Apprentices aged 16 to 19 will also be expected to restart face-to-face contact with their training provider from June.

The Department for Education made the announcement in updated guidance last night that offered colleges significant flexibility over which learners they invite back onsite after half term.

It made clear that not only can they bring back 16 to 19-year-old learners on the first year of a two year GCSE, A-level or vocational and technical qualification course, but apprentices as well.

“We will be expecting colleges and providers to treat 16 to 19-year-old apprentices consistently with other learners for their off the job training where possible and appropriate, so that they can be offered some face to face contact.”

The guidance applies to other FE settings in addition to colleges, including independent training providers, local authority delivery and special post-16 designated institutions.

Minister for apprenticeships and skills, Gillian Keegan said: “I would like to thank everyone across the FE sector who has worked so quickly to successfully move learning online so students and apprentices can continue to progress during this difficult time.

“It’s been wonderful to hear how colleges and other providers have embraced distance learning, but we know many young people, especially those who need additional support or are looking ahead to assessments and exams next year or have been unable to complete their assessment for their existing qualifications, would benefit greatly from face-to-face contact.

“This is why we are giving providers the flexibility to offer a combination of face-to-face and online delivery from 1 June to more of their students and apprentices.

“We will continue to be led by the scientific evidence and will only take further steps when the time is right.”

Last night’s guidance said that adults in the same class as 16 to 19-year-old learners could also receive face to face tuition, as can 16 to 19-year-olds due to finish this academic year “but not been able to because their assessments have been deferred”.

Many colleges are already open to vulnerable students and children of key workers, but the guidance makes it clear they do not have to open more widely from the June 1.

Monday June 1 is the earliest opportunity, but many colleges are expected to plan to open at a later date, after many leaders told the ESFA they would need more time to prepare.

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