First college in England announces phased closure

The first college in England to close campuses and move to online learning in response to the Coronavirus outbreak has been revealed.

The Sheffield College said today that all students and the “majority” of staff will study and work remotely by this Friday, March 20, at the latest.

A statement from the college said its leadership team has taken this decision following Public Health England’s latest guidance on social distancing announced yesterday.

Schools and colleges have so far been ordered to stay open by Boris Johnson and his health advisers, despite their recommendation to stop mass gatherings and millions of other employees should work from home.

The Sheffield College’s statement says: “Staff and student safety is our number one priority. Given that we have around 13,000 learners a year, based across six sites, it is important that we look at how we are working to ensure we keep everyone safe.

“As a result of this phased plan, face-to-face meetings, events and trips are being cancelled. The college is doing everything it can to plan for future scenarios including examinations.”

The second planned college closure was also announced this afternoon.

Kendal College, which teaches around 4,000 learners in the Lake District, will close all of its campuses to both staff and students from 23 March until 14 April.

While Kendal College said it has no confirmed cases of Coronavirus, the decision is due to the “current restrictions on social contact, mobility and self-isolation”.

Principal Kelvin Nash said: “Student and staff welfare is our top priority. We are not going against government advice in closing the college, but rather we are upholding its advice in terms of limiting social mobility, and self-isolation.

“The college have no confirmed cases of Coronavirus, however, a number of staff and students are now in isolation due to the more stringent rules announced on Monday evening.

“The increased isolation of our staff has now meant that as a college we can no longer provide sufficient cover for some of our provision, or offer our learners the quality of delivery, service, and standards that they should expect from their education provider.”

During the closure, college lecturers will advise students of the work they are expected to complete, a spokesperson said.

Staff across the college will “continue to support students using blended learning technology, which will enable students to have access to their peers and staff during the college closure period, as well as the potential for workshops via video conferencing, group phone discussions and email”.

The college expects to reopen on 14 April following the Easter break.

Middlesbrough College has also said it will phase out face-to-face learning from tomorrow until at least 19 April.

Principal Zoe Lewis said: “This is a hugely unsettling time for everyone, and we want to reassure our students, staff and the wider college community that we are well prepared and this move to online learning is a sensible precaution in the context of yesterday’s government briefing.”

Earlier today, Association of Colleges boss David Hughes wrote to education secretary Gavin Williamson demanding emergency financial support be made available to keep them afloat during the Coronavirus pandemic.

He estimates that an average college could lose up to £1 million per month of temporary closure and “very few, if any, will be able to cope”.