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School Of English Hold Open Meeting Over Covid Concerns

On Friday 8th January, the School of English held an open meeting with students to address students' concerns relating to teaching and assessments ahead of the new term.
Córa-Laine Moynihan

The School of English held an open meeting on Microsoft Teams at 2pm today for all students within the School to address students’ concerns ahead of the new term.

The meeting was led by Svenja Adolphs, the Head of School and organised by Joe Paternoster, President of the English Society, with multiple faculty directors attending to provide a wider perspective on issues addressed.

Around 80 students attended the meeting to discuss the no-detriment policy, extenuating circumstances (ECs) and, more broadly, how the school have handled teaching and assessments this year.

The most commonly asked questions were on the subject of the safety net, marking, and extenuating circumstances

Initially there was a brief welcome from the Head of School, thanking students for their perseverance throughout the past few months and emphasising that the school have been hard at work to tackle issues. This was then followed by a quick introduction to of the School’s staff that were in attendance, these being Joe Jackson (Director of Teaching), Sean Matthews (Director of Student Support), Lucy Jones (Director of EDI), Andrew Harrison (Director of Assessment), Michael Jones (Senior Tutor), Laura Miler (Welfare Team), Rebecca Craven (SU Education Officer) and Chris Woodard (Director of Teaching for the School of Humanities).

Lucy Jones also established that the meeting would not address issues concerning fees but emphasised that the University was looking into this.

Students were then given the opportunity to ask questions; the most commonly asked questions were on the subject of the safety net, marking, and extenuating circumstances. The responses are summarised below.

Safety Net:

Having a safety net for this year’s assessments has been on the top of many students’ minds so it is no surprise that it was mentioned at length.

As an answer to the question of why there is no safety net, Chris Woodard explained:

“[The safety net] cannot be done at the moment because there is not pre-pandemic work to base it on. We are not in the same situation as we were last spring. We are halfway through an academic year that has been planned on the knowledge of being in a pandemic. Although different unis describe different packages of measures as a safety net, for many it is not an alternative mark. Just measures like ECs”.

Further to this, Rebecca Craven added that a statement released by The Russell Group confirmed that any algorithm-based safety net would not be introduced in their universities.

Marking and Assessments:

As for how the school will be addressing the marking of exams and coursework, Andrew Harrison gave a summary:

“The first thing to do is state that transparency with marking is extremely important to the school of English. Work this semester will be marked in regards to the Arts faculty marking criteria, but staff will be aware of the issues that have arisen this year. We will mark with awareness of the changed teaching patterns and the inaccessibility to resources”.

When asked by a student about the consistency of staff’s marking as a consequence, he replied: “The transparency and consistency of marking is externally checked. Staff are still going to using the Faculty of Arts marking criteria. However, the person marking usually has taught the module, so they are aware of the quality of the teaching process and material. In terms of individual marker orientations, we have systems in place to regularise our marking practises. These are there to reassure students”.

Extenuating Circumstances:

Sean and Chris provided an insight to extenuating circumstances, explaining that due to the complexity of the school’s assessment period, it would not be fair to provide a grace period to all students, since a week is not always enough for many students.

The school wants to be personal about how they address an individual’s situation, meaning that applying for extenuating circumstances (ECs) is the best way forward. ECs also allow the school to gain an understanding of how students are being impacted by the current situation with Sean stating that “I have been struck by how harrowing and difficult it is. We cannot make the case of how traumatic this period has been without the record of what happened”.

While many students have been pushing for a reinstatement of the grace period, but Chris explained the problems it previously caused:

“It did cause quite a few problems, particularly modules that have lots of deadlines relating to teaching. Moving deadlines disrupts both assessments and teaching patterns. It was introduced to protect the EC system from being overwhelmed but it was not targeted to individuals’ cases”.

Regarding EC rejections and application process time delay, Sean also explained that in the coming week a message will be sent to all School of English students explaining that the process is intensive, requiring time to contact all involved and that If you do not hear about issues concerning your application that means it has been approved.

Students in the call then proceeded to ask many questions about how they can apply for an EC and the circumstances that will support this. To this, the staff repeated much of the existing guidelines online.

Michael Jones also emphasised the support available from personal tutors in acquiring the EC and encouraged students to seek support from them when facing any issues.

The meeting lasted until 3:30 pm, with many English students communicating their distress and concerns

ECs can be applied for up to the deadline for coursework and up to 7 days after exams. However, if an extension is not the right support a student needs, they can also request an optional first-sit or resit.

Rebecca Craven added that she is currently working on getting the EC application process stream-lined further and on resolving any issues it currently has.

The meeting lasted until 3:30 pm, with many English students communicating their distress and concerns.

To ensure students were aware of the support available to them, Laura Miller highlighted the support offered by the Support and Wellbeing Team and Michael Jones stated that personal tutors were available to all that needed them.

Córa-Laine Moynihan

Featured image courtesy of  lil_foot_ on Pixabay. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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