Staggered January return: what does it mean for FE?

Exam students should return to college as normal – while others will receive a week of remote education, says DfE
17th December 2020, 2:26pm
Kate Parker


Staggered January return: what does it mean for FE?
Coronavirus: What Will The Staggered Start Of The New Term Mean For Fe Colleges?

College students who are due to sit exams should return to college as planned at the start of term - but those who are not should receive full-time remote education, the Department for Education has said. 

In an announcement published today, the DfE also said that vocational exams scheduled for the week beginning 4 January will go ahead as planned. The DfE confirmed to Tes that any student due to take one of these exams can go back to college on 4 January. 

Face-to-face teaching should resume for all on 11 January. 

Ofqual: January exams to go ahead as planned

More: Colleges to have weekly Covid testing from January

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The DfE said that all colleges would be able to test staff for Covid-19 from the first week of January and that those students attending face-to-face education in the first week of term will be offered the first testing dates. 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: "This targeted testing round will clamp down on the virus as students return from the Christmas break and help stop the spread of Covid-19 in the wider community.

"Building on the fantastic actions that schools and colleges have already taken to be as safe as possible, this additional testing will catch those who have the virus but are not showing symptoms to help schools and colleges stay in control of the virus throughout the spring term.

"The new programme of daily testing for close contacts of those with confirmed cases of the virus will also mean we can keep more pupils in school, the best place for their development and wellbeing. Over the rest of the academic year and in the run-up to exams, it will remain a national priority to keep education open for all, while keeping schools as safe as possible."

Coronavirus: Putting an 'unrealistic burden' on colleges

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that "the government needs to recognise that it cannot keep making monumental announcements at the last minute, which add additional responsibility and stresses on leaders and staff without the full guidance or resources to fulfil their demands".

"Things are moving fast on the virus, requiring government to make difficult decisions, and rapidly. But those decisions need to be realistic and pragmatic," he added. "The over-ambitious start date of 4 January is unfair on school and college leaders and staff - just one more unrealistic burden and additional stress after what has already been the most difficult nine months imaginable. If we are going to beat this virus, then we need staff in education institutions to be recharged, energised and ready to do whatever they need to do - this does not help that.

"Colleges will, as always, perform miracles to make testing available as soon as is feasibly possible. Government needs to be clear about a long list of issues raised by the entire education sector, before colleges can plan it - including the funding for it, the logistics, the training, the safeguarding and issues of consent.

"Meanwhile, around 130,000 college students will be focused on their exams which start in the first week of January - they need urgent reassurance that the exams will go ahead and be safe."

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: "Sixth-form colleges have been able to support students with high-quality online lessons and pastoral care since the very beginning of the pandemic, and students have been fully engaged throughout. The prospect of a week in January in which some lessons will be delivered online is another development that colleges will no doubt take in their stride.

"But business as (almost) usual in lessons does not mean there won't be significant disruption, as staff and students follow the testing programme, and it doesn't mean that hard-pressed colleges are not going to be faced with a huge logistical task, as they train staff to carry out tests and organise a schedule for testing thousands of young people to take place safely and quickly. Coming, as it does, on the last day of term, this announcement will mean a busy and complex planning exercise over Christmas." 

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