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Serious Adverse Circumstances 

Durham has two main principles which guide how TEIs should support students who disclose serious adverse circumstances: 

  • circumstances should be mitigated at the earliest opportunity, and dealt with as part of the setting and completing of assessments wherever possible; 
  • marks should not be given or changed as a result of a student’s circumstances. 

Ideally, any issues which affect students adversely during the year should be dealt with during the year – for instance, via extensions to deadlines, or, if necessary, by altering assessments (e.g. increasing examination time). Additional guidance on action which might be taken is available from our guidance on student absence and Illness, or other adverse circumstances page. The University recognises, however, that this is not always possible, and there will be times when circumstances arise at short notice, or only become apparent retrospectively, or where mitigation undertaken in year does not fully account for the circumstances. 

The University defines Serious Adverse Circumstances (SACs) as: exceptional personal circumstances, outside your control, that have prevented you from either acquiring or demonstrating the skills, knowledge or competencies required to meet the learning outcomes associated with an assessment that contributes to the qualification for which you are studying, notwithstanding your best efforts, in consultation with your TEI, to mitigate those circumstances. 

SACs are therefore circumstances beyond the student's control – for example, illness; a family crisis; bereavement – which have seriously affected his/her work. Although the University does not permit TEIs to amend student marks in light of such circumstances, it does permit Board of Examiners to take SACs into account when making decisions on a student's progression to the next year of their studies (responsibility of the TEI Board of Examiners), or on the award of their final qualification (responsibility of the Durham Board of Examiners). 

Considering Serious Adverse Circumstances  

Information & Evidence 

A student who feels that there have been serious adverse circumstances that have affected his/her assessment should inform the TEI at the earliest opportunity. TEIs will need to know: 

  • the nature of the circumstances, and the evidence for those circumstances; 
  • the assessments which were affected, and how the circumstances affected the student’s ability to complete their assessments. 
  • if issues arose in year, why the issues were not reported earlier so that mitigation could be put in place or, if mitigation was put in place, why that mitigation was not successful. 

Where there are instances of serious adverse circumstances, these should be considered in advance of the meeting of the TEI Board of Examiners. Consideration of the circumstances should be undertaken by a sub-group of the Board, called the Scrutiny Sub-Committee. 

Scrutiny Sub-Committee 

The sub-committee is a small group. It will consider student information, and does not need to do so anonymously (though later reporting to, and any discussion at, the Board of Examiners will be done anonymously). The membership of this sub-committee must include as a minimum: 

  • the Chair of the TEI Board of Examiners (chair to the sub-committee);
  • the Secretary of the Board of Examiners (secretary to the sub-committee);
  • two other members of the board of examiners (or, if the secretary is also a member of academic staff, one other member of the board of examiners); 
  • Where possible the scrutiny sub-committee should include at least one male and one female member of staff. 

The scrutiny sub-committee will meet before the Board of Examiners, normally a few days in advance of the meeting, or sometimes the morning before an afternoon meeting. The sub-committee shall consider all serious adverse circumstances evidence. When considering the evidence, the Panel must come to a judgement not on the evidence itself (i.e. the sub-committee is not asked to make a medical judgement), but on the impact which the circumstances had on the students ability to complete their academic work (i.e. an academic judgement).  

Deciding on Impact Grades 

Durham’s view is that TEIs are best placed to judge the impact which any given set of circumstances has had on the assessments managed by that TEI. The same or similar circumstances will have different impacts on different assessments at different times. For instance, the impact of sudden laryngitis is likely to have a more serious effect on an oral presentation than on a written assignment. A broken leg on the morning of an examination is likely to affect performance in that examination more significantly than an examination undertaken a week later, for example. For this reason the University does not have specific gradings for different types of illness or circumstances: individual sub-committees are asked to make an academic judgement, in the context of the academic assessment which they have set. 

For each instance the impact of the serious adverse circumstances reported on the assessment of the student concerned will be graded in accordance with the following scale: 



The evidence submitted does not indicate that the alleged serious adverse circumstances had any adverse effect on the performance of the student in his/her assessment(s) OR the circumstances described have already been sufficiently mitigated through the granting of a concession or other adjustment OR the alleged circumstances were experienced outside of an examination period but were not notified to the TEI at the time of the occurrence, and there is no reason/no explanation given by the student as to why the TEI was not informed 


The evidence submitted indicates that the serious adverse circumstances are likely to have had a small adverse effect on the performance of the student in his/her assessment(s) 


The evidence submitted indicates that the serious adverse circumstances are likely to have had a significant adverse effect on the performance of the student in his/her assessment(s) 


The evidence submitted indicates that the serious adverse circumstances are likely to have had a very significant adverse effect on the performance of the student in his/her assessment(s) 

The secretary of the scrutiny sub-committee is responsible for ensuring that a written record is kept of meetings of the sub-committee. This record should include the following information: 

  • the student (including Banner ID number); 
  • the modules and assessments affected; 
  • the duration of the impact; 
  • the SAC Impact grade agreed by the sub-committee; and 
  • a brief rationale for the decision made. 

The record should be kept on file, and a copy of the record (minus the final section outlining the rationale) should be received by the TEI Board of Examiners. A copy of the full record – including the rationale – should be sent to Durham. See our Templates and Forms page to download this. TEIs are also required to add this information to a student’s record on Moodle. See the Moodle Marks Processing System guide, available on the Common Awards Hub, for detailed instructions on how to add this data to Moodle.  

Consideration at Board of Examiners 

SACs may be taken into account at both TEI Boards of Examiners and Durham Boards of Examiners. 

TEI Board of Examiners  

TEI Boards of Examiners should discuss all students with SAC impacts grades, and the minutes of the meeting should state clearly any action, or recommended action to be taken, in light of those SACs.  

Consideration of serious adverse circumstances evidence in respect of assessments taken in should be considered by the TEI Board of Examiners for the purposes of progression, and when considering whether students have achieved sufficient credit to be recommended to the Durham Overarching Board of Examiners. Consideration of SACs at the Board should be done on an anonymous basis: information other than the grade (and the assessment and module which it affects) should not be provided to the Board. 

At no point should marks be changed in the light of serious adverse circumstances. The student's transcript will show the mark obtained. Instead, Boards should consider where any failed module has SACs marked against it: the mark received by the student and the grading of the SACs. These two factors will determine whether, in the view of the Board, it is likely that it is the circumstances which prevented the student from meeting the learning outcomes for the module. 

Where such a judgment is made in relation to a failed module, the Board should seek to identify ways in which the student might be provided with another opportunity to demonstrate the meeting of the learning outcomes. The Board should therefore consider in the first instance whether the student should be given an opportunity to resit any failed assessments (as a first attempt – e.g. uncapped – or as a capped second attempt). In exceptional circumstances the Board may agree that the student should be deemed to have passed the module (notwithstanding the failing mark), and therefore be allowed to proceed on their programme without need for resit or withdrawal.

Durham Board of Examiners 

The Durham Board of Examiners is responsible for confirming awards and for agreeing the classification to be awarded to studentsThe Durham Board of Examiners will take into account any SAC grades when considering the classification of a student’s award.