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 published the evening, 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.
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The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can also be considered where a grant from the scheme "would not duplicate other public grants received and would not lead to financial reserves being created".
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The guidance stresses that "if it's difficult to distinguish whether staff are funded through continuing public funding, for the purposes of meeting the first three conditions listed above, then the total proportion of teaching and non-teaching staff (based on gross payroll) that are retained (for example, not furloughed) should, as a minimum, be equivalent to the continuing public income, as a proportion of all income that the provider usually receives".
For special post-16 institutions, it says that local authorities will continue to receive their high-needs budgets and should continue to pay top-up and other high-needs funding to special post-16 institutions, but as with colleges, special post-16 institutions may furlough staff if income from non-public sources has reduced.
According to the government, "further guidance on the operation of any supplier relief scheme for providers funded under a contract for services with ESFA [the Education and Skills Funding Agency] will be published when available".
The government adds that no organisation should profit from the exceptional financial support available, and should therefore only access the support required. "For example, organisations which continue to receive government funding should not furlough staff whose salaries that funding could typically be considered to fund, and therefore will not need to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)."
Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said: “On the face of it, this looks encouraging, but clarity is still required and hopefully we will get it early next week.”
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said: “We have been working closely with Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency to seek clarity for colleges on use of the job retention scheme, so this is a welcome announcement.
"Colleges will now be able to protect jobs by furloughing staff who are not able to work during the current circumstances but whose skills will be much needed later on, and I’m pleased that we have got agreement with the staff unions nationally to support the use of the scheme.”
A joint statement from the AoC and the GMB, NEU, UCU, Unison and Unite unions said: “College staff have risen to the challenges of this crisis amazingly, supporting their students and communities. The continuation of this great work and commitment from all staff will be crucial during this difficult time to ensure that colleges are best placed to recover quickly.
"Whilst there remains some uncertainty about the job retention scheme, we think it is proper that colleges consider use of the scheme to furlough staff when it is clear there is no other funding for their role and no work for them to do. Colleges are undoubtedly concerned about the security of their public funding and the damage to their income generation but will always treat staff fairly, try to protect salaries and wherever possible top up the salaries of furloughed staff to 100 per cent.
"Colleges, AoC and the joint trade unions are committed to maintaining a productive dialogue to try to reduce the anxiety and worry of the college workforce. We must protect the precious goodwill of all staff so that they are there for learners now and in the future."
Apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said she had been heartened and impressed to hear from so many providers about how they had switched to online and remote learning so their students could continue their studies. "I thank them all for their continued work and support during this difficult time."
She added: "However, I’m also aware of the huge challenge faced by the FE sector in continuing to deliver training at this time. That’s why I’m really pleased to be able to provide further clarity on furloughing staff as well confirming that we will provide additional targeted financial support for FE providers that meet the criteria.
“This support will help make sure we can continue to deliver the best education and training possible and rebuild our economy after the Covid-19 outbreak. We will set out further detail next week about how our new ‘provider relief scheme’ will work.”