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We wrote to you last week to say that we were aware that you will have been reviewing your business continuity procedures to mitigate the potential impact of COVID-19. We understand many of our customers are now in a position where they are implementing those procedures and making decisions that might not have been reasonably anticipated. We are doing the same.

The situation remains changeable but we wanted to let you know that we remain available to support. We are following advice given in public announcements made by the government as well as guidance provided to us by our regulators.

This email is to share information about how we are working, how you can contact us and to answer some of the questions that we have received from our customers in the last few days.

Our working arrangements

Earlier this week, we took the decision to ask all staff at YMCA Awards to work from home. Because of telephony and IT improvements we made last year, we don’t expect there to be any difference in your ability to contact our support team whilst they work remotely.

Contacting us

We remain available on +44 (0)20 3994 9500 and awards.support@ymca.co.uk. However, to ensure we can support our staff and provide appropriate rest breaks, we are amending our opening hours to:

Monday: 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Tuesday – Friday: 09.15 am – 5.00 pm

We are temporarily suspending availability of our support team on Saturdays.

If you have any concerns about the changes in our availability, please let us know.

External Quality Assurance Activity

Our external quality assurance team continue to be involved in supporting and overseeing each of our centres. However, we have taken the decision that all external quality assurance activity will be completed remotely until further notice. This is in light of this week’s advice from the UK Government to encourage employees to work from home, as well as the limited opening of schools and colleges.

If you have a scheduled visit, your EQA will be in touch to arrange for the activity to take place remotely. This remains in line with our external quality assurance policy and we don’t expect this to negatively affect the support we can offer during the current period. Remote external quality assurance activities can include review of:

  • learner assessment evidence (including video evidence of practical assessments)
  • internal quality assurance records
  • staff training and standardisation activities
  • centre policies and procedures
  • learner progression.

We are aware that there is a possibility you may not be able to provide learner evidence and associated documentation if this is stored at a location you are currently unable to access. Where this is the case, we will work with you to agree a way forward.

Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to accept claims for achievement without sufficient evidence to sample but we will make whatever adaptions to our usual expectations and requirements that we can, without compromising standards.

External assessment

We understand that the current situation makes the logistics of invigilating external assessments extremely challenging. The solution is eProctoring, which enables learners to sit online assessments using their own PC or laptop, with invigilation carried out via their webcam.

We are working with our partners to determine if we can fast-track existing plans to roll out an eProctoring system to our customers and hope to be able to share news on our progress in the coming days. We will not be able to offer this for free but we will negotiate the best possible price.

Until then, the guidance last week on the teaching of theory components online remains appropriate as well as our rules on external assessment, which includes provision for the use of technology for invigilation (page 3). We recognise that for a period of time remote invigilation may be the only means of invigilation available and so we will fast-track any applications to use a reliable eProctoring system.

It is important to clarify that even under the current circumstances, invigilation over Skype, mobile phone or platforms for hosting meetings is not accepted. This is because these solutions do not replicate invigilation and reliable alternatives exist in the form of a range of eProctoring systems.

Practical assessment

We are hearing from our customers that alongside their own gym facilities (in colleges and larger providers) commercial and public gyms are now closing. This, coupled with restrictions on travel and the government’s guidance on social distancing means that practical assessment is unlikely to be possible. If you have learners who were able to carry out practical assessments this week, making use of the provision we already allow for assessments to be video recorded, your EQA will be able to review a sample of these videos.

Certificates

We do not expect to be able to print or dispatch certificates until restrictions on travel and work are lifted. Fortunately, we have been rolling out electronic certificates and are now accelerating our plans to enable your learners to view confirmation of their achievements. We will be in touch with further information about this next week.

General qualifications: the suspension of public exams

Whilst school examinations in the UK (GCSEs, A Levels, Scottish Highers and Nationals) have been cancelled with the commitment from government that learners will be able to achieve their qualifications without sitting these final exams, this is not an arrangement we are looking at for our qualifications. This is because the type of qualifications we provide serve a different purpose and function in a different way. As the external assessments (theory tests) for YMCA Awards qualifications are available on demand there isn’t the same upheaval and planning required for rescheduling external assessment as with large scale public examinations.

Given the importance of practical demonstration of skills in the majority of YMCA Awards qualifications we are not in a position to exempt learners from carrying out practical assessment. At this stage, we feel to remove the requirement for practical assessment would seriously compromise the standards of achievement. This means, as we indicated last week, some learners may need to take a break in their learning to carry out practical assessment later in the year.

Please get in touch if you feel you have a solution we’ve not considered. We will work with CIMSPA and other stakeholders (where appropriate) to explore any adjustments we may, as a sector, be able to tolerate.

Recruiting learners

A key part of each of our centres’ operations is recruiting learners on to our qualifications. We understand that many of our customers are already feeling the impact of COVID-19 in this area and want to do what we can to help with creative and practical solutions.

Earlier this month, we communicated price changes from 1 August 2020 and an immediate 20% reduction in the fee for our eLearning bundles. We have now reviewed our minimum spend requirement and will not be enforcing this for the current academic year.

Future updates

We intend to continue to provide updates each week during this period of change to make sure you are well informed of our activities and arrangements. If we need to further review and amend service levels we will let you know and work with you to consider the impact.