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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 available on the Student Gateway.

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 In accordance with Study Regulations for Undergraduate Programmes (3.1.4) and Study Regulations for Postgraduate Taught Programmes (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. 

3.2 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.       

3.3 However, from time to time, circumstances 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 include:

  1. Significant illness or injury (but not an on-going illness or condition).
  2. Serious illness or injury affecting a close family member.
  3. Bereavement.
  4. Family or personal crisis.

Download further examples of acceptable exceptional circumstances (Annex 1, PDF).

3.4 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 submit the necessary evidence to support an application for exceptional circumstances, e.g. a letter from their GP; such letters should not simply report what the student told their doctor but should verify the impact that the student’s circumstances had on their physical or mental health, and/or provide a medical opinion.

3.5 Although evidence will be required of the exceptional circumstances which the student claims have affected their academic performance (e.g. the death or serious illness of a family member or a family or personal crisis), it is evidence of the impact that the exceptional circumstances have had on the student’s ability to study or perform academically (rather than the exceptional circumstances themselves) that the SECC should consider, except where a student is self-certifying their absence due to a short-term illness.  In certain circumstances, it may not be possible or appropriate for the student to provide detailed evidence (e.g. confidentiality surrounding the serious illness of a family member). In such circumstances, the student should provide confirmation of the relative’s illness from a GP (without details) and medical evidence of the impact this has had on the student.

3.6 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. In such circumstances, a self-certification statement is required as part of the exceptional circumstances application, which statement will form the evidence to support the application. 

3.7 Where a student is self-certifying their absence due to a short-term illness, and provides a self-certification statement with details of the illness including symptoms or self-diagnosis, no further evidence is required and no evaluation of the reason for absence is to be made, save for cases of multiple self-certified absences, which may result in referral to the Occupational Health Service or the Fitness to Study Procedure.

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

3.9 Exceptional circumstances will only influence the consequences of assessment decisions, e.g. 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 5.4.6-5.4.15 and Study Regulations for Postgraduate Taught Programmes, regulation 5.4.6-5.4.15).

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). 

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 documentation, must be submitted to the School Office on the appropriate form (available online or from the School Office), normally within three working days of returning to study or, in the case of emergencies which arose during the Assessment Period, by the published deadline. Any application for exceptional circumstances should be supported by relevant documentation e.g. a medical certificate, self-certification statement.

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) or piece (s) of course work to which the exceptional circumstances apply. 

5.4 If a student believes they are going to miss an assignment deadline or an examination because of exceptional circumstances, they should inform the relevant School office as soon as they realise that the deadline or examination will be missed by telephone, email or letter. 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 All applications for exceptional circumstances and, where required, their impact on academic performance presented during the Assessment 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. 

5.6 All applications for exceptional circumstances and, where required, their impact on academic performance presented during the Teaching Period, in relation to continuous assessment, will be considered by the SECC, where consideration by the SECC will result in a timely decision being made.

5.7 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 and, where required, their impact on academic performance, will be considered by the Chair of the SECC plus one other appropriately qualified person within the School and reported to the next meeting of the SECC.

5.8 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.

5.9 SECCs are not obliged to consider any medical certificate or evidence of exceptional circumstances presented after the published deadline. However, where a student submits an exceptional circumstances application before the published deadline and is not self-certifying their absence, but, due to circumstances beyond their control, was unable to provide the necessary supporting evidence, the Chair of the Board of Examiners and another senior colleague (preferably the Chair of the SECC, if available) may, outside the meeting, consider such an application and evidence, if submitted before the meeting of the Board of Examiners.

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 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 as well as those External Examiners who may be in attendance at the particular Examination Board session.  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

Download examples of acceptable evidence of exceptional cicumstances (Annex 1, PDF). This list is not exhaustive. 

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.
  2. 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.  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. 
  3. That, in cases where the student is not self-certifying their absence, the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate the impact that the exceptional circumstances had on the student’s ability to study or to sit the examination in respect of which the student has submitted an application.  Letters or emails from counselling services may provide confirmation that a student has attended counselling but, due to the limited information provided, are not by themselves deemed to provide sufficient evidence of the impact of the exceptional circumstances on the student’s academic performance.
  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 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 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 request that the Board of Examiners refer the student for consideration under the Guidelines on Fitness to Continue in Study on the Grounds of Health and/or Safety.

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 Academic and Student Affairs, in cases where the student’s fitness to practise is in question (see Fitness to Practise Procedure).
  3. to refer the student to 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.

6.6.7 Each Head of School will have responsibility for ensuring that students who fail to meet the assessment requirements for a module, who cannot progress or who are required to withdraw are called to a Student Support Meeting within two weeks of the publication of results (see Study Regulations).

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 Exceptional Circumstances Form