Statement to students regarding disruption to assessment due to Covid 19 in 2020/21

We understand that students may be facing significant challenges and disruptions as a result of the pandemic and the delivery of blended learning and we would like to reassure you that Departmental Examination Boards will be taking account of the general impact of Covid-19 on your studies and when considering your progression and award. You will not have to submit an Extenuating Circumstances Form (ECF) to cover issues that are reasonably anticipated, such as general levels of anxiety in relation to the pandemic, adjustment to learning via blended learning, short-term/infrequent IT issues not affecting/impacting assessment, having to self-isolate for 14 days. These disruptions that everyone is experiencing will automatically be taken into account, so no ECF is needed

If, however, you experience any difficulties significantly greater than a general amount of disruption due to the pandemic, you should make your department aware and submit the Extenuating Circumstances Form in line with your department’s procedures.

 Examples of such circumstances are, not being able to access on-line teaching for a substantial period (e.g. 2 weeks or more), bereavement, significant additional, unforeseen caring responsibilities. Given the current circumstances of the pandemic, medical evidence is not required in support of Extenuating Circumstances Forms.

You are also encouraged to contact your personal tutor or departmental support office at the earliest opportunity to make them aware of any other particular issues you are experiencing that are impacting your engagement with your course so that support and guidance can be offered where appropriate and submitting an ECF where necessary. I hope you are also aware of the support services available to you

The University remains committed to delivering an excellent educational programme for each student during the Covid-19 pandemic and we have adapted our teaching to make sure you continue to receive a high quality education from our teachers. Assessments have also been reviewed and adapted where necessary so that they are appropriate for the current circumstances. We will continue to ensure that students remain able to complete their programmes of study and graduate as anticipated.

We have provided below a number of FAQs that provide additional information about how the University is working to ensure that the impacts of Covid 19 are taken into account in reflecting progression and award.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Exam Board?

Examination boards (often referred to as exam boards) are where universities look at students' results and make decisions about whether they have done enough to be awarded the 'credits' they need to progress to the next level of study or to be awarded a degree. All UK universities operate exam boards and there is a reciprocal arrangement whereby academics sit on exam boards at other universities as 'external examiners' to make sure that decisions are fair and standards maintained across the sector. The powers that exam boards have at Sheffield are set out in the General Regulations that form part of the University's Calendar (the relevant bits, XIV, XV, XVI, and XVII, can be found under the Individual Documents section). Ultimately, exam boards make recommendations to the University Senate which has the power to award degrees.

The role of the exam board and the external examiner is to make sure that students across different programmes, cohorts and years are treated fairly and consistently and that there is a record kept of any decisions made.

The University's General Regulations set out very clearly what is needed for a student to progress or graduate, hence the Exam Board will tend to focus on borderline cases or where there are extenuating circumstances that need to be taken into account for a particular student or group of students.

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In what ways will Exam Boards ensure we are not unfairly disadvantaged?

Exam Boards are guided by the University's General Regulation (see above) along with any programme specific regulations (i.e. rules that are particular to your course). The regulations make explicit that ‘in every case, the Examiners will recommend the classification which, having regard to all the evidence before them, best reflects the overall performance of the student.’

The exam board will look at both individual marks (paying particular attention to students at the grade boundaries for final year students) and marks across the whole cohort. They also consider performance against previous years to allow for anything that may look unusual. For example, where a piece of assessment may have been particularly challenging leading to a lower overall average. There are different ways in which exam boards may address these situations.

Departments operate what is described as moderation to ensure that marks are accurate and fair. This may involve sampled second marking, where a moderator reviews the marks given by one or more first markers across a sample group of students. If an issue is identified through the moderated sample, this may lead to the whole cohort having their marks reviewed and adjusted.

Some departments may also operate a process of scaling. This is when marks for a whole cohort are adjusted to better reflect the performance of the students. This practice is common across the sector and not peculiar to the University of Sheffield. It is also important in making sure that no students are disadvantaged by their choice of an optional module where the results on a particular assessment or group of assessments does not reflect the expected level of achievement based on other evidence available. If a particular module has been disproportionately affected by Covid 19 (for example an IT issue associated with a particular assessment), an Exam Board has the power to correct this using scaling.

The methods a department uses will tend to depend on the type of assessment and marking system in place. As a general rule, scaling is used more frequently in engineering and science subjects.

I don’t know if the issues I have would be considered as ‘reasonably anticipated.’ What should I do?

If you feel that the impacts of Covid 19 on yourself have been greater than for other students, but you are not sure if you should submit an Extenuating Circumstances Form, then you can either talk to someone in your department, such as your personal tutor, or someone in the Student Advice Centre for independent advice and guidance.

Last year there was a Safety Net Policy in place. Why has this not happened again this year?

During 2019/20, Covid 19 hit in the middle of the academic year causing huge disruption for both students and staff. Changes were made to teaching and assessment with little notice and with limited opportunity to prepare. It was difficult to understand the impact that this might have on student performance. However, many students had completed all the teaching and assessment on several first semester modules and/or had a previous year of study that was unaffected by Covid-19. A decision was therefore taken, given the unique circumstances, to use this past performance as a baseline for making sure students didn’t ‘fall off a cliff edge’ where Covid 19 had impacted their performance. This allowed the University to introduce a Safety Net Policy.

As students in the current year do not have recent modules unaffected by Covid that could reasonably be used as a benchmark of expected performance, it would be inappropriate to introduce a safety net along the same lines as last year. To apply a Safety Net Policy in 2020/21 in the same way could result in a student being awarded an average for the year, or awarded a degree, based solely on assessment completed two years prior. This would be bad academic practice, potentially undermine the quality of degree awards, and may unfairly disadvantage students who have worked hard to keep up with their studies during the past months.

It is also important to note that a Safety Net Policy does not impact all students. For example, 91% of last year’s final year students performed at or above their benchmark expected performance and the Safety Net was not needed.

Unlike the last academic year, departments have had considerable time to adapt their modules and programmes for blended delivery and to review their assessment practices ahead of teaching commencing in Autumn 2020. For this reason a Safety Net Policy should not be required.

These are the reasons why the University has chosen not to reintroduce a safety net and to account for the potential impacts of Covid-19 on individual students, cohorts and University wide by employing the tools that are woven into our General Regulations.