Coronavirus: AoC boss calls for emergency funding to keep colleges afloat

College leaders are demanding emergency financial support be made available to keep them afloat during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Association of Colleges boss David Hughes has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson today to call for “simple, rapid and clear routes” for his members to secure cashflow support.

He estimates that an average college might lose between £500,000 and £1 million per month of temporary closure or reduced capacity and “very few, if any, will be able to cope without government support”.

Colleges with low cash balances, large student fee income or employer-funded training will be at “particular risk”.

He claims that a “small number” of colleges had to partially close last week or on Monday on Public Health England instructions following positive test cases of Covid-19.

Hughes’ letter states that colleges seek assurance that adult education budget, study programme, apprenticeship and “other DfE/ESFA income, wherever possible, can be guaranteed for the coming months”.

It adds that in the absence of an instruction from the government for all colleges to close, principals “seek assurance that they will be supported in any local decisions to close a college or a campus which are taken in the light of the circumstances”.

“These will include high numbers of staff in social isolation or in vulnerable categories who require social distancing; or outbreaks of the virus amongst staff and/or students; advice from Public Health England and so on,” the letter continues.

“Given the nature of colleges, any temporary closures are likely to be time-limited and partial.”

Hughes also said the decision by Ofsted to suspend all inspections is “welcome”, but it should be “followed swiftly by assurances that data, performance tables, targets and the like will also be suspended for the next few months.

“As many colleges face up to tough decisions about closing their colleges, it may be sensible to discuss a longer Easter shutdown, starting early and/or carrying on for longer to allow for colleges to protect core services and to ready themselves for what looks likely to be a long haul.”

His letter concludes: “At times like this we need to provide as much assurance as we can to people at the sharp end to be able to make decisions quickly, often with limited information, safe in the knowledge that they will be judged for their best intentions, not for any mistakes they might make.”

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.