FE sector membership bodies have joined forces to urge the education secretary to let adults return to training before September.

In a letter to Gavin Williamson today, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, Association of Colleges and HOLEX say that adult education providers cannot see why their training offer is seen to be less safe than that offered by schools to young pupils.

They are also confused as to why they cannot continue their face-to-face training when libraries and pubs are allowed to reopen, and shopping for non-essentials is permitted.

“We would ask that you reconsider your position and allow safe opening for adult education and skills immediately,” the membership organisations ask, adding that this is particularly vital for those who are struggling with remote learning or need to complete assessments

It comes after the Department for Education revealed to FE Week last Thursday that it was considering allowing adult learners to return to college before September ahead of the full re-opening of FE providers.

Current guidance from the DfE states that colleges and training providers could reopen to more students from June 15 following country-wide closures on March 23 owing to Covid-19, but that 16 to 19-year-olds should be prioritised.

The guidance has been updated since its initial release in May to “clarify that we would not normally expect adults to be included in the cohort returning to on-site delivery from June 15”.

Today’s joint membership organisation letter states that adult education centres, independent providers and colleges have moved to online provision in a “remarkable way” but they are now “keen to open their buildings now in a safe way because they want to serve their communities and employers, and start to reskill individuals to support the economic recovery plans”.

“Providers had drafted their safety-first opening plans, developed their risk registers, ordered their signage and PPE and were ready to start to bring back those adult students who were struggling with the digital offer or needed to complete assessments,” it continues.

“Providers are keen to support the recovery programme and were encouraged by the prime minister’s comments this week about an enhanced infrastructure plan, which is now at risk, How can that plan be implemented if colleges and providers cannot train the staff needed to work on it?

“Providers have shown in the last few weeks that they can successfully open to young students and are fully aware of the risks. So they are prepared to open to adults in a safe and controlled manner.”

The letter adds that adult education providers are also “under pressure” to open from other organisations, for example, awarding bodies for assessments, the Department for Work and Penisons and Jobcentre Plus on working with the unemployed to help them back into work and from social services on providing for the socially isolated.

Adult students themselves are also “keen to return as they are worried about their job prospects and there are only certain types of leaning that can be done online”.

You can read the letter in full here.

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