18.    Extenuating Circumstances

Guidance on student circumstances and absence during the teaching period due to illness or other cause is provided at section 6, whilst further guidance for staff on the reporting, certification and consideration of student circumstances is available from: www.bristol.ac.uk/academic-quality/studentsupport/student-circumstances/.

A student guide to extenuating circumstances is also available at: www.bristolsu.org.uk/justask/extenuating-circumstances/

18.1 Extenuating circumstances are circumstances external to study within the university that a student believes has affected their performance in assessment.

18.2 The effects that properly reported extenuating circumstances have on a student’s performance must be considered by boards of examiners when making progression, completion or classification decisions. 

The reporting of extenuating circumstances

18.3 The reporting of extenuating circumstances and their effects is the responsibility of the student. 

18.4 A student must use the university’s extenuating circumstances form (available from: www.bristol.ac.uk/students/services/forms/) in order to notify the University of any extenuating circumstances that may have affected their ability to fulfil the criteria for the award of credit points or to perform to the best of their ability in assessment events.

18.5 If a student wishes a board of examiners to take any extenuating circumstances into account, the completed extenuating circumstances form must be submitted to the relevant school office no later than the meeting of the board of examiners at which the student's performance in assessment is considered. All authorised extensions should be recorded and available to the ECC and the Boards of Examiners.

18.6 Extenuating circumstances that could have been raised before the meeting of the relevant board of examiners, but without good reason were not raised, will not be considered in the event of an appeal.

18.7 Schools should ensure that advice to students is available about the nature of the evidence that they will need to provide to supplement the information supplied in the University’s extenuating circumstances form.

18.8 Information must be provided to students by schools and faculties in the relevant student handbook/s on the procedure for the treatment of medical and other extenuating circumstances. This information should include:

18.9 Schools should ensure that their procedures are arranged so the number of copies of papers detailing extenuating circumstances is kept to a minimum. 

Extenuating Circumstances Committees

18.10 A small extenuating circumstances committee shall be established to consider the extenuating circumstances that may have affected a student's performance in assessment.

18.11 An Extenuating Circumstances Committee for each programme should be established for each school or at a level determined by the relevant Faculty Board.

18.12 The composition of an Extenuating Circumstances Committee will be subject to the approval of the chair of the relevant Faculty Board of Examiners.  It may include the chair of the School Board of Examiners, to which it reports, and the relevant examinations officer and senior tutor. 

18.13 The Extenuating Circumstances Committee will meet as soon as is convenient before each meeting of the School Board of Examiners to which it reports.

18.14 The role of the Extenuating Circumstances Committee is to evaluate whether or not extenuating circumstances may have affected the candidate’s capacity to perform. It shall determine:

  • which (if any) assessments or units may have been affected by the circumstances drawn to its attention;
  • whether the circumstance is deemed to have been reasonably within the student’s control, evidenced and/or sufficiently serious to warrant an allowance;
  • the period of time over which the student’s performance was impaired and whether the extenuating circumstance was acute (of short duration and only likely to have had a negative impact upon the student’s performance in the assessment) or chronic (over a significant period of time and therefore likely to have had an impact upon their learning as well as their performance in the assessment);
  • whether the impact on the student’s capacity to perform is likely to have been mild, moderate, serious or severe; 
  • whether sufficient allowance for the circumstances has already been made, for example, by making special arrangements for examinations or by granting extensions to deadlines.

The committee may also wish to comment upon the degree of confidence that it has on the impact of the reported circumstances given the evidence available, if it feels it is necessary to do so.  

18.15 It is not the role of the extenuating circumstances committee to determine the effect, if any, on the candidate’s results.  All decisions on the accommodation of the effects of extenuating circumstances on progression and awards will be made by the board of examiners. 

18.16 The extenuating circumstances committee should use its discretion and judgement in deciding on the severity and impact in any particular case.

18.17 If the committee is unable to classify the circumstance, particularly in complex cases, it should flag and recommend to the relevant Board of Examiners that professional advice is sought to help in the interpretation of existing evidence and/or supplementary evidence.

18.18 The committee must note the reasons underlying its decisions and these notes, along with information on the period of time in which the circumstances affected the student and the assessments / forms of learning that were affected, should form its report to the Board of Examiners. All cases where a student has self-certified absence from an examination due to illness should be recorded by the School.

18.19 The relevant minute of the extenuating circumstances committee should be made available to a student on request. 

18.20 Information about the precise medical or other extenuating circumstances of the candidate must remain confidential to the extenuating circumstances committee.

18.21 The Faculty or School should establish a procedure for ensuring that judgements are as consistent and robust as possible, in-year and year-on-year. 

Consideration of extenuating circumstances by boards of examiners

18.22 The School Board of Examiners will receive the report provided by the Extenuating Circumstances Committee and consider the case of each student who has presented extenuating circumstances, and then determine the effect, if any, on the candidate’s results. 

18.23 The School Board of Examiners will determine whether a student’s performance has been substantially affected by extenuating circumstances beyond their control and what action, if any, is required to take into account these circumstances, as is fair and reasonable.

18.24 The options that will normally be considered by a Board of Examiners are outlined in 18.25-18.29, subject to the following caveats, where applicable: 

i. Students who are absent from an examination due to illness and who self-certificate, will be required to undertake the examination at the next scheduled time the examination is run, normally in the August / September ‘re-sit’ period, without penalty.

ii. Where a summative assessment has not been completed because of validated extenuating circumstances (not including self-certified absence on its own), a Faculty Board of Examiners may, in light of the report by the Extenuating Circumstances Committee, waive the requirement for the student to successfully complete the assessment on the basis of the extenuating circumstances, if it is satisfied that the intended learning outcomes for the unit are fulfilled by the successful completion of other assessments. In such situations, a Faculty Board of Examiners may disregard the assessment in considering whether to award credit for the unit. The Chair of the Faculty Board of Examiners may agree to the waiving of assessments on a case-by-case basis in-year.

18.25 In the case of non-final year undergraduate students on modular programmes, if a student has extenuating circumstances which have been accepted, the School Board of Examiners may decide to (but not exclusively):

18.26 In the case of final year undergraduate students on modular programmes, if a student has extenuating circumstances which have been accepted, the School Board of Examiners may decide to (but not exclusively):

18.27 In the case of undergraduates on non-modular undergraduate programmes, if a student has extenuating circumstances which have been accepted, the Board of Examiners may decide to (but not exclusively):

18.28 For taught postgraduate students in the taught component of the programme, if a student has extenuating circumstances which have been accepted, the Board of Examiners may decide to (but not exclusively):

18.29 For taught postgraduate students in the dissertation component of the programme, if a student has extenuating circumstances which have been accepted, the Board of Examiners may, depending upon the categorised impact of the circumstance, decide to:

18.30 The manipulation of the mark itself is not permissible. 

18.31 Where a student has successfully completed a unit but the board of examiners considers that their performance was impaired by extenuating circumstances, then this will be put on file for consideration by the relevant board of examiners at a future point. 

18.32 A Board of Examiners must consider the effect of extenuating circumstances from previous years, if applicable, on its decision-making (e.g. the application of the secondary rule for classification). 

18.33 Each recommended allowance made by School Boards of Examiners with respect to extenuating circumstances will be presented to the Faculty Board of Examiners for approval.

18.34 The Faculty Board of Examiners will ensure:

  • that students are being treated consistently across the faculty;
  • that decisions are consistent with respect to the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes;
  • that a fair outcome is achieved, particularly with respect to complex cases.  

18.35 Faculty Boards of Examiners may wish to seek professional advice e.g. medical opinion prior to making a decision, particularly if chronic circumstances are involved.

18.36 The chair of the Faculty Board of Examiners may appoint committees to advise the Board on the treatment of students with extenuating circumstances as they think fit.  All decisions are reserved to the Faculty Board of Examiners itself. 

18.37 Boards of Examiners must keep a written record of the decisions made with respect to extenuating circumstances and the basis on which they were made.  The relevant record must be made available to a student to which it applies on request.

Disability and extenuating circumstances

18.38 The University has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustment where a provision, criterion or practice, including those for the consideration of extenuating circumstances, places disabled students at a substantial disadvantage. 

18.39 A person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.  This includes specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, developmental disorders such as Asperger syndrome and attention deficit conditions, long-term health conditions and mental health difficulties such as depression / anxiety.

18.40 Disability is diagnosed by a suitable professional, such as a GP/consultant, psychiatrist or psychologist.  All evidence from a professional must be accepted at face value; where the evidence provided is felt to be unclear or ambiguous, Disability Services are able to advise. 

18.41 The duty of making a reasonable adjustment for the effects of a disability may require relaxing or setting aside the provisions of the Regulations and Code of Practice both directly with respect to the effects of the disability, and indirectly through the capacity of the student to follow its requirements in other matters.  

18.42 Boards of examiners are not under any obligation to relax or make reasonable adjustments to any academic, medical or other standard applied by the University for the purpose of determining whether or not a student meets a particular competence standard. On this basis, a board will not normally raise the marks of a student or award credit for a unit which a student has failed (although each case needs to be assessed individually).  

18.43 Each case must be considered on its own merits, taking into account the individual circumstances of the student and any supporting evidence, as well as the nature of the programme and the related competence standards.

18.44 Where a student has a Disability Support Summary, the nature of the disability has not changed since the Summary was drawn up, and the provisions of that Summary have been carried out, a Board of Examiners will not treat the effects of a disability on an assessment as an ‘extenuating circumstance’ since a reasonable adjustment to the assessment will have already been made.  

18.45 Boards of Examiners must make reasonable adjustments that accommodate changes in the disability with time either because it is unsteady in nature, or its effects fluctuate, or the student receives a diagnosis and treatment over an assessment period.  

18.46 Previous attendance at an examination or any other assessment is not a deciding factor when subsequently considering whether a reasonable adjustment for disability should be made.  

18.47 Students should report adverse effects of their disability on their study or assessment that are not present on their Disability Support Summary using the University’s extenuating circumstances form, unless the nature of their disability prevents them doing so.  

18.48 In all cases, where there is any doubt about how evidence of a disability should be treated and it is unclear what course of action should be taken, advice should be sought from Disability Services.