Amy from our Advice and Money Team tells us more about ‘extenuating circumstances’ and how you can make sure that a difficult time in your life does not unduly impact your academic chances…
Despite your best efforts to concentrate and revise it’s quite possible that Murphy’s Law will strike and anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. From gastroenteritis to mumps and from panic attacks to worsening depression, you can at least be sure that you are not the only student having a rough time during the exam period.
The University recognises that for a small number of students, personal circumstances out of their control can have an adverse effect on their studies and we have made sure that students can report this to us through a process called Extenuating Circumstances. With the January assessment period upon us, we thought this might be a good opportunity to explain how the extenuating circumstances process works.
How Extenuating Circumstances works?
To report extenuating circumstances you will need to complete the extenuating circumstances form and submit it to your school before their deadline. Check your course handbook or learning central noticeboard for where to submit the form and for your school’s deadline.
Each application must be accompanied by supporting evidence to verify your circumstances and the dates they occurred. For example, if you have been unwell, you must submit medical evidence to prove so and your GP must state the dates that the illness affected your studies. The university is unlikely to accept evidence of ill-health where a doctor did not see or diagnose you, nor a letter from a parent, partner or family member verifying circumstances where there is no other independent supporting evidence. You should speak to your School Office for guidance if you think that you may encounter any difficulties getting evidence.
This form will be looked at by an Extenuating Circumstances Group whose membership usually includes a member of academic staff from each subject within your School. Your circumstances will be dealt with confidentially and sensitively. The group will be looking to ascertain whether your circumstances have prevented you from performing at your usual level in an assessment (including coursework) or exam, and that they are also:
- severe and exceptional; and
- unforeseen or unavoidable; and
- close in time to the affected assessment or examination.
Examples of things the university are likely to accept are:
- Serious short-term illness or accident
- Death of a close relative or friend, partner or significant other
- A long-term health condition that has worsened or is fluctuating and cannot be dealt with using specific provision
- Significant adverse personal/family circumstances,
- Being a victim of a serious crime
- Disability or impairment where the required adjustments have not been put in place.
This is not an extensive list, but gives you an indication of what types of circumstances are likely to be covered by the extenuating circumstances policy.
Examples of things the university is not likely to accept are:
- Minor illness
- Poor organisation, computer or printer problems
- Financial difficulties, unless additional factors make them exceptional or particularly severe
- Claims that you were unaware of the dates or times of coursework deadlines or exams
- Circumstances where adjustments have already been made i.e. an extension, or specific provision,
- A long-term health condition or disability where reasonable adjustments have already been put in place.
The Extenuating Circumstances Group will consider each application for extenuating circumstances on a case by case basis, so it is important that you make sure that you give full and clear information about your circumstances. This will enable the panel to make a decision with all the relevant information at their disposal.
You must remember that the people in the group will likely have no knowledge of you or your situation before seeing your form and so you cannot assume that they will know how you have been impacted. In fact, even if somebody in the group does have previous knowledge of your situation, they are not able to disclose anything to the rest of the group unless you have already written it on your form.
For some circumstances, panel members will be able to imagine how a circumstance will have impacted on you, for example in the case of bereavements. However, there will be experiences or situations that group members may have no experience of and so it may be useful to give a little more detail as to the physical and psychological symptoms and how these will impact, or have impacted your ability to perform in your exams. Of course, this will also need to be backed up by medical evidence where possible.
After the Extenuating Circumstances Panel have met you will be told whether they have agreed or disagreed with your extenuating circumstances (check with your individual School for time frames on this). If they have agreed then this will be communicated to the Exam Board when they next meet. Members of the Exam Board will only know that extenuating circumstances have been granted, not the actual detail of your circumstances. They will then decide on what the Exam Board remedy will be.
What are Exam Board Remedies?
There are a few remedies available to the Exam Board. What they can do, depends on whether you are a final year student or not, if the modules affected were required modules or not and how many modules were affected. In most cases of extenuating circumstances, the university will allow you to be assessed in the assessment or exam again as a first attempt (i.e not capped at the pass mark). If you have passed the module but you are unhappy with your mark, there is no remedy available to the Exam Board (unless the ex circs is related to a Protected Characteristic, under the Equality Act 2010).
- You cannot apply for an extension for an exam, only for an assignment. You use the same form but you just tick the extension box on the first page instead.
- If the application is for an extension, you must submit the form and evidence before the assessment deadline. Your school will then be in contact with you to advise you if you have been granted an extension and if so, what the new deadline is. Until you hear from them, the original deadline still stands so if you can you should continue to work on your assignment in case you still need to hand it in.
- Something to be aware of is that the definition of “disability” in the Equality Act is “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on that person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities.” This means that mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders and long-term health conditions that may have fluctuated such as Crohns Disease may be covered under Protected Characteristics.
- Where your extenuating circumstances are linked to a protected characteristic, further exam board remedies may be available. If you consider your circumstances to be linked to a protected characteristic then you should make sure that you include a note to this effect in that section of the form. You will need to make sure that the extenuating circumstance is related to the protected characteristic. For instance you cannot automatically be granted extenuating circumstances because you have long-term depression, if the actual reason that you have applied for them was a painful broken leg.
- You will notice that there is a section on the form that asks if your extenuating circumstances relate to a Protected Characteristic. Protected Characteristics are grounds upon which discrimination is unlawful. They are; age; disability; gender reassignment; religion and belief; race; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; sex (gender); and sexual orientation.
Where to get support
- If you would like assistance with completing your extenuating circumstances form or want confidential advice and information about the remedies available, contact the Advice & Money Team: firstname.lastname@example.org, 029 2087 4844
- If you would like impartial advice and information from the Students’ Union, you can contact Student Advice: email@example.com, 029 2078 1410
- If you have a disability or long-term medical condition and wish to seek confidential advice on support available, you should contact the Disability and Dyslexia Service: firstname.lastname@example.org or 029 20874844
- If the reason is linked to a personal situation or mental health, please get in contact with the Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service: email@example.com, or 029 2087 4966, or make an appointment on the Intranet.
Amy, Advice and Money Team.
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