From Saturday adults can go to the pub but not to college. Could that change before September?

The Department for Education has revealed it is considering allowing adult learners to return to college before September ahead of the full re-opening of FE providers.

It comes after the Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said “it cannot be right adults can go to the pub with their mates” from July 4, but they “cannot undertake an assessment to complete their construction course”.

After FE Week put his complaints to the DfE, a spokesperson said each step to full college opening until September “needs to be taken carefully in line with the scientific advice, and we are continuing to look at whether some adults can return earlier”.

The government announced earlier today it was their intention for providers to welcome back all 16 to 19 and adult learners in the autumn.

But earlier guidance from the DfE outlining plans for a wider opening of colleges for year 12 and equivalent students from June 15 said 16 to 19-year-olds should be prioritised. The guidance was later updated to “clarify that we would not normally expect adults to be included in the cohort returning to on-site delivery from 15 June”.

2020-21 will be an exceptional and difficult year

Hughes protested the Department for Education “must look urgently into how they safely bring adults back into education and training”.

The AoC also today called on the Education and Skills Funding Agency to “clarify funding rules that will allow colleges to deliver all that is being asked” for their full opening.

Explaining this further, a spokesperson for the membership organisation told FE Week: “Our main concern is that ESFA needs to confirm that changes to planned teaching hours and work experience will not automatically result in a cut to 2021-22 or 2022-23 allocations via the normal operation of the funding formula.”

It may not be possible for colleges to deliver on their adult education budget allocations, the association also warned, as exemptions introduced in April, where the ESFA would not clawback unspent funds from their AEB-funded providers for 2019/20, will cease at the end of this month.

There are also concerns around the implications of any future lockdowns on attendance at some colleges, and around how current rules do not fully facilitate a blend of classroom and online learning.

“2020-21 will be an exceptional and difficult year,” the association spokesperson said. “If the ESFA does not fine-tune its funding or intervention approach then some colleges will need to accelerate redundancy plans in autumn when the real need will be for them to step up activity to support the recovery.”

Bradford College last week announced 107 jobs would be axed after their application for supplier relief support was turned down by the ESFA – a decision principal Chris Webb called “short-sighted”.

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