Back to college: Everything you need to know

Learners are due to return to further education colleges from 8 March, Boris Johnson has confirmed, but how will it work? This is what the guidance says

Julia Belgutay & Kate Parker

Return to face-to-face teaching: what you need to know

Colleges will reopen fully from 8 March, prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed today. 

Rapid Covid tests will play a key role in the return to face-to-face teaching, with all students and staff expected to receive four tests within the first two weeks of on-site delivery, and then twice weekly after that. 

The Department for Education (DfE) has also confirmed that staff and students in colleges are advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained, as a temporary extra measure. 

Back to college: When government expects students back

Covid-19 rapid testing: How will it work in FE?

Background: Teachers fear ‘reckless’ full 8 March school openings

Alongside the prime minister’s statement this afternoon, the DfE has published extensive new guidance for FE settings. This is what it says: 


  • From 8 March, all students will be able to return to on-site education.
  • Colleges and providers will be expected to fully deliver planned hours for students of all ages including those with special educational needs and disability, and to ensure that on-site delivery resumes. “This may be supplemented by high-quality remote delivery, recognising that some providers delivered aspects of provision remotely prior to coronavirus,” the guidance says. 
  • The government says it is reasonable for institutions to continue to deploy a blended delivery model, provided that education delivered remotely meets the expectations set out in the “delivery of remote education” section of the guidance and the remote element of the programme complements and does not undermine the overall quality of education. Engagement with students via on-site delivery should count for the majority of planned learning hours for all 16 to 19 students. Leaders should continue to judge the right balance between on-site and remote delivery for adult students in order to provide high-quality education and training.


Students’ use of public transport should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Protecting staff and students

Colleges and providers must:

  • Minimise contact with individuals who are required to self-isolate by ensuring they do not attend the setting. If a student displays coronavirus symptoms or has a positive test while at college, they should avoid using public transport and, wherever possible, be collected by a member of their family or household.
  • Ensure face coverings are used in recommended circumstances. Face coverings should be worn by adults and students when moving around the premises, in corridors and communal areas, and in classrooms or workshops where social distancing cannot easily be maintained, except where exemptions apply. They do not need to be worn by students when outdoors on the premises or in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity. Transparent face coverings, which may assist communication with someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate, can also be worn. A small contingency of face coverings should be held by institutions. 
  • Ensure everyone is advised to clean their hands thoroughly and more often than usual. 
  • Ensure good respiratory hygiene for everyone by promoting the “catch it, bin it, kill it” approach.
  • Maintain enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents.
  • Consider how to minimise contact across the site and maintain social distancing wherever possible. The government says the overarching principle to apply is reducing the number of contacts between students and staff. This can be achieved through keeping groups separate and through maintaining distance between individuals. Where class-sized groups are not possible in order to deliver the full programme of study, or to manage the practical logistics within and around the site, other measures from the system of controls become even more important.
  • The guidance says: “We strongly recommend that, as a minimum, you plan to keep your year groups or cohorts of students separate from each other during the day. You will need to think about whether you can group students into smaller groupings and still deliver a full programme of study. However, there is no set requirement to make cohorts smaller than normal class size.”
  • Keep occupied spaces well ventilated.
  • In specific circumstances, leaders have to ensure individuals wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary and promote and engage in asymptomatic testing.

Response to infection

Colleges have to:

  • Promote and engage with the NHS Test and Trace process.
  • Manage and report confirmed cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) among the setting community.
  • Contain any outbreak by following local health protection team advice. 

Asymptomatic testing

  • Colleges should offer students three tests on-site, three to five days apart, upon their return from 8 March. They have the flexibility to consider how best to deliver testing on a phased basis, depending on circumstances and local arrangements, but suggest vulnerable students are prioritised. Where a test is taken, students may return to face-to-face education following their first negative test result. Testing is voluntary but encouraged.
  • Colleges should retain a small on-site testing provision so they can offer testing to students who are unable or unwilling to test themselves at home.
  • Both students and staff will be supplied with lateral flow device test kits to self-swab and test themselves twice a week at home. This will also apply to independent training providers, and adult and community learning providers from the end of March. Staff and students must report their result to NHS Test and Trace as soon as the test is completed, either online or by telephone, as per the instructions in the home test kit. Staff and students should also share their result, either positive or negative, with their college or FE provider. 
  • A new solution will be developed to provide home testing for independent training providers and adult and community learning providers, and this will provide home testing kits for staff and students from the end of March. For staff attending these providers before the 31 March, a number of local authorities are offering asymptomatic testing to workers who cannot work from home.
  • The government says that self-swabbing may cause significant concerns for some students with SEND. The guidance says: “Testing is voluntary and no student will be tested unless informed consent has been given by the appropriate person.”

Containing an outbreak

  • If there are two or more confirmed cases within 14 days, or an overall rise in sickness absence where coronavirus is suspected, the college or provider may have an outbreak.
  • The guidance says: “You should call the dedicated advice service who will escalate the issue to your local health protection team where necessary and advise if any additional action is required. You can reach them by calling the DfE helpline on 0800 046 8687 and selecting option 1 for advice on the action to take in response to a positive case.”

Work placements

  • Institutions should involve staff, students and the organisations who provide work placements to co-produce guidance, student charters or agreements, making clear the responsibilities for staying safe and protecting others. Where relevant, other outside bodies that may be affected (for example, suppliers, transport providers) may also be involved.
  • The government says it is committed to ensuring that all young people undertaking a traineeship can spend time on a work placement with an employer. The guidance says: “We have given you further flexibilities to tailor traineeships during the coronavirus. This includes reducing the number of required work placement hours from 100 to 70 and extending the duration of the programme from 6 months to 12 months. The work placement can be delivered flexibly over the full programme duration.”

Music teaching

Students and staff can engage in singing, and playing wind and brass instruments, in line with this guidance on working safely during coronavirus in the performing arts and suggested principles for safer singing guidance, but routine 2m social distancing should be maintained. 

Physical activity

Organised indoor sport is permitted where it is part of education or training provision for students eligible to attend, but see the relevant restriction guidance. Further information for public and sport providers is available. 

Special post-16 education

Special post-16 institutions should plan for all students to have access to on-site education using blended learning models that ensure that, for students aged 16 to 19, a majority of taught hours are on site. For adults, institutions determine the appropriate balance of on-site and remote education and training based on the type of programme and the student’s ability to engage with the programme remotely.

Mental health

  • Institutions should identify young people and members of staff who may need additional support, and engage with them and their representatives to understand their needs and ensure they have appropriate mental health and wellbeing support in place. 
  • They should work with local authorities and voluntary sector mental health organisations to ensure that support is in place. The guidance says: “Contact your local authority to see if they have a list of services in your area that provide support for young people.”


The government has issued the funding rules and guidance for 2020 to 2021 and the funding regulations for 2021 to 2022.

T levels

The government says it is working with providers and delivery partners to establish whether further support is needed.

Free meals in FE

Institutions should continue to support students who are eligible for, and usually receive, free meals – including students in FE who are newly eligible. Students studying remotely should also be supported. 

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Julia Belgutay & Kate Parker

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