Please check this FAQ for answers about how the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak affects student finance. We will be updating this article regularly and it will remain available as long as necessary.

18 August 2020

A. Attendance confirmations and payments

Q1: As our learners are studying remotely, tutors are not marking registers in the conventional way. Such attendance is going to be difficult to track while we are working remotely. What should we do?

A: When confirming attendance, you must continue to use best endeavours to determine the learner’s engagement. You must also agree and record the ongoing course of action in the learner's files.

If you cannot offer or track engagement, then you should submit a suspension or withdrawal, depending on circumstance, in the normal manner.

Q2 (UPDATED): Will we still receive fee payments as normal?

A: We will make fee payments as normal. These will be in line with your positive attendance confirmations on the LP Portal for actual and assumed months of attendance. This applies to learners continuing to engage with your learning services.

You must still submit attendance confirmations. We expect you to have adequate business continuity plans in place so that your staff can still process attendance confirmations if they are working remotely.

Q3: Is there any possibility of extending the May fixed quarter attendance confirmation window to give learning providers more time to submit? It will be challenging while we are working from home?

A: There is no planned change to the deadline dates for the May fixed quarter. We understand that you will have planned for the scheduled payment date and we are keen to avoid any disruption to your payments.

To ensure payments are made as expected on Wednesday 20 May, you should confirm attendance for the relevant learners by close of business on Thursday 14 May.

B. Delivery of learning aims

ESFA provides guidance on learning aim delivery and the content here is based on their guidance.

Q1: Our premises are no longer open for learners to attend. What steps can we put in place to ensure our learners can continue their learning aims?

A: On 18 March 2020, the Secretary of State for Education made an announcement about the cessation of classroom delivery for most learners due to the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). We are assuming that that you will continue with your study programme remotely where possible, using online learning. 

Q2: Some programmes require a practical element of learning or assessment. What is the advice about continuing these programmes and how should we administer?

A: The Department for Education (DfE) is working with the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) to see what flexibility and pragmatism can be applied to ensure these learners are not disadvantaged. Ofqual is also working with awarding organisations to explore options. They will provide more details as soon as possible.

Q3: We have many learners on courses that are due to finish before the end of this academic year where practical assessments still need to be completed. When will we know the outcome of the discussions between DfE and Ofqual about what support or measures will be introduced for these learners so as not to disadvantage them?

A: You can find the most recent update on GOV.UK.

In summary, Ofqual has said that, depending on the qualification, there are three options available:

  • the award of calculated results,
  • adaptation of assessments
  • rescheduling

They are are working closely with awarding organisations to finalise the lists of qualifications in scope for each category. They will shortly set out further details of the approach for each category and outline areas where they will need to consult.

Q4: We are aware that loan-funded learners need to complete their Level 3 Access to HE Diploma as well as their HE course in order to qualify for loan write-off. However, some learners have received an offer of a place from their first-choice university stating that, in view of the current situation, their place is secure whether they complete or not. Will learners still need to complete their Access to HE Diploma in this case?

A: The government alongside the Office for Students (OfS) recently issued a statement asking universities and colleges to pause all unconditional offer-making and changes to existing offers for applicants who have not yet received their A levels, BTECs or similar qualification results. As such, there are no changes to the rules around the Access to HE write-off.

You can find further information on the OfS website.

Q5: One of our courses is technically finishing early, as the learners have completed all their written work. The awarding organisation has advised that final completion will be based on predicted grades, as the learners are unable to attend classes and placements because of COVID-19. How should we administer these learners on the LP Portal?

A: Providers are entitled to the full fee amount if a learner leaves the learning aim before the expected end date and has completed the aim. In this scenario, you should notify us by submitting an early completion CoC.

C. Learner applications and assessments

Q1 (UPDATED): Some of my AY 2019/20 learners have yet to apply. Will their applications be processed as usual?

A: We are able to accept applications up to the end date of a the learners course and so assuming eligibility and funding criteria has been met, then learners should continue to apply through the online application system on GOV.UK. 

Q2 (UPDATED): Will the opening of the AY 2020/21 application system be delayed due to the disruption caused by COVID-19?

A: The AY 2020/21 application system launched on 15 June 2020.

Q3 (UPDATED): Are there any contingency plans in place for learners
having trouble submitting the necessary information or evidence?

A: Learners applying online for academic year 2019/20 will need to print, sign and return the declaration. Current policy requirements dictate that a 'wet' signature is needed, so learners must still send the original form. In the short term, learners without access to a printer can save the online declaration form in pdf and email it to their learning provider to be printed. However, we can confirm that learners are able to provide an electronic signature for academic year 2020/21 applications following the launch of the service in June.

Learners do not need to send evidence now if they’re not able to. Our priority is your safety and well-being so please encourage them to stay at home. If learners send us evidence later than normal, we’ll make sure they don’t lose out on their funding because of this. The changes made recently to the ADIF process will also help to simplify the requirements on the learner. 

Q4: Are National Insurance numbers being verified and passport numbers being validated within the usual timescales?

A: National Insurance numbers and passport numbers are being processed within the usual turnaround timescales.

Q5: Will there be any change to your service for processing applications during this period?

A: Applications are being processed as normal and we hope to maintain service levels as closely as possible. The teams involved in processing learner applications are working remotely and supported by a small additional team of critical office-based staff.

Q6: The change to the Applicant's Declaration of Identity Form (ADIF) requirements for AY 2020/21 will make a positive difference to our learners. Is there similar flexibility planned for current AY 2019/20 applicants?

A: With immediate effect, UK nationals who do not have a UK passport and are applying for Advanced Learner Loans are only required to provide their original UK birth or adoption certificate. Learners do not have to provide an ADIF and can confirm their identity with their original birth or adoption certificate alone. This change applies to all academic years.

D. Service engagement

Q1 (UPDATED): We are aware that the planned seminars for May were cancelled. Are there any further events planned that we should be aware of?

A: We are running a series of Learning Provider Virtual Forums in November – further details will soon be available on our Events page and so please look out for updates.

We will also let you know as and when we can schedule our other events, such as training events and seminars.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published further guidance for colleges and training providers. You can find this on GOV.UK.

E. Communications with learners

Q1: What are learners being told?

A: You can find our latest guidance on the GOV.UK website. We are developing and maintaining parallel FAQs and will use our online and social media channels to inform students.


Ofqual consultation on awarding vocational and technical qualifications in summer 2020

Q: We have many learners on vocational and technical courses that are due to finish before the end of this academic year. Practical assessments still need to be completed. What is the outcome of the recent consultation on the assessment and grading of these qualifications?

A: The consultation decision was published on 22 May. You can find the document on GOV.UK.

In summary, Ofqual has set out an extraordinary framework to permit approaches to issuing results that are not normally permitted.

Ofqual has also published an interactive tool to help identify which specific qualifications are in scope. Depending on the qualification, learners will receive a calculated result. Where this is not possible or appropriate, awarding organisations can offer adapted assessments. If neither of these options are possible, awarding organisations can delay assessments.

Out of scope qualifications regulated by Ofqual will continue to be subject to the General Conditions. Awarding organisations may calculate results for learners or adapt assessments or delivery models for out of scope qualifications, so long as they can still comply with the requirements of their General Conditions of Recognition.