The government “cannot require” colleges to remain open over the Easter holidays amid the Covid-19 outbreak, the Association of Colleges has been told.
And colleges that have already closed to all students will not have to reopen.
The AoC published the “urgent clarification” on its website this afternoon following new communication with the Department for Education.
Earlier this month, colleges were told they must keep campuses open only to vulnerable children and those of “key workers” indefinitely, including during the holidays, while most people go on an unprecedented nationwide shutdown.
Emergency legislation, the Coronavirus Bill, went through Parliament last week and received Royal Assent on 25 March. It allows the government to force colleges and schools to stay open or “relax some requirements around education legislation in order to help these institutions run effectively during the event of an emergency”.
While many colleges have stayed open to children of key workers and vulnerable students up to the age of 25, some, such as Totton College and Halesowen College, have closed their sites to everyone. Various plans are in place at the colleges to continue supporting vulnerable learners remotely during the crisis.
The AoC said that over the weekend the DfE published guidance which said vulnerable students, particularly those with a social worker, had to still go into an educational setting during the closure period.
This “raised concerns among colleges”, especially among those that have closed their doors to all students.
“Many asked whether they had to reopen to support these students to attend day-to-day,” the AoC added.
The DfE has now provided the association with the following clarification, which officials will publish in due course: “We expect colleges (including those that have closed) to know where their vulnerable learners are and to have a named member of staff to liaise with social workers.
“We do not expect colleges that have closed to reopen and given the very small numbers of learners attending at each institution we cannot require colleges to remain open over Easter.”
The DfE has been approached for comment.