A new app that forecasts the spread of Covid-19 in colleges has been launched.

Developed by the University of Exeter in collaboration with colleges, the free online tool is said to analyse individual college data according to various inputs such as class-based bubbles, larger year group bubbles and attendance on different days.

It also allows the user to input community infection rates as well as information about how they are running their college to forecast how many people may need to self-isolate and other steps they can take to minimise disruption.

The app is still in its beta edition, but after a “successful trial” with several colleges, the app is now available to every college in the country.

A spokesperson for the developers said that with rising infections in many areas, this new Covid planning and modelling app has the “potential to help college leaders forecast how many students and staff might need to self-isolate and plan accordingly”.

Sean Mackney, principal at Petroc College which helped develop the app along with the Association of Colleges and City and Guilds, said: “The flexibility of this app is its greatest asset and can provide useful forecasts for different approaches for different cohorts of learners and to see the combined effect at college level. The app has helped inform our decisions about bubbles, social distancing in teaching spaces and the timetable. It allowed us to us control infection and minimise the numbers who would self-isolate.

“As you can set your own variables, it is also useful to see whether the approach we took when community cases were 10 per week will still be the best ones to take if we were seeing 200 cases a week – so we can use it to revisit the way we set up our college to be sustainable, stable and safe, whatever the external context.”

Professor Gavin Shaddick, chair of data science and statistics at the University of Exeter, said the organisations involved in the development have worked together to ensure that the “underlying epidemiological forecasting model reflects the kinds of situations that colleges may experience during the pandemic”.

“Similarly, the app has been designed jointly between data scientists and stakeholders to provide users with an easy to use interface, providing the tools needed to assess the effects of different scenarios and measures that are designed to reduce disease transmission within students and staff,” he added.

David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the AoC, said: “We hope this new app will give colleges the confidence to work from the data they input and make timely and sensible decisions on safety measures, the amount of blended learning they provide and keep students and parents informed of any changes quickly.

“Keeping students and staff safe is the number one priority and the new online tool will giving colleges an indication of when and if they need to change tact in dealing with coronavirus.”

The spokesperson for the developers said that if the app continues to be useful to colleges, they will seek funding to refine the tool, extend the support for users of it for a longer period, and share lessons learned.

Colleges can find out more about the app and how to access it by contacting tammi.jahan@aoc.co.uk at the Association of Colleges.

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