COVID guidance for education and training providers
Since March 2020, the higher and further education and training sectors have taken swift action to adapt to the unprecedented levels of disruption posed by COVID-19.
Providers have implemented a range of modified teaching, learning and assessment alternatives at short notice to maintain satisfactory levels of provision for learners.
As providers have moved from full lockdown to a return to in-person teaching, learning and assessment, we have shifted from emergency measures to a new longer-term planning phase that demands a strategic approach to delivering education and training in a blended learning environment.
QQI recognises the key role it plays as the sole agency working across the spectrum of higher and further education and training activities in the country. We are proud to play an active part in supporting our partners and maintaining confidence in the tertiary education and training system.
For QQI, many of our processes have had to evolve immediately and more will have to change in the medium and long-term – adding extra certification periods to facilitate CAO learners; creating virtual site visits as part of our quality assurance reviews; and extending deadlines for programme review and revalidation processes.
QQI has advice and guidance to offer below in relation to these and many other challenges experienced by our stakeholders.
A comprehensive evaluation of the response of higher education and further education and training institutions to the COVID-19 crisis.
Guidance on developing blended learning provision, focussed on front-line provision.
Provides details of existing and new supports and arrangements for the tertiary education system in relation to assessment.
Developed for all providers of programmes leading to NFQ awards, this outlines five principles underpinning alternative assessment.
QQI Award providers
Outlines measures fast-tracked by QQI's governance processes to enable providers of programmes leading to QQI awards to implement changes to modes of programme delivery and assessment:
The current list of modified awards and the relevant alternative components is available here. This may be updated as providers make additional requests to QQI.
Provides additional guidance for Further Education and Training (FET) providers offering programmes leading to QQI Common Awards System (CAS) awards.
Events since the start of the pandemic have precipitated a move towards blended learning across education and training. As more providers move to integrate face-to-face campus engagement with online learning, our Quality Assurance Guidelines on Blended Learning will be an essential guide for institutions and individual programme developers in establishing and maintaining the quality of their programmes.
These guidelines were developed by QQI with the assistance of an expert provider group with national and international expertise. They are established as an additional layer to QQI's Core Quality Assurance Guidelines.
The same broad message applies, but it is even more important here that providers maintain quality assurance of the assessment process where it is changed from the validated programme, as the integrity of the awards is critical.
For example, any change from on-campus to a different form of assessment will need to be planned carefully with the following factors being paramount:
The same learning outcomes need to be assessed.
Academic integrity/cheating checks need to be in place where a switch is made from a controlled assessment e.g. exam, to a less controlled assessment e.g. online submission of assignments etc.
Any changes need to be approved by your Academic Council or Quality Committee in consultation with external examiner where appropriate.
The COVID restrictions may mean that employers in some sectors are unable to accommodate work placements. For a number of QQI CAS awards, temporary modifications have been made to the award structure to enable learners to complete an alternative component. The list of awards is available here.
In some vocational disciplines, e.g. healthcare and childcare, work placement in a relevant setting is important for the achievement of learning outcomes and, in some cases, is a regulatory requirement. However, as a force majeure measure, QQI has determined that providers of programmes leading to QQI awards in these vocational areas will be permitted to modify programmes and assessments with specific work placement requirements to support the achievement of learning outcomes via placements of reduced duration or alternative means (e.g. such as simulation, alternative assessments etc.). This flexibility must be subject to appropriate internal quality assurance and approved by the relevant internal QA governance structures. In the case of QQI awards in early learning and care, this approach has also been agreed by the relevant regulatory bodies, the Department of Education and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
Where placement is a necessary requirement for professional qualification, e.g. teaching, nursing etc, queries should be directed to the relevant regulator. In some cases, it may be necessary to postpone work placements.
If you are a provider and you have questions about programme delivery and assessment, contact email@example.com.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, QQI has has added extra QQI Award certification periods to accommodate delays in completing assessments and appeals. We will add extra certification periods in the future, where necessary to ensure that all results are submitted to the CAO in time for Zero Round offers.
Unless otherwise notified, site visits will be postponed for the foreseeable future. Providers and panel members will be contacted directly. Where appropriate and where agreed with the provider and panel, panel meetings will take place online.
English language education providers
In 2020, in light of the current extenuating circumstances, QQI/ACELS delayed the invoicing of the ACELS annual renewal fee.
ACELS providers were charged the renewal fee corresponding to the number of classrooms in their main centres in 2020. ACELS providers were not charged for their additional centres in 2020. This applied to all providers, whether they were all-year-round or seasonal operators.
In May 2021, QQI/ACELS issued a circular informing ACELS accredited providers that a credit note which reflects the portion of 2020 for which the scheme was not in operation - ie 42 weeks out of 52 - would be issued to them shortly. This involves partial refunds to providers who have already paid the 2020 accreditation fee in full. Please note that the providers who have not paid the 2020 fee yet are still liable for payment for the period prior to 13th March 2020.
QQI/ACELS has deferred the 2021 annual recognition process for accredited schools, including invoicing, until the prospects for the sector are clearer. QQI/ACELS is not currently accepting any renewals of recognition for 2021. This may change depending on the progress towards the introduction of the IEM and the developments in the sector.
There will be no school inspections for the foreseeable future.
Advice issued by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science states the conditions under which ELE providers may resume in-person activity to cater for the needs of the existing cohort of ELE students currently in the State, starting from 19 July 2021. Providers are advised to contact their sector representative bodies, Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) or the Progressive College Network (PCN) for details regarding the Covid-19 ELE Re-opening Protocols & Adaptation Framework.
QQI participates on a Covid-19 Working Group for the English language education sector that has been established by the Department of Education and Skills to engage with key stakeholders to ensure that issues of primary concern to students in this sector are addressed. The Working Group includes representatives of relevant Government Departments and representatives of both students and education providers.
The work of this group has resulted in the publication of guidance for all students in this sector in a range of languages which has been also been disseminated to students via their education providers.
This material includes guidance for these students on:
- Health advice about Covid-19
- Immigration status
- Information for employees and the self-employed
The Working Group continues to engage on a regular basis to address issues as they emerge and to provide further information on the advice and supports that are available for students.
English language students
Information on immigration-related issues can be found on the website of the Department of Justice and Equality.
In compliance with the government decision taken in March 2020, all English language education (ELE) providers closed their premises in accordance with public health advice as part of efforts to combat the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak. As of 19 July 2021, providers can reopen their premises – where it is safe to do so - to cater for the needs of their existing cohorts of students and subject to the conditions of this notice from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
As of 20 September 2021, resumption of all activity in the ELE sector began and gradually expanded in line with changes to restrictions after 22 October 2021. English language education (ELE) providers can now offer in-person English language programmes to learners coming from outside Ireland where it is safe to do so and in line with protocols set out by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, English language education (ELE) providers have introduced new ways of providing services to their students, including facilitating the provision of online classes. This reflects a similar approach that has been was adopted by providers across the wider education system. If a student is having problems issues with their language programme on offer or in accessing a provider's services, they can engage with their provider to address these issues.
It is not within the remit of QQI ACELS to pursue ACELS providers for refunds arising from fees paid by students. This is a matter between the student and their provider. However, as part of the conditions for a provider to hold ACELS recognition, each provider must have a refunds policy in place and also a complaints procedure in the event of student complaints. These should be communicated to the student at time of enrolment. If students exhaust the internal complaints procedure of the provider and are still unhappy about the outcome, they can make a complaint to ACELS. However, in the case of a complaint regarding refunds, ACELS can only check whether a provider has followed their internal refunds policy. If the provider's refund policy was followed, ACELS cannot intervene any further in a private agreement between a provider and their student.
Lockdown and social distancing have required us to review and adapt our processes and we have commenced a programme of 'virtual' institutional review.
If you have questions about HE quality reviews, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pandemic restrictions impacted on the ability of ETBs in the first phase of the review to progress self-evaluation activities. This has required changes to the anticipated timeline for the Phase 1 reviews and has had an effect on the overall inaugural review schedule.
If you have questions about the ETB Inaugural Reviews, contact email@example.com.