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Guidelines for Schools on Exceptional Circumstances

1. Introduction

These Guidelines, which apply to both undergraduate and postgraduate taught students, are intended to provide advice on good practice to staff involved in the School Exceptional Circumstances Committees (SECCs). They should be read in conjunction with the relevant Study Regulations.

Guidelines for Students on Exceptional Circumstances are also available.

A flowchart showing the exceptional circumstances process has been provided.

The University recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present particular circumstances for students which may impact upon their ability to engage with their studies, and to submit or complete assessments. Accordingly, the guidance on Exceptional Circumstances for 2021-22 ensures that specific provision is made for the particular challenges faced by students during this academic year and that students have the opportunity to have their circumstances taken into consideration, if needed.

2. Definition

2.1 Exceptional circumstances, for the purposes of assessment decisions, are defined as unforeseeable or unpreventable events or circumstances beyond a student’s control, which have a negative impact on their academic performance. 

2.2 Ongoing chronic conditions for which students have received or could have requested support and reasonable adjustments do not constitute exceptional circumstances.

3. General Principles

3.1 From time to time, circumstances may arise which are outside a student’s control and which may impact on the student and prevent them from performing to their full potential.  Examples of such circumstances are listed in the Exceptional Circumstances Categories Guide and includes a new category of exceptional circumstances which has been established to deal with COVID-19 related personal circumstances that may impact students’ academic performance.

3.2 When exceptional circumstances occur close to a student’s examination or an assessment deadline, the University will ensure that the student will not be disadvantaged, providing that their need is genuine and that the correct procedures are followed.  It is the student’s responsibility to inform their School by submitting an exceptional circumstances application, along with the necessary supporting evidence e.g. evidence of medical appointments, engagement with counselling or evidence of prescribed medications.

3.3 Students may also submit an application for exceptional circumstances on the basis of self-certification for a short-term illness (e.g. migraine or viral infection) for which they are unable, or it is not appropriate, to obtain contemporaneous medical advice or evidence, or for COVID-19 related personal circumstances, as outlined in the Exceptional Circumstances Categories Guide. In such circumstances, a self-certification statement is required as part of the exceptional circumstances application, which will form the evidence to support the application. 

3.4 Where a student is self-certifying their exceptional circumstances due to a short-term illness or COVID-19 related personal circumstances, and provides a self-certification statement with details of the circumstances including symptoms or self-diagnosis, no further evidence is required (other than a positive COVID-19 test result notification or track and trace notification, where appropriate) and no evaluation of the reason for absence is to be made, save for cases of multiple self-certified absences, which may result in the student being invited to a Student Support Meeting, referral to the Occupational Health Service, Student Wellbeing or for consideration under the Guidelines on Fitness to Continue in Study on the Grounds of Health and/or Safety.

3.5 Students will be required to identify the cause and number of days for which they are self-certifying their absence for short-term illness or for COVID-19 related personal circumstances. The period that students will be permitted to self-certify is for the length of time that their academic studies or ability to complete assessments is impacted by their personal circumstances. The maximum period for self-certification is up to a maximum of seven calendar days (excluding University closure periods). 

3.6 Where a student has self-certified their exceptional circumstances and has been granted an extension to a submission deadline, but subsequently requires additional time over and beyond that originally granted, they must submit a new exceptional circumstances application with supporting evidence for consideration. This should be submitted to the School within three working days of the extended submission deadline. However, depending on the nature of the continuing circumstances, the School may request that the student defers the continuous assessment/coursework to the next available opportunity.

3.7 Extra marks will not be awarded to compensate for exceptional circumstances.

3.8 Exceptional circumstances will only influence the consequences of assessment decisions, e.g. whether an extension is granted, whether a student is permitted a further opportunity to retake a failed module and/or whether the mark of the retake is for full marks or is capped at the pass mark.  Students will not be permitted to re-sit or re-take passed modules (see Regulations for Undergraduate Programmes, regulation 5.4.6-5.4.17 and Study Regulations for Postgraduate Taught Programmes, regulation 5.4.6-5.4.17).

3.9 In accordance with Study Regulation for Undergraduate Programmes, Regulation 3.1.4 and Study Regulations for Postgraduate Taught Programmes, Regulation 3.1.4, the decision on whether to attempt an examination or to submit the assessed work, and the consequences of that decision shall remain the sole responsibility of the student. 

3.10 Self-certification is not acceptable if the student has attempted the examination or submitted the piece of continuous assessment/coursework. Students who take and fail an assessment must demonstrate (with supporting evidence) what occurred during assessment which led to the failure (e.g. a medical emergency experienced by the student during an examination) or why they now consider that they were not fit to sit the assessment. 

4. Fabricated or falsified evidence

4.1 Schools should take steps to ensure that any documentation submitted by a student in support of an exceptional circumstance application is genuine (eg where a suspicion is raised about the authenticity of a medical note, the School should contact the author of the note to verify its authenticity). This includes self-certification statements.

4.2 Where a student is suspected of submitting evidence which is not authentic, the matter should be referred to the Head of School, who should take the appropriate steps under the Conduct Regulations.  

5. Procedure

5.1 Applications for exceptional circumstances, together with the necessary supporting evidence or self-certification statement, must be submitted to the School Office on the University’s Student Exceptional Circumstances Application Form 2022-23 within three working days of returning to study or of the assessment submission deadline (whichever is sooner), or, in the case of emergencies which arose during the Examination Period, by the published deadline. Any application for exceptional circumstances should be supported by relevant documentation e.g. self-certification statement, death certificate, existing medical documentation.

5.2 Where students are studying in more than one School, the Exceptional Circumstances form must be submitted to the student’s ‘home’ School for consideration.  Once a decision has been made by the ‘home’ School’s Exceptional Circumstances Committee, the decision should be communicated promptly by the ‘home’ School to the School where the relevant module or piece of work has been undertaken in order that it may be considered by that School’s Board of Examiners.  

5.3 Students must clearly state the module(s) and assessment(s) to which the exceptional circumstances apply. 

5.4 If a student believes they are going to miss a continuous assessment/coursework deadline or an examination because of exceptional circumstances, they should also inform the relevant School office as soon as they realise that the deadline or examination will be missed by telephone or email. If this is not possible, a third party should inform their School.  It is expected that this requirement will be satisfied particularly in the case of self-certification.

5.5 By submitting an application for exceptional circumstances, a student can request the following:

5.6 All applications for exceptional circumstances presented during the Examination Period will be considered by the SECC which meets prior to the Board of Examiners and makes recommendations to the Board regarding concessions on the basis of exceptional circumstances. 

5.7 Applications for exceptional circumstances presented during the Teaching Period will be considered by the SECC, where consideration by the SECC will result in a timely decision being made.

5.8 Where, during the Teaching Period, a decision is required before the next scheduled meeting of the SECC (e.g. a request for an extension to an assignment deadline) and a delay in the decision could lead to disadvantage to a student, applications for exceptional circumstances will be considered by the Chair of the SECC (or nominated members of the SECC), who will make a decision in relation to the application. The decision will be communicated to the student, and will be reported to the next meeting of the SECC and the Board of Examiners.

5.9 Students’ circumstances should remain confidential to members of the SECC and only the recommendations of the SECC should be made to the Board of Examiners. In exceptional situations the Chair of the Board of Examiners may be informed, in confidence, of the nature of the student’s circumstances.

5.10 SECCs are not obliged to consider any medical certificate or evidence of exceptional circumstances presented after the published deadline. However, there may be instances where a student is unable to provide the necessary supporting evidence due to circumstances beyond their control.  Where there is a delay in obtaining evidence, but the student has submitted an exceptional circumstances application by the published deadline, the Chair of the SECC, or nominee, may, outside the meeting, consider such an application and evidence, if submitted before the meeting of the Board of Examiners.  Where in exceptional instances, the student is impacted by illness and is unable to obtain medical evidence to support their application as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chair of the SECC (or nominated members of the SECC) may use other means to verify the application beyond the the maximum self-certification period (see paragraph 3.5), e.g. speaking with the student directly or accepting a statement from the student’s Personal Tutor, should this be required.


6. General Guidelines for School Exceptional Circumstances Committees

6.1 School Exceptional Circumstances Committee

The role of the SECC is to consider the exceptional circumstances applications made by students on taught courses, including any evidence of exceptional circumstances, and their likely impact on the student’s ability to study or their academic performance and to make recommendations to the relevant Board of Examiners.    

6.2 Membership

Membership may vary according to School but may include Directors of Education, Examination Liaison Officers, School Disability Officers and School Managers.  The SECC may take advice from appropriate support services within the University, e.g., Disability Services, University Counselling Service.  A member of staff from the School should take minutes as a formal record of the meeting, which should include recommendations to the Board of Examiners based on the evidence provided.  These minutes should be appended to the Board of Examiners minutes.

6.3 Frequency of Meetings

The SECC will convene prior to the Board of Examiners meeting and after the published deadline for applications to consider exceptional circumstances applications.  Schools may decide to have separate SECCs for undergraduate and postgraduate taught students.

6.4 Evidence for Consideration by SECC

The Exceptional Circumstances Categories Guide outlines types of evidence acceptable to the University but the list is not exhaustive.  Short-term illness and COVID-19 related personal circumstances can be self-certified by a student for up to the maximum self-certification period (see paragraph 3.5).

6.5 Reaching a Decision

The SECC should ensure that the following criteria are met:

  1. That the exceptional circumstances are true.  It is essential that the student submits as much supporting evidence as possible, including medical evidence or written confirmation of circumstances. Where a student is self-certifying their absence, no supporting medical evidence is required, and students can simply provide details of their short-term illness, its symptoms and/or a self-diagnosis or the details of their COVID-19 related personal circumstances, including a positive COVID-19 test result, or track and trace notification, as appropriate.     
  2. That, in cases where the student is not self-certifying their absence, the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that the exceptional circumstances are likely to have impacted on the student’s ability to study or to sit the examination in respect of which the student has submitted an application. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is accepted that students are unlikely to be in a position to provide GP letters detailing clear evidence of impact on their ability to study or on their academic performance. Instead, students are encouraged to provide existing medical evidence to support their application.
  3. Schools must be satisfied that the evidence submitted is authentic. Schools may contact the relevant medical practitioner to verify the authenticity of any medical certificate or GP note/letter submitted in support of an exceptional circumstances application.  Where considered necessary, the authenticity of death certificates or other documentary evidence should also be verified.  
  4. That the exceptional circumstances constitute ‘good cause’, that the circumstances were outside the student’s control, and constitute a good reason for not taking the examination or submitting the assessment.
  5. That the exceptional circumstances would have prevented the student from taking the examination or completing the assessment by the deadline, or that the exceptional circumstances would have had a significant adverse impact on the student’s performance in the examination or assessment.
  6. Where a student submits an application for exceptional circumstances in respect of an assessment which was attempted, the SECC should consider the student’s application and any evidence provided in light of the relevant Study Regulations (see paragraph 3.1).

The Director of Education is responsible for ensuring that the practice in relation to granting concessions is consistent throughout the School.

6.6 Possible Recommendations by SECC

6.6.1 Taking the available evidence into account, the SECC may make recommendations to the Board of Examiners as it considers appropriate and in the context of the relevant programme regulations as well as the General Study Regulations.

6.6.2 In cases where the student has attempted the assessed components but failed the module, the SECC may make one of the following recommendations:

  1. Require the student to resubmit failed continuous assessment/coursework within a set time limit as a first attempt.
  2. Permit the student to repeat a failed examination as a first attempt.
  3. Permit the student to retake the failed module as a first attempt.

6.6.3 In cases where a student is prevented by illness or other sufficient cause from taking or completing any assessed component of a module, the SECC may make one of the following recommendations:

  1. Require the student to take the assessment at the next available opportunity or to take a special assessment (see Study Regulations 5.7.1 and 5.7.4) for full marks.
  2. Recommend that the Board of Examiners reviews the student’s overall academic profile and considers awarding a pass for the module, or, if the Board of Examiners so decides, require the student to undertake a further special assessment (see Study Regulations 5.7.1 and 5.7.4) for Honours classification purposes.

6.6.4 In addition to any of the above recommendations, the SECC may recommend to the Board of Examiners that the student be invited to a Student Support Meeting.

6.6.5 In some programmes, discipline-specific or professional requirements may restrict the options available to the School.  In such instances, these exceptions should be clearly outlined in the programme specification and Student Handbook.

6.6.6 It should be noted that the SECC may make recommendations to the Board of Examiners but the power to make all progress decisions lies with the Board of Examiners as delegated by the Senate of the University. 

6.6.7 In addition, the SECC may also make the following recommendations to be followed up by the School:

  1. to seek the advice of the University Occupational Health Service, where the student’s fitness to continue in study is in question (see Guidelines on Fitness to Continue in Study on the Grounds of Health and/or Safety).
  2. to refer the case to the Director of Education and Student Services, in cases where the student’s fitness to practise is in question (see Fitness to Practise Procedure).
  3. to refer the student to the Student Wellbeing Team, Disability Services or the University Counselling Service.
  4. that the student should apply to the Student Support Fund.
  5. to require the student to attend the Learning Development Service for assistance and advice on time management, essay writing, presentation skills or examination preparation, as appropriate.

6.7 Appeal of the Decision of the Board of Examiners

There is no appeal against a recommendation by SECC to the Board of Examiners.  Any undergraduate or postgraduate student may appeal the decision of the Board of Examiners on grounds (see Academic Appeal Regulations (Taught Programmes)).  

7. Forms

Download the University's Student Exceptional Circumstances Application Form 2022-23 (last updated 17 January 2022).