One college has called off its freshers’ events while another has brought back mask-wearing a week after relaxing the restriction, as they respond to surging coronavirus rates.
Cornwall College Group, which has around 1,000 staff and 12,000 learners over nine sites, has postponed its freshers’ day and open events after its local authority requested it bring in extra Covid prevention measures.
Trafford College Group and Derby College have both asked staff and students to start wearing masks in communal areas in response to local Covid rates.
College group bans travel to campus with high Covid rates
Cases in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly rose by 12.9 per cent in the seven days to October 8, from 332 to 2,896. The area is in the government’s second-highest category for its case rate, 503.2 per 100,000 people.
Nearly 78 per cent of its population aged 12 and over have had both doses of a vaccine.
Cornwall College Group’s measures, which also include mask-wearing in communal areas, are running until at least the beginning of November.
“Unessential” travel by staff to and from the group’s Camborne campus has also been banned, after the case rate for this particular part of Cornwall hit 872.5 per 100,000 people – placing it in the highest of the government’s categories.
A vaccination centre has also been set up on the Camborne campus, along with two others at the group’s Bicton and St Austell sites.
“Our top priority is making sure our students can enjoy their college experience and continue their studies safely,” a spokesperson said.
Provider’s area put in highest category for Covid cases
Trafford is another area in the highest “black” category for its Covid case rate, which is at 845.6 per 100,000 people. The number of cases there has risen by 59.2 per cent (747) to 2,009.
After relaxing a requirement for masks just last week, Trafford College Group brought back in the measure for its Altrincham and Stretford campuses on Tuesday.
Social distancing measures are also in place, affecting the provider’s around 10,000 students and 600 staff.
The college has teamed up with Trafford Council to set up a vaccination centre on campus next week.
Total cases in Derbyshire rose by 17.6 per cent (673) to 4,498 in the seven days to October 8, bringing the case rate to 557.2 per 100,000 people. Eighty per cent of its population are fully vaccinated.
Derby College, which has four campuses, more than 12,000 students and 1,000 fulltime staff, insisted reintroducing masks is a “temporary control measure based on case numbers, which will be closely monitored and reviewed”.
Other colleges are keeping a cautious eye on their Covid rates in case they need to
The executive team of NCG, which runs seven colleges across the north of England and London, is meeting weekly to monitor the Covid situation and “ensure that we have appropriate plans in place to continue to safely deliver education on campus”.
It also has a contingency framework in place, “ready to react to any change in operational guidance which would result in a move to hybrid or remote teaching or any other relevant actions to mitigate any local or national increase in the risk of transmission,” chief executive Liz Bromley says.
Large swathes of northern England have a Covid case rate above 400, though most of London has a much lower rate in the hundreds.
Schools already told to reintroduce coronavirus measures
The situation in colleges mirrors what is happening in schools, where pupils and staff have had to mask up and re-enter bubbles.
Earlier this month, Staffordshire Council recommended the over 500 schools in its area, which includes former education secretary Gavin Williamson’s constituency, bring back Covid measures.
Its Covid cases increased by 7.8 per cent (337) in the seven days to October 8, having surged by 28.8 per cent last week.
Colleges in the area to whom FE Week has spoken say they have not received similar recommendations from local authorities.
The Department for Education’s Covid-19 guidance for FE providers states measures should be considered if positive cases at the setting or in the local area “substantially increase”.
Local public health directors can advise colleges that face coverings should temporarily be worn in communal areas or classrooms.
However, they ought to “only ever be considered as a last resort, kept to the minimum number of settings or groups possible, and for the shortest amount of time possible”.