances it will be necessary to adjust the planned approach to ensure that students are fairly assessed on the basis of those learning activities that have been provided.
        2. If the original learning activities have been provided late, substituted, or not provided at all, has consideration been given to the timing, content, and method of the assessment?

          a) If planned learning activities have been provided late, been provided by substituted activities, or not provided at all, a review must be undertaken by the Module Convenor as to whether the original planned assessment remains valid. If, on consideration of the timing, the content, and the method of assessment, it is agreed through consultation with the Director of Education (or nominee) that no adjustments are required, then the assessment can go ahead as originally planned.
          b) If the planned assessment is no longer valid, then consideration should be given to options i, ii and iii below.

          i. Consider timing of assessment

          • Consideration will be given to whether the timing of individual assessments can be altered, to accommodate the scheduling of rearranged or substituted activity.
          • If the timing of the assessment can be changed to offer a fair and reasonable schedule to all students (on consideration of the overall balance of assessment deadlines) then the timing of the assessment will be rearranged.
          • Examination periods will not be rearranged, but when scheduling the examination timetable consideration may be given to the timing of examinations for individual modules impacted by the exceptional circumstances.
          • Adjustments to the timing of assessments need to be undertaken in view of the overall balance of the assessment load, and therefore should be agreed with the Director of Education, in consultation with the Module Convenor, and reported to the Associate Dean for Education. Such changes must be recorded as this information will be required later in the assessment process, when considering the impact of exceptional circumstance and how effectively this has been mitigated.
          ii. Consider content of assessment
          • As well as the timing of assessments, consideration must be given to whether assessment questions and activities can be revised to accommodate those learning activities that have been undertaken as normal, and those that have been disrupted by the exceptional circumstances (i.e. with regard to subject content knowledge). For example, if the major assessment is by formal examination, then the Associate Dean for Education will need to be assured that the examination paper is consistent with the learning opportunities provided.
          • In making such changes it will be necessary to ensure that the revised assessment still meets the Intended Learning Outcomes for the module.
          • Such changes to the content of assessment questions/activities are the responsibility of the Module Convenor and must be agreed in consultation with the Director of Education, and reported to the Associate Dean for Education. Such changes must be recorded, as this information may be required later in the assessment process, when considering the impact of exceptional circumstance and how effectively this has been mitigated.
          • If such changes are necessary for an assessment that might have been set earlier in the term, then the College must inform students that the expectations for assessments set earlier have been changed to align with the learning activities provided. Assessment criteria will need to be amended accordingly.
          iii. Consider redesigning the assessment
          • If it is not possible to change the timing or content of the assessment to accommodate those learning activities that have been undertaken, then consideration may be given to the redesign of the assessment (e.g. an alternative form of assessment).
          • In redesigning assessments it will be necessary to ensure that the revised assessment still enables students to demonstrate the extent to which they have met the Intended Learning Outcomes for the module.
          • Such changes must be applied across a whole module cohort. This is to ensure parity of experience.
          • When there are changes to the assessment so that the form of assessment differs significantly to that which has been published to students (i.e., in the module descriptor or programme specifications) students should be informed about the changes and the reason(s) for them, and give their written consent, before any such changes are approved.
          • Such changes require the approval of the Director of Education, the college Associate Dean for Education and the Academic Dean for Students. Details of the actions taken should be reported to the Programme/Discipline APAC.

          Can changes be made to module learning outcomes?

          i. In rare situations, which must be avoided if at all possible, it may be necessary to amend the Intended Learning Outcomes of the module to reflect those learning activities and assessment opportunities that have been provided.
          ii. Students must be informed about the changes and the reason(s) for them, and give their written consent, before any such changes are approved.
          iii. This course of action will need to ensure the integrity of the Intended Learning Outcomes at the level of the programme (see Programme Outcomes as articulated on the relevant Programme Specification) and will necessitate approval of the Director of Education, the College Associate Dean for Education and the Academic Dean for Students. The impact on Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body requirements for Intended Learning Outcomes should be considered, if applicable. Advice should also be sought from the central Quality and Standards Team.

          Make changes and document decisions.

          i. The outcome of decisions and any adjustments implemented will need to be documented and retained to support the ratification of student progression and award. These should be reported to the Programme/Discipline APAC.
          ii. External Examiners must be consulted about all changes to assessment content and/or design. Where this has not been possible in advance of the required changes, this must be reported to the Programme/Discipline APAC to ensure the External Examiner is informed and a record is made within the APAC minutes.
          iii. The decision making process, and the level of authority and approval for different types of adjustment are set out in the flow diagram attached. Further advice may be obtained from the Taught Faculty Office.
      4. Action at APACs
        Programme/Discipline APACs should aim to ratify progression and results in accordance with existing processes and deadlines.

        The following questions and answers seek to provide advice and guidance concerning changes in practice required during exceptional circumstances. They also relate to the flowchart set out in Annex 2 (numbered boxes relating to the numbered guidance below).
        1. Have changes to assessments been made prior to the Programme/Discipline APAC?
          1. Where changes have been made to assessments (i.e. assessment content or design), these must be considered by an External Examiner (wherever possible) to ensure it is appropriate in demonstrating the acquisition of the Intended Learning Outcomes for the module, in advance of the assessment being undertaken. If prior external verification has been received, a written report of the changes made must be received at the Programme/Discipline APAC. A detailed record of the changes and the confirmation of the External Examiner must be noted in the minutes.
          2. Where adjustments have been made and not verified in advance, but an appropriate External Examiner will be attending the Programme/Discipline APAC, a request must be made to the External Examiner to confirm the appropriateness of the changes at the Programme/Discipline APAC meeting. A detailed record of the adjustments and the response of the External Examiner must be noted in the minutes.
          3. Where an External Examiner is not able or willing to ratify adjustments, the referral of those decisions affected must be presented to the College APAC where it must be clearly noted in the minutes.
        2. Have necessary adjustments to the marking process been identified between assessment completion and the Programme/Discipline APAC meeting?

          i. Where the need for an adjustment is identified between the completion of an assessment by students and the relevant Programme/Discipline APAC meeting, consideration must be given to marking processes/assessment criteria, bearing in mind the need to assess the Intended Learning Outcomes for the module, and fairness to all students affected. An example of such an adjustment would be alteration of marking processes/assessment criteria following retrospective analysis of the completed assessment and the impact of the exceptional circumstances, for example, when answers to selected examination questions are excluded from consideration when calculating examination marks.
          ii. Colleges may wish to discuss proposed adjustments at a preparatory meeting of the Programme/Discipline APAC, although responsibility for finalising and approving module marks, confirming and approving student progression decisions, and making recommendations for awards, classification and consequences of failure must remain with the full Programme/Discipline APAC. The membership of any preparatory meeting is stipulated in Chapter 7 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook.
        3. Have any of the modules in a student’s profile been affected by the exceptional circumstances?

          i. Colleges will be asked to flag any modules affected by the exceptional circumstances, and where a student’s profile includes such modules, care must be taken to consider the profile and the potential impact on classification or progression.
          ii. Colleges may wish to discuss the impact of exceptional circumstances on students’ profiles at a preparatory meeting of the Programme/Discipline APAC (see 4.2 above) and submit recommendations for consideration at the full Programme/Discipline APAC.
          Note: any adjustments of the profiles of individual students must also be identified for further decision at the College APAC.
        4. Is the Programme/Discipline APAC quorate?

          i. The quorum for the attendance of members at a meeting of a Programme/Discipline APAC is outlined in Chapter 7 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook.
          ii. Where exceptional circumstances prevent the Programme/Discipline APAC from achieving quoracy, the APAC meeting may continue, however, this must be reported in writing as a matter of urgency to the Taught Faculty Office and all decisions should be referred to the College APAC for consideration. If it is known in advance that quoracy cannot be achieved, approval must be sought from the Taught Faculty Office in advance for the meeting to proceed. When the External Examiner(s) is not able to be present at the Programme/Discipline APAC, nor able to attend by Skype, video conference link or conference call, the External Examiner’s absence must be approved in advance by the Academic Dean for Students. If possible, the External Examiner should submit a written record of their remarks and recommendations on classifications and failures, and approve any proposals to scale module marks, and/or changes an individual student’s module marks, progression status or award (except when made for the purposes of error correction). If the External Examiner is unable to engage in the ways stated above, advice and guidance must be sought from the Taught Faculty Office.
        5. Adjustments to assessment outcomes/ scaling

          When exceptional circumstances have an impact upon a cohort of students on a module and create anomalies in mark distributions, it is sometimes necessary to consider scaling marks. Incidences where scaling is applied and the rationale for these must be carefully minuted by Programme/Discipline and College APACs to enable review. Guidance on how/when to apply scaling can be found under 5.7 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook. Further advice can be obtained from the Taught Faculty Office.
        6. Guidance for Mitigation Committees

          Exceptional circumstances as defined at the start of this document are not considered to be grounds that give rise to a need for individual mitigation. Programme/Discipline APACs will consider student profiles as set out above. College Mitigation Committees must, however, consider carefully any applications where there is evidence that the impact of the exceptional circumstances (e.g. natural disasters or industrial action), has contributed to or exacerbated mitigating circumstances (e.g., contributed to a change in mental health needs or impacted on adjustments required for a disability). Any recommendations for further adjustment must be reported to the Programme/Discipline APAC.
        7. Exceptional Years

          As noted in Chapter 7.8 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook, certain powers of Programme/Discipline APACs can only be exercised during an Exceptional Year as declared by the Academic Dean for Students. These powers include;
          1. Setting aside an assessment mark or module mark when considering progression, classification or condonement.
          2. Substituting a proxy mark for an affected assessment where there is sufficient evidence of a student’s performance in other examination/assignments.
          3. Applying retrospective mitigation in the form of deferral (uncapped reassessment).
          4. Ability to recommend adjustments to the degree classifications of individual students.
          5. Ability to offer a student who has a referral or deferral, which would need to be undertaken in a subsequent academic year, and thereby prevent their normal progression, the choice of either;
            a. Completing the referral/deferral assessment(s) at the relevant time as normal i.e. in the subsequent academic year. The following points would apply;
            i. Their mode-of-attendance as registered in the student record system SITS would be resit without attendance ‘RWA’.
            ii. This would constitute an attempt at an assessment, either via referral or deferral, and would usually be sat in the subsequent academic year without attendance at scheduled teaching events.
            iii. RWA students have access to online learning resources related to the curriculum/assessment pattern of the year in which they were taught rather than having access to live/current teaching events occurring in-year.
            iv. Progression would be on hold pending successful completion of these assessments and in alignment with module completion timeframes as outlined in Chapter 2 - Setting and Submission of Assessments, of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook. Failure to complete within the stipulated module timeframes as a result of Exceptional Years could necessitate a repeat year.
            v. A student can be RWA on one or multiple assessments/ modules per stage (and will retain the RWA status for the full academic year) and with more flexibility during Exceptional Years.
            vi. RWA students do not pay tuition fees (with the exception of fees for any referrals) and are not eligible for student finance.
            vii. RWA students are classed as registered students.
            viii. Module marks, in relation to any referrals, would be capped at the pass mark.
            Or;
            b. Having a partial repeat year for the modules they have not yet passed. The following points would apply;
            i. The mode-of-attendance for repeat study students in in the student record system SITS would be resit with attendance ‘RSA’. They would be in attendance and fully registered for the term(s) they are repeating and would then be shown as inactive for the rest of the year. Their status remains as RSA.
            ii. Repeat study students would have access to relevant teaching activities and learning resources as any standard student would.
            iii. Repeat study students would be assessed on the curriculum/assessment pattern of the current year (rather than that of the year in which they were originally taught).
            iv. Progression would be on hold pending successful completion of these modules.
            v. Repeat study can be of modules or whole years but requires submission of supporting evidence (with the exception of PSRBs) in order to be approved; usually the option to repeat a whole year or module is only available once per programme of study, however where APACs have granted a period of repeat study as a result of an Exceptional Year, this should not count against the student should they subsequently require/ where they have previously required a period of repeat study in non-Exceptional Years.
            vi. RSA students are charged tuition fees on a pro-rata credit basis; repeat study years will count towards the total number of years for which a student is eligible for student finance (a maximum of five years’ of student finance is available).
            vii. Marks from repeated modules would not be capped.
            viii. Usually repeat study students would not be repeating any modules they had already passed as per standard repeat study rules (unless PSRBs required it). However, where an APAC believes a student has been severely impacted by an Exceptional Year, they may permit passed modules to be repeated. In addition, where the assessment patterns have changed students may need to repeat all the assessments.
            ix. Where an APAC believes a student has been severely impacted by an Exceptional Year, they may permit a further opportunity to resit failed elements in order to improve the final outcome.
            If students do not make a choice, option 1 would be the default.
          6. Using viva voce examinations (where necessary) to determine which (if any) of the above outcomes to apply.
          7. Repeat Study Students:
            The following Repeat Study rules, as outlined in Chapter 11.5 of the Assessment Handbook, should be relaxed in Exceptional Years only;
            In order to support Repeat Study students more comprehensively (during/as a result of an Exceptional Year) to allow them to perform better in the subsequent year, the following rules will be relaxed;
            • Usually the option to repeat a whole year or module is only available once per programme of study; however, where APACs have granted a period of repeat study in an Exceptional Year, this should not count against the student should they subsequently require/ where they have previously required a repeat in non-Exceptional Years.
            • Where APACs believe a student has been severely impacted by an Exceptional Year, they may permit passed modules to be repeated.
            • Where APACs believe a student has been severely impacted by an Exceptional Year, they may permit a further opportunity to resit failed elements in order to improve the final outcome.

            Circumstances in which an ‘Exceptional Year’ may be declared include (but are not limited to):
            a. Natural disaster
            b. War
            c. Disease outbreak
            d. Industrial action
            e. Widespread/ significant IT failure.

            It is anticipated that ‘Exceptional Years’ will rarely be declared.
      5. Referrals to the University APAC
        1. In exceptional circumstances, our current regulatory framework allows colleges to refer decisions taken at the College APAC to the University APAC. The primary responsibility of the University APAC is to oversee assessment, progression and awarding from an institution-wide quality assurance perspective, as outlined in Chapter 7 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook. It has the following Terms of Reference:

          i. To receive reports on Dean's exceptions.
          ii. To ensure the consistent application of the Academic Regulations across Colleges.
          iii. To identify and share good practice from Programme/Discipline APACs and College APACs.
          iv. To identify areas where policy clarifications or enhancements are required.
          v. To make institution-wide recommendations on quality assurance matters relating to APACs.
        2. During exceptional years, as determined by the Academic Dean for Students, the University APAC must convene in advance of the release of marks.
        3. Exceptional circumstances could lead to compromised assessment processes relating to either an individual candidate or cohorts of students, but could also compromise the operation or constitution of Programme/Discipline and/or College APACs (e.g., inquorate meetings). In these instances, the University APAC may be required to consider and ratify recommendations put forward by the relevant Programme/Discipline and/or College APACs.
        4. Referrals must be made to the University APAC via the submission of written reports in advance of the meeting or oral reports during the meeting. Further information and advice can be sought from the Taught Faculty Office.

‘Learning activities’ in the context of this document mean any activities used to facilitate student learning in a module/ programme (teaching/ provision of content/ resources/ supervision for project work/ etc.)

Last reviewed July 2021

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