Sage: 'Teaching in colleges should be all online'

Top scientists told government all colleges should move to online teaching unless face-to-face was 'absolutely essential'
13th October 2020, 9:50am


Sage: 'Teaching in colleges should be all online'
Sage: 'teaching In Colleges Should Be Online Unless Absolutely Essential'

Scientists from the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advised that teaching at all colleges and universities should be online unless "face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential", it has emerged. 

In minutes from a board meeting three weeks ago, the recommendation was one of five interventions that Sage recommended could help to slow the spread of Covid-19. 

The minutes state: "The rate of increase in infections is expected to accelerate in the near future as the impact of school, college and university openings, and policy changes with respect to return to workplaces, and entertainment and leisure venues, filter through." 

News: 'Intense' Covid transmission from 17- and 18-year-olds

More: 94% of further education colleges 'fully open', says DfE

Ask the minister: Gillian Keegan on colleges reopening

According to Department for Education data released last week, 94 per cent of colleges are "fully open", which means they are delivering a planned combination of on-site and remote delivery. 

Just yesterday, the government's deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said at a Downing Street briefing that there is "intense transmission" of the coronavirus among 17- and 18-year-olds. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "Ministers were given clear recommendations on how to stem the spread of the virus before term started at the vast majority of universities. They could have taken swift and decisive action then and instructed universities to move their teaching online to mitigate against tens of thousands of students moving across the country.

"The chaos we see on campus and in halls of residence now is a direct result of ministers' decision to ignore that advice and choose to put the health of university staff, students and local communities at risk.

"To stop more areas being forced into harsher restrictions, we need a nationally coordinated response from government that belatedly moves working online at universities. Students must be allowed to return home if they wish, provided it is safe to do so."

Colleges across the UK spent the summer preparing for the return of face-to-face classes, introducing social distancing measures to campus and redesigning classroom spaces to fit with guidance. 

In guidance issued by the government at the end of August, colleges were told to revisit and update risk assessments, consider additional risks and control measures to enable a return of all students from the beginning of the autumn term, including those who may be at more risk of an adverse outcome if infected. 

Meanwhile, in Scotland, colleges are open to students, but where possible, blended learning is the preferred mode of delivery.

'Extremely concerning, yet unsurprising'

NUS' vice president of higher education, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, said it was "extremely concerning, yet unsurprising, that the government has yet again ignored advice to shift face-to-face learning to online wherever possible".

She said: "The government have repeatedly put students at risk throughout the pandemic; they must be held accountable. Instructions to move back to term-time residencies and return to campus have only served to create more chaos and uncertainty. Students deserve better than this blatant disregard and neglect inflicted by government. They deserve adequate education without having their health, wellbeing and lives put in danger."

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