The Department for Education has this morning published guidance on what FE colleges and providers will “need to do” to fully reopen from September.
It confirms that the intention is to welcome back all learners, including adults as well as 16 to 19 year olds.
Critically, the DfE said there will be “no set requirement” to make cohorts “smaller than a normal class size”.
They added that remote education “may need to be an essential component of delivery” for some students, alongside classroom teaching.
Routine Ofsted visits will also not resume until 2021 under plans for the full reopening of schools and colleges set out by education secretary Gavin Williamson, who will lead a press conference at Downing Street later today.
It comes just two days after skills minister Gillian Keegan told Parliament that in order to limit the risk of increasing the rate of transmission, scientific advice “indicates that we need to take a phased approach that limits both the number of young people in attendance and how much they mix with other learners and staff”.
Today’s guidance states that a full return in September is now “possible” because “we are continuing to make significant progress in tackling the virus” and the “balance of risk is now overwhelmingly in favour of young people and adults being able to take part in a full education, including attending on site”.
The guidance for FE providers sets out six “prevention” steps that providers “must take”.
It includes advice on “minimising” contact with individuals who are unwell, ensuring that learners and staff clean their hands regularly, promoting the “catch it, bin it, kill it” approach, and creating separate “bubbles” to reduce the number of “contacts” between learners and staff.
Providers must also consider how to “limit use of public transport” for students, by “encouraging” walking, cycling and “other forms of active exercise where appropriate”.
Staggered start and finish times to should also be implemented.
By the autumn term, FE providers will be provided with a “small number” of home testing kits that they can give directly to staff or learners who have developed symptoms on-site.
The DfE is sticking with its advice that the “majority” of staff in education settings will not require personal protective equipment (PPE) beyond what they would normally need for their work.
PPE may only be needed in a “very small number of cases”, including hairdressing courses and where an individual becomes ill with coronavirus symptoms while on site, and only then if a distance of two metres cannot be maintained.
The guidance goes on to say that while “most” staff will have to come onto campus to teach from September, leaders should identify those who can work from home, such as in administrative roles, and allow them to do so if “feasible”.
In terms of education delivery, the DfE “expects” colleges and providers to “provide a full programme of study and training offer for learners of all ages from your normal term start date in September 2020, including those with special educational needs and disabilities”.
Leaders must also decide the “appropriate mix” of face to face and remote delivery, adding that post-16 learners are “more likely to undertake self-directed study but may still need additional support, you should make sure that planned hours meet the relevant funding guidance”.
They should also “assess” the gaps in learners’ knowledge and skills they may have missed as a result of lockdown early in the autumn term, focusing on the “most important content and prioritise this to help learners to catch up”.
Remote education may “need to be an essential component of delivery for some pupils, alongside classroom teaching, or in the case of a local lockdown,” the DfE continued.
“You are therefore expected to plan to ensure anyone who needs to stay at home for some of the time is given the support they need to make good progress.”
If young learners are unable to access remote digital education, such as if they do not own a laptop, the DfE urged colleges to make use of the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund that provides “financial support to help learners overcome the specific financial barriers to participation they face so they can remain in education”.
Risk and health and safety assessments must be reviewed and updated over the summer.
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, welcomed the “flexibilities” in the guidance and said he was “pleased to see that colleges can continue to deliver a blend of online and face to face learning if that is what is best for students”.
“Some colleges will want all students to return in the autumn, but transport remains a major barrier to that.”
He added that the guidance on forming groups is “likely to be a lot harder to implement in colleges than schools, given there are often thousands of students in individual year groups, but again the flexibility in the guidance is welcome”.