Guidance and school principles


This section provides guidance and principles that the Sub-Committees and Chairs use when considering new course and programme proposals and modification proposals.

The guidance and School principles detailed below supplement information that can be found in the modifications to existing courses and programmes on the right.

School policy on marking

The Academic Board (10 November 2010 meeting) approved three forms of marking for summative assessment: double-blind marking; sighted double marking; and moderated single marking, involving a second examiner.

It agreed that the default position for all summative assessments would continue to be double-blind marking.  Departments choosing to 'opt out' of double-blind marking would be required to register their reasons and details of their procedures with the USSC/GSSC as appropriate. 

Departments would be able to register their marking procedures on a departmental basis, rather than case by case.

It would be highly exceptional for GTAs or guest teachers who are also registered as PhD students to act as examiners for graduate level assessments. In such cases, the Chair of the GSSC must given his/her approval and the student concerned would normally need to be near completion and/or would have specialist expertise of direct relevance to the course concerned. The Chair of the GSSC would only grant approval for GTA marking in exceptional circumstances where all other avenues had been exhausted and this should not be taken as a recurring approval for each year.

For more information about the marking process, please refer to instructions for examiners for undergraduate and taught graduate programmes (PDF).

Procedure for 'opting out' of double-blind marking

Departments should to write to the USSC and/or GSSC to explain:

a) the reasons why double-blind marking is not used;
b) the marking procedures that are used instead.

Departments should read the guidance provided on registering an 'opt out' of double-blind marking (PDF) and address points 1-7 in their correspondence as appropriate to the case in question.

Please send correspondence to the relevant Sub-Committee Secretary. He/She will confirm when the Department's marking procedure is formally registered.

Seminar and class size exemptions

1.1 School policy requires undergraduate classes and graduate seminars to have a maximum limit of 15 students per group.

1.2 This has been established policy for undergraduate course. It was introduced at the graduate level in October 2009 as a result of a Teaching Task Force recommendation (approved by the Academic Board in May 2008).

1.3 The School acknowledges that it might be appropriate to run larger classes/seminars when pedagogically appropriate. It also recognises that student demand and other resource reasons might make it unavoidable for some courses to run larger classes/seminars in particular years. USSC and GSSC can grant exemptions to the maximum class/seminar size rule in such cases. 

1.4 The principles and procedures for class/seminar size exemptions are set out below.

Principles for considering requests to hold oversize classes/seminars

2.1 The USSC and GSSC Chairs will use the following principles as a guide when considering requests from departments for exemption from the maximum class/seminar size.

2.2 In all cases where a course runs oversize classes or seminars, corresponding increases in office hours and other student learning support associated with the course need to be made. The course leader/convener is responsible for ensuring that available student support corresponds adequately to the number of students on the course.

2.3 There are two possible kinds of exemption – temporary and three-year.

2.4 ‘Temporary exemption’ means permission to run oversize classes/seminars for one academic year. In all cases, the department is asked to first consider whether it can run an additional class/seminar group. If not, temporary exemptions can be granted in cases where a course needs to run oversize classes/seminars due to resource constraints, which might include the following reasons:

  • unexpectedly high/late student demand for a course;

  • departure of staff/unsuccessful recruitment round;

  • staff illness/unavoidable personal reasons;

  • insufficient resource to run additional class/seminar group. 

2.5 If a temporary exemption is granted, it is expected that departments will factor these considerations into their planning processes to avoid oversize groups the following year.

2.6 ‘Three-year exemption’ means permission to run oversize classes/seminars for three years without needing further exemption during that period. These exemptions are granted for pedagogical reasons:

  • where a specialist teacher, e.g. an external expert, is only available to teach a limited number of seminars/classes and where students would be disadvantaged by being taught by a non-specialist;

  • where sessions are structured on a non-standard model, for example lectures immediately followed by group-based activity, or larger seminars/classes that involve extensive use of small group 'break out' sessions;

  • certain sessions taught in quantitative subjects which are normally referred to as 'seminars' or 'classes' but usually involve larger groups working on problem sets;

  • certain computer-based sessions.

2.7 A further three-year exemption may be granted at the end of the initial three years. There is no limit on the number of additional exemptions that may be granted. Departments will be required to show that the grounds on which the initial three-year exemption are still in place, i.e. that class/seminar sizes have not significantly increased, or that additional student support has been put in place if they have.

2.8 In cases where new teaching arrangements are being tried out, temporary exemption will be granted in the first instance and departments will be asked to review the success of the seminars during their year of ‘temporary’ exemption. This should include consultation with students in Staff-Student Liaison Committees. If the seminars are deemed successful, departments may apply for a three-year exemption from the maximum graduate seminar size in time for the next academic session.

2.9 Departments have some autonomy in establishing temporary solutions to unexpectedly high levels of student demand for particular courses. Fifteen should remain the ‘normal’ maximum class/seminar size. But departments may run class/seminar groups on a temporary basis of up to 17 students without needing formal USSC/GSSC approval. Such cases will be in response to e.g. a surge in student demand; and will occur only when the department is unable to run an additional class/seminar group.

2.10 All departments will report their class/seminar sizes to TQARO in week 4 of Michaelmas Term and in week 3 of Lent Term. This will include exemption requests for courses running any classes/seminars greater than 17 students.

2.11 These class/seminar size reports will be included on Staff-Student Liaison Committee agendas. Staff will explain to students why certain courses are running oversize classes/seminars, and the steps they are taking to mitigate the larger size on students’ learning experiences (e.g. increased office hours and/or other learning support).

Process for applying for class/seminar size exemptions

3.1 In an email to the USSC or GSSC secretary, please provide the following information:

Temporary exemptions (normally submitted as part of a department’s class/seminar size report submitted in MT Week 4 or LT Week 3):

  • course code and title;

  • a short explanation setting out the need for the exemption;

  • the steps the department will take to avoid the need for temporary exemption for the course in question next year;

  • the additional student support arrangements that will be put in place, if necessary;

  • the number of students that will attend each class/seminar group

Three-year exemptions (normally submitted in good time prior to the start of teaching):

  • course code and title;

  • the status of the course – is it core or optional;

  • a short explanation setting out the need for the exemption, including a summary of the teaching style and why it is appropriate;

  • the additional student support arrangements that will be put in place, if necessary;

  • the likely normal class/seminar size if your request is granted.

3.2 In all cases, the department will need to make a case to explain why the classes/seminars need to be oversize.  The USSC/GSSC Chair will consider the request and the secretary will let the department know the outcome. The Chair might request additional information from the department before reaching his/her decision.

3.3 The secretary will convey the Chair’s decision to the department.

Shared UG-PGT teaching: approval criteria

Principles on nine/ten month master's programmes

At its 21 May 2008 meeting, the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Committee (TLAC) discussed nine/ten month master's programmes in connection with the Bologna Declaration.

TLAC saw value to both the School and particularly students in offering shorter masters' programmes where these were appropriate. Shorter programmes gave students greater flexibility, allowing them to enter the workplace sooner than under a standard 12-month master's.

However, TLAC agreed that the Graduate Studies Sub-Committee should apply a set of principles to such proposals when considering them for approval:

  1. proposals should be for a ten-month master's; and

  2. they should include a compulsory dissertation, project or extended essay element.

Where proposals deviated from such norms, strong justifications - taking note of academic standards - should be made by the proposing department for GSSC's consideration.

If a ten-month Master's programme is approved, a statement should be included in the graduate prospectus, making it clear to prospective students that such programmes are not Bologna-compliant.

Please refer to the Bologna Process for more information.

Principles on modular master's programmes

Master's programmes are normally taught across a full academic year. They consist of a menu of full and/or half unit courses taught within the School's standard teaching terms.

However, it may be more appropriate for some MSc programmes to be offered in the format of concentrated modules.These are often aimed at professionals in the workplace as 'Executive Master's' or 'E-MSc programmes'.

At its 24 April 2005 meeting, the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Committee (TLAC) discussed and agreed principles for modular MSc programmes. Any modular master's programme is therefore subject to the following conditions:

  1. the programme is to be clearly structured, with designated core courses, a system of pre-requisites for more advanced modules, and a clear focus on outcomes;
  2. that an associated programme of tailored reading between modules is to be built in to the programme regulations;
  3. that a minimum period of registration is to be set for the programme in its variant forms, with a particular proviso that students would not be allowed to take modules back-to-back; and
  4. that programmes in this format are to be offered at the master's level only, and not at the undergraduate level.

Exit awards

TLAC also agreed that exit awards could be made available to students if they had to withdraw early from the modular programme. It was agreed that there should be a named award at each exit point, for example Certificate, Diploma and Master's qualifications.

Offering exit awards on the modular programme is subject to the following conditions:

  1. that there is a statement of aims and intended outcomes for the qualifications at each level;
  2. that the programme regulations set core courses at the diploma and master's levels; and
  3. that classification by Distinction/Merit/Pass should apply at the master's level only.

Principles on intercalated degree programmes


  1. At its 5 November 2008 meeting, the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Committee (TLAC) agreed principles to be applied to intercalated undergraduate degrees.

  2. The Undergraduate Studies Sub-Committee use these principles when considering proposals for intercalated/placement undergraduate degree arrangements, or arrangements for individual students.


  1. An intercalated or placement programme is defined as: 

    "A single student or group of students undertakes any work-based or placement learning outside of the School. For example, where a student makes his/her own arrangements and interrupts his/her studies in order to undertake work-based or training-related activity associated with their degree; or where a department might offer an intercalated/placement degree to a group of students such instances shall be defined as placement/intercalated degree activity. This should not include the provision of internships (which are generally for shorter defined periods and occur outside of term time) for specific courses and/or students.

Approval process

  1. The USSC should approve any such placement/intercalated programme by considering a programme proposal. The Chair may consider proposals on behalf of the Sub-Committee in the case of individual students.


  • Such activity should not compromise the students' learning experience at the School, and given the large number of international students studying at the School who need a student visa, it is important that these principles are applied in respect of any placement activity: the placement or intercalated period will not extend beyond one academic year; the placement or intercalated year will not count towards the overall classification or award but should be related to the student'(s)' study;

  • the department should maintain contact with the student during the intercalated/placement year and arrange meetings with Academic Advisers;

  • where a department wants to offer a placement/intercalated scheme to a group of students on a particular undergraduate programme, a separate programme stream should be established (and approved by the USSC) and students transferred onto it (1);

  • the department should draw up a document with the training institution/provider to include a renewal period and conditions of use of the School's name for marketing/advertising purposes; and

  • the department in consultation with the Academic Planning and Resources Committee, should agree an administration fee (usually payable by the student's training provider/employer) for the intercalated year so that student(s) might continue to have access to the School's facilities and remain in contact with their Academic Adviser during the intercalated/placement year.

In respect of individual student cases where a student may wish to interrupt his/her studies for one year the following should also apply:


a) the student should seek advice from the International Student Visa Advice Team (ISVAT - in the Student Services Centre) in respect of visa requirements and implications for student loans from the Financial Support Office, before the USSC agrees to an interruption of studies for this purpose; and

b) the student's home department would also need to provide permission for intercalation.


(1) Student visa requirements prevent students from interrupting their studies to undertake paid employment. Students interrupting their studies for this purpose, even as part of a placement scheme, would therefore be in breach of visa regulations.


 Last reviewed: March 2017



Head of TQARO
Thomas Hewlett
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7955 6387