FE students who are not preparing for exams in 2021 must learn at home for the first week of the next term in January, the Department for Education has said.
But those who are preparing for exams or need access to specialised equipment, as well as vulnerable learners and children of critical workers, should all attend campus in person as planned.
Face-to-face education will begin for all learners starting on 11 January. Full guidance for the FE sector can be read here.
Ministers have also confirmed that vocational exams scheduled for the week of 4 January will go ahead as planned.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the government needs to “recognise that it cannot keep making monumental announcements at the last minute, which add additional responsibility and stresses on leaders and staff without the full guidance or resources to fulfil their demands”.
“Things are moving fast on the virus, requiring government to make difficult decisions, and rapidly. But those decisions need to be realistic and pragmatic,” he added.
“The over-ambitious start date of 4 January is unfair on school and college leaders and staff – just one more unrealistic burden and additional stress after what has already been the most difficult nine months imaginable.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders union, added that it “beggars belief that this announcement is being made now, right at the end of term”.
Ministers have also announced that all secondary schools and colleges will be given a “free round of testing” from the first week of January, which will be supported by the armed forces.
This is in addition to the government’s recent announcement that every secondary school and college in England will have access to rapid testing from next month.
Guidance will “shortly be provided” to schools and colleges on how to set up and staff the testing site, and officials reiterated that “reasonable workforce costs” will be reimbursed.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This targeted testing round will clamp down on the virus as students return from the Christmas break and help stop the spread of Covid-19 in the wider community.
“Building on the fantastic actions that schools and colleges have already taken to be as safe as possible, this additional testing will catch those who have the virus but are not showing symptoms to help schools and colleges stay in control of the virus throughout the spring term.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock added: “Testing in schools is crucial for us to break the chains of transmission and keep students, staff and their loved ones safe. That’s why we’re supporting schools and colleges in England to offer testing at the start of January.”
DfE guidance for college testing in the first week of January states: “You will need to contribute some members of staff to support the asymptomatic testing programme – ideally non-teaching staff.
“Identify one or two staff to support the recruitment of volunteers and agency staff and act as liaison with the military and test and trace so that testing can commence from 4 January. Volunteers and other test support staff will not need to have been trained in advance.
“The remaining testing workforce will be made up of volunteers and agency staff brought in for this purpose. Reasonable workforce costs will be reimbursed. Armed forces personnel will support directly through planning with colleges.”