The prime minister has unexpectedly announced a two week delay to when colleges can begin their wider reopening of campuses to students.
Speaking during the government’s daily coronavirus briefing today, Boris Johnson said: “We intend from 15 June for secondary schools to provide some contact for year 10 and year 12 students to help them to prepare for their exams next year with up to a quarter of these students in at any point.”
Colleges had been preparing to welcome back first year learners, who are equivalent to year 12s in schools, on all two-year vocational study programmes, GCSEs and A-levels from 1 June, in line with government guidance.
Shortly after today’s briefing, the Department for Education released a statement that confirmed their new “expected” plan is for sixth forms and colleges to provide face-to-face contact for year 12 and equivalent 16 to 19 further education students “from 15 June, with around a quarter of these students in at any point”.
FE Week asked the DfE if this means that colleges strictly cannot begin their wider reopening to these students from 1 June.
A spokesperson said: “We have always been clear that any reopening of colleges would be subject to our updated assessment of the scientific advice, and the overall approach to the phasing of the relaxation of lockdown restrictions.
“Colleges continue to be encouraged to open to support vulnerable learners, including those at risk of becoming NEET and the dependents of key workers. We are now clear that a broader expansion of on-site delivery to 16-19 learners beyond those groups will take place from the 15 June.
“We know that colleges are in any case planning to phase returns, and to blend online delivery with on-site delivery, prioritised towards groups that need it most.
“Colleges should continue their on-site support for vulnerable learners – which include those at risk of becoming NEET – and the dependents of key workers. A broader offer to 16-19 will now take place from 15 June.
“A more cautious approach is being taken for FE, as for secondary students relative to primary. This reflects that these groups are more likely to travel longer distances to college and to use public transport – and once in colleges they will mix more with other groups.”
The department’s statement said that it remains the case that schools and colleges will only reopen to more students children if the government’s “five tests” are met by 28 May.
The five tests are:
Protect the NHS’s ability to cope. We must be confident that we are able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK
See a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rates from COVID-19 so we are confident that we have moved beyond the peak
Reliable data from SAGE showing that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
Be confident that the range of operational challenges, including testing capacity and PPE, are in hand, with supply able to meet future demand
Be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our priority is the education and welfare of all children and young people across the country. That is why we want to start a phased wider opening of nurseries, school and colleges is informed by the best possible scientific and medical advice.
“We will continue to work with the sector to support them to prepare for wider opening and ensure all children and young people can continue to receive the best care, education and training possible.”