FE staff should be moved up the priority list for Covid-19 vaccines so that providers can reopen to all students safely, college principals have said.

Ministers have been under pressure to vaccinate teachers, with a petition being debated in parliament this evening and education secretary Gavin Williamson saying he “hopes” those working in education get priority.

Earlier today the government published its “vaccine delivery plan”, which explains how doses will be provided to those most at risk before deciding on how “phase 2” will be delivered.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has asked the Department of Health and Social Care to consider occupational vaccination in the next phase of vaccine rollout, in collaboration with other government departments including the Department for Education.

While most of the talk has been about school staff being given priority in phase 2, Ali Hadawi, principal of Central Bedfordshire College, said FE “needs to be part of” the discussion.

“I am not saying our staff should be prioritised above NHS staff or the police, but we can’t just be run-of-the-mill depending on our age,” he told FE Week.

“We have got a sector that needs to be fully operational. College staff need to be part of this priority so that we have a chance to reopen them safely.”

He added that it would be a “massive insult” if school but not FE staff were given vaccine priority.

“We have had examples of where we have had to send a whole site home after three members of staff tested positive,” Hadawi continued.

“If we can get over the issue of vaccination where people feel confident that they could come in because they have had the vaccine, then we can facilitate a much closer to normal college operation than we are now.”

Mike Hopkins, principal of South and City College, echoed Hadawi’s view.

“Like schools, college staff need to be a priority for vaccination to ensure that they can maintain staffing and remain open,” he said.

“Vaccination will remove the serious difficulties that there are currently with contact, infection, and requirements for self-isolation, all of which are shared with schools.”

Yiannis Koursis, principal of Barnsley College, said getting students physically back in class is “hugely important” and treating staff as a priority group would “speed up the process”, while NCG chief executive Liz Bromley added it is “only fair that FE is treated with parity and added to the priority vaccine list alongside schools”.

Independent training providers with onsite staff are also calling for their workforce to be given vaccine priority.

Sue Pittock, chief executive of Remit Trianing, which operates two automotive academies for apprentices in Derby, told FE Week: “The tutors in our academies are key workers and need vaccine and testing priority so that we can reopen our academies safely.

“This should not just be about teachers in schools, but about protecting teaching colleagues and those they teach in any place of learning where teaching takes place face to face.”

Last Wednesday, health secretary Matthew Hancock said teachers had a “very strong case” for priority after clinically vulnerable groups.

As reported by FE Week’s sister title Schools Week, this could mean that teachers who did not fall under existing priority categories could be moved up the queue above the last five groups set out by the JCVI for the first phase (see table below).

Under the priority groups for the first phase of vaccine rollout, those over 50 years of age, and all those 16 years of age and over in a risk group, would be eligible for vaccination.

The government plans to deliver “at least” two million vaccinations per week with over 2,700 vaccine sites across the UK.

Priority Risk group

    1. Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults

    2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers

    3. All those 75 years of age and over

    4. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals  (not including pregnant women and those under 16 years of age)

    5. All those 65 years of age and over

    6. Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group (see below)

    7. All those 60 years of age and over

    8. All those 55 years of age and over

    9. All those 50 years of age and over

    10. Rest of the population (to be determined)