Coronavirus: College announces two week ‘circuit breaker’

A college has announced plans to close its campus for a two week “circuit breaker” to combat rising coronavirus cases in its area.

With the backing of the University and College Union, Preston College has made the decision ahead of Lancashire’s move into tier three – the top level of England Covid restrictions – from tomorrow.

It comes as the National Education Union calls on all schools and colleges to close for two weeks at half term. 

Preston College emailed staff earlier this week to say only essential work will continue on campus for two weeks from 19 October to 1 November. One of those week’s is during half term.

All learning will be moved online for the week before half term (commencing 19 October), and any staff not on leave over half term (commencing 26 October) will work remotely.

A statement on the college’s website says: “As the global pandemic continues to cause uncertainty, at Preston’s College we are doing all that we can to keep learners and staff as safe as possible in these challenging times.

“To support the maintenance of the current situation, we have taken the decision to move to remote learning for one week, from week commencing 19th October 2020. This means that for the majority of learners, regardless of their chosen course or level, they will be required to undertake lessons remotely for the duration of this week.

“This will allow Preston’s College to continue managing the global pandemic effectively and positively. It will reduce the need for travel to college, minimising both pressure on transport networks and social interactions, at what is clearly a critical point in attempts to suppress the spread of coronavirus nationally.”

From week commencing 2 November, all learners “will follow their normal college timetable, experiencing a combination of college and home-based learning”, the statement adds.

Infection rates have risen sharply across the North West of England with Lancashire – which Preston is part of – going into tier three lockdown on Saturday.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden praised the college, saying that it has shown “real leadership”.

“It is scandalous that Covid cases continue to rise across the country, but the government still hasn’t told colleges to shut down for two weeks over half term as part of a national ‘circuit breaker’,” he said.

“Preston College has shown real leadership in halting in-person teaching for two weeks to protect staff and students, while it considers how best to teach safely under Covid. We call on all colleges to follow its example.”

Earlier this week, advice made on 21 September by scientists from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) was released and recommended that teaching at all colleges and universities should be online unless “face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential”.

The government has since maintained that all colleges should stay open for face-to-face delivery in all areas of England.

SAGE also urged for the introduction of circuit breaker restrictions three weeks ago – a recommendation that Labour leader Keir Starmer has now backed.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “A circuit breaker could allow the government to get in control of the test, track and trace system, and get cases lower to allow the system to work better. 

“Heads, teachers and staff understand the educational impact of this, but we also understand that in exponential epidemics early action is essential. Taking action now can avoid more disruption later.”