What to do if your son or daughter is unhappy about their university grades following the pandemic

Tanya Thomas
8 July 2022

Many university students’ learning was disrupted during the pandemic which may have led to disappointing results. If you are disappointed with your results, there are limited grounds under which you might be able to appeal to your educational institution against them. In the event of a successful appeal, the exam board would suggest a remedy to compensate you for having been disadvantaged in some way. This is often a re-sit, but some new policies introduced during the pandemic could give even more flexibility, for example, discounting the assessment from your overall mark.  

What are students generally allowed to do? 

A student can challenge their university marks on limited grounds. The grounds tend to include: 

  • A procedural error which made the assessment or the exam unfair such as missing pages in the examination booklet, or a last-minute room change. 
  • Extenuating / Special Circumstances – things which happened to the student close in time to the assessment or during it that the student was not able to tell the Exam Board before they sat. Sometimes this results in an unexpectedly low mark or a fail which is not a true reflection of the student’s ability. 

What are students generally not allowed to do? 

Students are not allowed to challenge their marks simply because they disagree with the marker. This is known as ‘questioning academic judgement’. 

Tanya’s step-by-step academic appeal guide 

Main issues:  

  • Check you have the correct deadline 
  • Write a timeline to help you present your case logically 
  • Provide supporting evidence and if you do not have it, say when you will expect to be able to submit it. 


You can work out your deadline in a number of ways. The best ways are to search the university’s website under ‘Appeals’ and locate the university’s procedures. The deadline should also be stated in your Course Handbook. You can also ask your students Union / Guild or Student Cases within Academic Registry will be able to tell you.  

If the deadline is very close you should try to ask for an extension. Extensions should be given to any student who has or believes they may have a disability. 

Deadlines for post-graduate students tend to be longer. 

You need to ensure that you have enough time to write the appeal. Think of it like a written assessment, the more rushed it is the more likely it will not make sense. Ensure you have enough time because you will only really get one opportunity to argue your case. Many universities have two-stage appeals, beware, this does not mean you have two attempts. It means that if the decision made on the first appeal is unreasonable you can have it reviewed. It does not mean you can re-write your first appeal.  

Timelines and presenting your case

It is good practice to write a timeline of events so you won’t have to keep trying to remember dates and events as you go along. 

A timeline will help you formulate your argument as it will help you explain what happened to you in chronological order. 

Don’t assume the reader will know what you mean so make sure you make it as personal as possible. People react to things in different ways so do not be afraid to say how badly something affected you. 


Think about what evidence you need to support your arguments. Do not be afraid to use statements from friends and family, as well as healthcare professionals. 

If your travel was disrupted, provide travel tickets and receipts. 

If you cannot get medical evidence but you are on medication; it’s OK to take a photo of your medication with your address label and submit it as proof of ill health or disability. 

The evidential threshold is ‘balance of probability so you are expected to prove that what you are saying is ‘more likely than not’. Follow this pattern: 

  • Say what happened 
  • Say how it impacted you, explain your symptoms, make it personal 
  • Say how those symptoms affected your academic performance  
  • Attach evidence 

Be patient. It can take up to 90 days to hear back.  

A bit more about Disability

You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act 2010 Technical Guidance on Further and Higher Education Appendix 3: The meaning of disability, states: 

“Are all mental impairments covered? 

6.      The term ‘mental impairment’ is intended to cover a wide range of impairments relating to mental functioning, including dyslexia and other impairments often referred to generically as learning disabilities. 

What if a person has no medical diagnosis? 

7.       There is no need for a person to establish a medically diagnosed cause for their impairment. What it is important to consider is the effect of the impairment not the cause.” 


This means you do not have to have a medical diagnosis in order to receive protection under the Act. This can be particularly helpful if you suffered a mental-health issue which affected your assessments and you want an extension of time in which to submit your appeal. An extension would allow you to seek medical support, obtain evidence and give you some ‘breathing space’ before having to submit an appeal.  

What about blanket remedies?

During the pandemic, most universities created new policies which were supposed to help students whose academic performance suffered because of online learning and assessments. These policies were commonly referred to as ‘no-detriment’ policies. In some cases they were wrongly imposed on unsuspecting students some of whom ended up worse off. It is therefore a good idea to check if such a provision would help you before assuming it will. Often the existing mitigating/ special circumstances policy will be a better option. 

How do I get in touch? 

If you are thinking of making an academic appeal, please get in touch with me. I offer free 30-minute ‘no-obligation’ phone calls so we can discuss your unique circumstances, the merits of your case and the likely costs.  

Tanya Thomas
Partner - Education Law
Tanya Thomas is a Partner Solicitor at Spencer West. She specialises in Education law; Higher Education; fitness to practise proceedings, academic appeals, disciplinary hearings, extenuating circumstances, appeals against withdrawal, PhD supervision, OIA and any other procedural irregularities covering students.