We take you through what you need to do if you've been asked to write an academic or practical reference for a UCAS Conservatoires applicant.

New for 2021 entry – explaining the impact of coronavirus

We’ll continue to update and enhance this guidance, to give you as much support as possible for writing student references in the 2021 application cycle.

As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020, the vast majority of applicants for the 2021 entry cycle will have experienced some form of disruption to their formal education. While some of the impact will be felt equally across all students, some students may also have been affected to a greater degree due to their individual circumstances.

The reference is an ideal place to alert admissions staff to the impact of COVID-19 on your students but the character limit (4,000 characters or 47 lines of text) may create a challenge as this is not the only issue you will want to address here. To overcome this, we recommend each school or college includes details of any centre-level impact via a dedicated web page, ‘information for admissions teams’ (more details below), and shares website address (URL) of that page within the UCAS reference. This might include:

  • The amount of teaching time that was lost overall, and what alternative provision for remote education was delivered to students
  • any disruption to your normal conservatoire application processes
  • any impact on the information used to determine predicted grades; for example, the cancellation of internal assessments

The reference can then cover any circumstances specific to an individual student in more detail. Examples of such circumstances could include:

  • whether the student or a close family member was affected by illness or bereavement
  • how individual students engaged with online provision, and whether there were any barriers – technical or environmental – which prevented or impeded this
  • any relevant information about the student’s home learning environment (e.g. access to technology, space to work at home, access to other learning resources, support of family members or carers).

What applicants need to do

After applicants have chosen referees who agree to provide references, they send a request from their application to their referees, so the references can then be attached to their applications before they submit to us. This way, the reference goes straight to their chosen conservatoires.

If this can’t be done before the application is submitted, they send their referee an academic or a practical reference form as an electronic file.


What you need to do

The applicant will enter your contact information into the application – once they are ready they will send a reference request. This will come to you by email and contain a link to a secure log in page, a password, and instructions on what you need to do next.

Once you have accessed the link and entered the correct password, you will be able to provide the reference for the applicant. This will be electronically attached to the application and submitted to their chosen conservatoires.

We advise applicants, if they risk missing any deadlines waiting for their references, they must submit their application without them, and request references to be submitted separately by email to the conservatoires.

The applicant will provide you with the form electronically — these should be completed and sent by you to each conservatoire. For example, the student is applying to six choices, they should give you six reference forms individually completed with their details and the course and conservatoire details.

You then need to write the reference (you can tailor it to the specific course) and send them to the conservatoire(s).

Please note; the practical and academic reference must be completed by two different referees.

Email the form(s) to the conservatoire(s) — the form must not be emailed to a conservatoire from the applicant's email address.

See our advice for applicants about their references

If an applicant is applying before 1 October (the deadline for on-time applications), and submitting their references separately from their application, we ask them to aim to have their references with conservatoires by the end of October.

If they are applying after the October deadline, we advise them to aim to have their references with conservatoires as soon as possible.

We recommend you keep a copy of each reference you write for your records.

Let admissions staff know about the school or college background

In the references section, you will want to focus on the individual student, but we recognise that the wider context of the school or college can also offer valuable context to the application. To enable you to give the conservatoire more information about the background of your school or college – and any context that may be relevant for all applicants that year, we recommend you create a web page, ‘information for admissions teams’ that outlines this information. This could include:

  • any policies or processes used for predicting grades (e.g. internal assessments). This is an opportunity to articulate any policy about not predicting grades for qualifications where the school or college feels the assessment method or qualification structure is not suited to predictions (such as the Extended Project) – read our guidance and support for advisers when making predicted grades
  • your qualification provision, such as if you offer AS levels, what vocational qualifications you offer, or your position on bypassing qualification as part of Curriculum for Excellence. It is also helpful to explain your rationale; for example, whether this was influenced by funding, or due to the pedagogical preference of the school for particular study methods
  • any impact at centre-level of the COVID-19 pandemic (see above for suggestions)
  • any other background information on the context of the school, such as the size and type of school or college, typical numbers of students progressing to higher education, information about the catchment area and intake.

Note: The UCAS reference doesn’t accept hyperlinks so you will need to write the URL (webpage address) link in full.  If it is easier, you could use a (free) service to shorten links such as https://bitly.com/ (one of many).

Don’t forget, the reference is not your only opportunity to provide information about your students, and the web page mentioned above does not replace direct engagement with higher education providers. Providers welcome further dialogue with referees, and would urge schools and colleges to inform them of any changes to the applicant’s profile or circumstances that occur after the point of application.

Predicted grades

If an applicant is still studying or waiting for results, please give a prediction for their final overall achievement. You can also comment on the applicant's performance in any units they've already taken.

If the application, including the reference, contains false or misleading information, or there is relevant information missing, it could influence whether a conservatoire offers a place, or the terms on which a place is offered. In these circumstances, UCAS Conservatoires and the conservatoires have the right to cancel the application and withdraw any offers without refunding the application fee.

International students

If you are providing a reference for an international student, you must write in English. If the applicant's first language is not English, comment on their ability to write and speak in English and say if any of their studies were taught in English. Explain any break in the applicant's education and how they compare with others in your class.

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