Revealed: Guidance on reopening colleges safely

There is no expectation that all students will go back to college this term, the Department for Education says
14th May 2020, 7:55pm


Revealed: Guidance on reopening colleges safely
Coronavirus Lockdown: Colleges Need Three Things From Government, Says David Hughes

There is no expectation that all students will go back to college this term or that students will go back full-time, the Department for Education said today.

In its latest guidance for the colleges, the DfE confirmed that colleges should reopen on 1 June "at the earliest".

The guidance says: "From the week commencing 1 June at the earliest, FE providers should offer some face-to-face contact for 16 to 19 learners on the first year of two-year programmes (eg, a two-year vocational course, equivalent to Year 12 in schools), alongside the provision they are offering to priority groups."

Coronavirus: Safety measures for colleges reopening

It adds that the department understands that there may need to be some flexibility in place due to the diversity of the learners and the courses offered in FE settings. It says that therefore:

  • Although the main face-to-face contact is for 16 to 19 learners, there may be some courses that include learners within a class who are over 19.
  • Some 16- to 19-year-olds will have been due to finish this academic year, but will not able to because their assessments have been deferred (typically where they involve a licence to practice). These learners can be included in on-site delivery if they would benefit from face-to-face contact.
  • The government will be expecting colleges and providers to treat 16- to 19-year-old apprentices consistently with other learners for their off-the-job training where possible and appropriate, so that they can be offered some face-to-face contact.
  • In addition to colleges, this guidance also applies to the smaller proportion of 16 to 19 learners in other further education settings - including local authority delivery, special post-16 designated institutions and independent providers. 

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The guidance stresses that colleges and other providers will have flexibility to decide the appropriate mix of online and face-to-face content for each programme. This should reflect what will maximise learner engagement as well as support more vulnerable learners, and enable the provider as a whole to minimise transmission risk.

David Hughes, chief executive of Association of Colleges, said that the guidance will help colleges to make the right decisions in the best interests of their students, while maximising the safety of staff.

He said: "We are advising every college to make their own decisions on their assessment of priorities, needs, the context in which they operate and individual risk assessments, and we are confident that is what the government wants. 

"The guidance makes clear that 1 June is not set as a rigid date for reopening. It is also clear that there is no expectation that all students will go back this term, and certainly not full-time. The guidance is there to support colleges to help students benefit from some pastoral support, advice or teaching and training face-to-face in a managed, phased and prioritised way.

"There are also a range of complex practical issues which each college will be navigating. We know, for instance, that two weeks may not be sufficient notice for campuses which have been closed and need significant adaptation, cleaning and set-up. There is also the tricky issue of additional costs for colleges when considering transport, modifications and class sizes, which we are discussing with officials.

"I am pleased with the hard work which our member colleges are doing with us to develop a framework of principles which embed compliance with safety standards and ensure a safe return for all students and staff."

The guidance says that colleges should conduct risk assessments in order to understand the number of learners and staff likely to be included in a learning space, whether they can be safely accommodated in accordance with guidance to implement protective measures, and the availability of teaching and non-teaching staff and required ratios, including contingency plans should individuals be shielding or self-isolating.

Colleges should also consider the supporting services required in increasing the number of individuals on-site (for example, catering), how they can be safely provided and what measures in addition to those that have already been undertaken during the current lockdown will need to be in place to accommodate additional numbers (including additional cleaning required for spaces and equipment following use). 

On Sunday 10 May, prime minister Boris Johnson announced that schools were expected to reopen to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils. On Monday morning, it was revealed that colleges, too, were expected to reopen to provide "face-to-face support" to Year 12 pupils who are due to sit "key exams" next year.

Sector representatives raised concerns - and said that preparing to reopen to more learners in the next few months is "no simple ask". College leaders also questioned the government's focus on students due to sit "key exams" over those on technical courses.

Five major unions, including the University and College Union (UCU) and Unison, said that no staff or student should return to college unless it was safe to do so - and set out five safety tests that they believe should be met. 

Apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said: "I would like to thank everyone across the FE sector who has worked so quickly to successfully move learning online so students and apprentices can continue to progress during this difficult time.

"It's been wonderful to hear how colleges and other providers have embraced distance learning, but we know many young people, especially those who need additional support or are looking ahead to assessments and exams next year or have been unable to complete their assessment for their existing qualifications, would benefit greatly from face-to-face contact. This is why we are giving providers the flexibility to offer a combination of face-to-face and online delivery from 1 June to more of their students and apprentices.

"We will continue to be led by the scientific evidence and will only take further steps when the time is right."

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