Coronavirus and colleges: all you need to know

From funding to exams, operational rules to T levels: find all of the government's guidance for colleges here

Kate Parker

Coronavirus and colleges: all you need to know

As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to be felt across the world, teaching and learning in colleges has been turned on its head.

The Department of Education is releasing guidance for the FE sector regularly, and you can find all the latest guidance here. 

Coronavirus: Guidance for colleges

Operational running

Colleges and other providers were asked to stop classroom delivery of education and training from Monday 23 March for all ages of learners, but stay open for a select number of students. Colleges are still open to students whose parents are key workers and those who are vulnerable/have an education, health and care plan (EHCP). For everyone else, learning has moved online. 

The full list of key workers can be found here.

The DfE has said that specialist post-16 institutions should remain open to meet the needs of vulnerable learners who cannot be safely accommodated at home. If it is not possible to remain open, providers should work together to put arrangements in place for vulnerable learners.

Residential further education providers are expected to be kept open where necessary and decisions to be made on a case by case basis. The DfE has said that it is “especially important that residential providers remain open to those who have particular needs that cannot be accommodated safely at home, and those who do not have suitable alternative accommodation”.

Colleges are expected to stay open over the Easter holidays where possible. 

Special and residential colleges

The DfE states that residential colleges and other residential FE provision are usually considered households for the purposes of the household self-isolation policy, which means the setting should self-isolate if a resident develops a high temperature or a new, continuous cough.

However, as they will almost always need to have staff and other professionals arriving and leaving, careful infection control measures should be followed during and after visits, as any self-isolating household would do if they had unavoidable visitors. More information can be found here

Where possible, children’s homes, schools, FE providers and HE halls of residence should operate a consistent staff rota to minimise the risk of transmission. However, this will not be possible in all circumstances.

The DfE guidance states that: "All residential special schools and colleges, jointly with local authorities, and taking into account parents’ views, should assess the risk, both for the individual institution and for the individual pupil or student, in deciding how to apply this guidance most effectively."

It adds that it is important to maintain safe staff ratios - particularly for students who needs mean that they are safer staying at the setting than returning home. If necessary, the setting should draft in staff from other settings rather than close. 

More information can be found here. 

Ongoing learning 

Post-16 learners should continue studying, and colleges and providers should allow students to continue with their studies remotely. The DfE has said that colleges should gain support and advice from Jisc and the Education and Training Foundation. 

The DfE has extended the current breaks in learning rules for Education and Skills Funding Agency-funded adult education and advanced learner loans learners.

Learners can take a break in learning at the learner’s request where a learner is self-isolating or caring for others affected by Covid-19 and is unable to continue by distance learning and/or on online offer, or if a provider is unable to deliver because of the impact of Covid-19 on their own business and there is no possible delivery by distance and/or online learning.

Funding

The DfE said that, while it will use data from the 2019-20 academic year to calculate 16-19 allocations for 2021-22, the ESFA may need to apply a different approach and would use alternative data sources to calculate allocations for 2021-22. 

16-19 learners

The government has explained that it would take into consideration students unable to complete their course as a result of Covid-19, and the impact that would have on retention data to ensure that a downturn in student recruitment for September would not have an “unfairly detrimental impact on future allocations”. 

When it comes to the condition of funding around English and maths GCSE resits, the guidance said providers would still be allocated additional funding for young people with low prior attainment in GCSE English or maths, and that as further details around exams were released, this would be considered in more detail. 

Adult education budget

The DfE has confirmed that for 2019-20, the ESFA will not carry out the final reconciliation for grant-funded providers in receipt of the ESFA-funded adult education budget (adult skills, community learning, learner and learning support and 19-24 traineeships) and the Advanced Learner Loan Bursary Fund. These providers will be funded in line with the current agreement schedule with no clawback.

More information on funding can be found here. 

Apprentices

So far, the government has made the following changes to support providers: 

  • Introducing flexibilities to allow furloughed apprentices to continue their training, as long as it does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, their employer.
  • Encouraging training providers to deliver training to apprentices remotely and via e-learning as far as is practical.
  • Allowing the modification of end-point assessment arrangements, including remote assessments wherever practicable and possible in order to maintain progress and achievement for apprentices.
  • Clarifying that apprentices ready for assessment, but who cannot be assessed due to Covid-19 issues, can have their end-point assessment rescheduled. Apprentices whose gateway is delayed can have an extension to the assessment time frame.
  • Enabling employers and training providers to report and initiate a break in learning, where the interruption to learning due to Covid-19 is greater than four weeks.
  • Clarification on how to record breaks in learning so that funding is not unnecessarily disrupted.
  • Confirming that, where apprentices are made redundant, it is the DfE's ambition to find them alternative employment and continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible and within 12 weeks.

The DfE also confirmed that apprentices can be furloughed by employers and still complete training offered by the provider. 

Furlough rules

The government confirmed that colleges and providers will be able to furlough staff if their public income has reduced or non-public income has ceased or reduced, the government has said.

It has stressed, however, that the proportion of staff furloughed should not exceed the proportion of an institution's income that does not come from public sources. 

In guidance, the Department for Education said FE institutions should only furlough employees if they work in an area of business where services are temporarily not required and whose salary is not covered by public funding, if the employee would otherwise be made redundant or laid off, if they are not involved in delivering provision that has already been funded, or where the employee is not required to deliver provision for a child of a critical worker and/or vulnerable child. 

More information can be found here. 

T levels 

Currently, the DfE say that the planned T-level delivery for September 2020 will continue as normal. 

Exams

All summer exams have been cancelled, including GCSE resits and A levels. Instead, Ofqual will provide a "calculated grade" for each A-level and GCSE resit student this summer. 

By 29 May, colleges will have to submit two pieces of information – the first being the grade students "would be most likely to have achieved if they had sat their exams and completed any non-exam assessment".

Ofqual has said that judgement should balance different sources of evidence such as classwork, book work, non-exam assessment, participation in performances, mock-exam results and previous exam results.

Colleges will then also need to submit a rank order of students at their institution by performance for each grade, which will be used to "standardise judgements".

Ofqual has said that for the many technical and vocational qualifications, a calculated grade will work in some cases. The DfE has said: "There is a very wide range of vocational and technical qualifications as well as other qualifications for which students were expecting to undertake final assessment and/or sit exams this summer. These are offered by a large number of awarding organisations and have differing assessment approaches.

“We recognise it is imperative students and the sector have information as soon as possible about assessment of these qualifications so they can plan accordingly. We are continuing rapid work with Ofqual to agree appropriate approaches for this range of qualifications and to ensure students are not disadvantaged.”

On 15 April, Ofqual launched a consultation seeking views on: 

  • Who should receive a calculated grade
  • Standardising centre assessment grades

  • Appealing calculated grades

  • The autumn exam series

  • Putting in place the regulatory requirements

You can respond to the consultation here. 

The DfE has also confirmed that students will receive their GCSE and A level results as planned on 20 August and 13 August respectively.

Qualifications

On 8 April the Association of Colleges and the Federation of Awarding Bodies released a joint letter in which they said that there will be "both savings and new costs associated with the processes this year and agree that any net savings should be passed on to the providers paying for the qualifications."

The two organisations called on regulators and government to recognise that there may also be some net additional costs placed on the awarding sector as a result of implementing an emergency regulatory framework designed to help learners progress.

The letter said that iIn all cases, open and independent verification of these calculations would aid transparency and trust.

It also added: "There is a shared interest in ensuring that both colleges and awarding organisations remain viable. In order to protect all parties, we suggest standard payment terms be extended to 90 days but that colleges who are in a position to make payments earlier should do so. We recognise that commercial relationships and decisions sit with awarding organisations and their customers."

Inspection

All routine Ofsted inspections and FE commissioner intervention visits have been suspended. 

Audits

The DfE has paused the start of any new routine funding audits for all post-16 providers for the short-term. This pause is in place for at least the duration of lockdown. 

Key stage 4 qualifications approvals process

The government has delayed the implementation of the new key stage 4 performance tables qualifications approvals process.

The DfE has said: “The new process will now apply for qualifications to be included in the 2024 key stage 4 performance tables (for qualifications being taught from September 2022) as opposed to 2023. 

“We’ll provide the new submission deadline for the 2024 approvals process as soon as we can. In the intervening period, the performance tables moratorium for Technical Awards will be temporarily reinstated. This means that the list of qualifications approved for inclusion in the 2022 key stage 4 performance tables will be carried forward and approved for inclusion in the 2023 performance tables.”

Achievement rates

The government has confirmed that it will not be publishing any institution-level qualification achievement rates in the national achievement rate tables for the 2019 to 2020 academic year in response to Covid-19. 

However, the DfE said that it will still consider publishing national data for the 2019 to 2020 academic year. More information can be found here. 

Data collection

The government has published guidance on which data collections, services or requests will be cancelled, paused or will continue in the 2019 to 2020 academic year. The full list can be found here. 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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