The 2021 ‘safety net’: ensuring fairness and support for all students during January assessments


January 8th, 2021

The university has set out a support package of measures for students during new national restrictions to make sure they are assessed fairly and achieve the outcomes they deserve. The communication below sets out what this means for students and how it will be achieved.

Russell Group universities are working together to respond to the impact of new national restrictions on teaching and assessment.

At Nottingham, we have a package of measures in place to support you during the new national Covid-19 restrictions. The 2021 ‘safety net’ measures ensure that your degree provides a strong foundation for your personal and professional aspirations.

Adjustments to modules

Across all Schools and Departments, and all modules, teaching and assessments were modified and significant changes put in place for the start of the 2020/21 academic year.

These changes meant that almost all your studies could be fully completed and fairly assessed through digital platforms if it turns out to be necessary. We are confident that students have fair access to the materials and support they need to complete their studies with the current national restrictions in place.

Supportive study environments

Of course, we recognise that students are accessing their teaching and assessments under circumstances that may be difficult or stressful. Isolation, illness and difficult study environments may have a detrimental impact on your studies. The new government guidelines make it clear that students whose circumstances make it very difficult to work from home can return to campus – and we will support you in those circumstances.

Extenuating circumstances

We fully recognise the impact of the pandemic and national restrictions upon student mental health and wellbeing. In spring last year, we introduced a new extenuating circumstances policy – as part of the package of 2020 ‘safety net’ measures – to account for the impact of Covid-19 on your studies. This policy has been extended into the current academic year as part of the 2021 package, and continues to consider the student’s own account of impact and keep any requirements for evidence to a minimum.

Our 2021 package of measures enables us to respond to specific phases of the pandemic and to complex problems and needs. We encourage you to apply for extenuating circumstances if you are experiencing difficulties. This means we can offer you the individualised support that you need.

All of our efforts are concerned with enabling you to do your best work, to ensure you are assessed fairly and that you achieve the outcomes you deserve.

January assessments

Deadlines are currently in place for January coursework assessments and online exams are starting in the coming weeks. Schools have been asked to review deadlines and assessment schedules to make them as manageable for students as possible.

Schools have also been asked to identify assessments where the impact of national restrictions is likely to be significant. For example, if materials required can only be accessed in-person in a library on campus.

If this affects your assessments, your school will be in touch directly to communicate any change in deadlines or exam timings. Current study challenges will be taken into account as your work is being marked, and will be considered carefully by the exam boards.

Grace periods

During the autumn term we introduced a grace period of one week for all coursework in response to large numbers of students in isolation. However, this blanket approach for all students is not appropriate to the current circumstances and will not adequately address individual student needs at this time.

Instead, our extenuating circumstances policy continues as part of the 2021 ‘safety net’ package, and provides a personalised route where we can consider the student’s own account of impact and keep any requirements for evidence to a minimum.

Protecting your degree standard

Protecting the standard of your degree you have worked so hard for is of fundamental importance. This year our priority has been to support you fairly, and to ensure the academic integrity of your degree. Russell Group universities are working together to respond to the impact of new national restrictions on teaching and assessment.

In 2020, as part of our ‘safety net’ measures, we introduced an emergency marks policy ensuring students would not receive a mark below their pre-lockdown grade following the summer assessments. It is not appropriate to reintroduce this policy for the January 2021 assessments, for a number of reasons:

  • Many students would not have enough credits unaffected by Covid-19 to make their degrees credible if we applied the 2020 approach to 2021 (including all first years).
  • There is no obvious date up to which we could take marks. Unlike in March 2020, where teaching moved from 100% in-person to 100% online within a very short space of time, this academic year has been taught in a blended way from the start.
  • Teaching, assessments and support in 2020-21 have been designed to be accessible remotely for the majority of students.

The University remains confident that all of the measures we have put in place, including the 2021 ‘safety net’ package, will protect the standard of your degree and thereby your personal and professional aspirations.

Welfare and support

Remember that your Personal Tutors, Module Convenors and School Welfare Officers are there to support you with any academic and pastoral support you require. In the run-up to assessments, you can access a variety of support from the Student Academic Skills Team including webinars, online study sessions and resources.

The national restrictions are necessarily isolating. Make sure you keep in touch with your school and ask for support if you need it.

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