In the absence of official ‘clarity and certainty’ – what does the FE sector know tonight?

19 Mar 2020, 23:20

UPDATE 20/03/20: The government has now publish key worker guidance here, a Q & A here and information for parents and carers here.

 In an effort to win the war against Covid-19, colleges and schools will need to remain open on Monday for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

But simultaneously open for some and closed for others for how long? Today the prime minister, Boris Johnson, talked of 12 weeks but admitted he “cannot stand here and tell you that by the end of June that we will be on a downward slope. It is possible but I simply cannot say that is for certain. Of course not. We don’t know where we are. We don’t know how long this thing will go on for.”

Summer exams have already been called off, so it seems highly likely the majority of learners will not return to college until September at the earliest.

College and school leaders are already wrestling with the unprecedented challenge of keeping the doors open for a minority of learners, but which ones?

Tomorrow, the government has promised to publish the types of young learners that must be catered for on campus as “vulnerable”. Looking at current ESFA definitions it seems highly likely this will include as a minimum all those aged 16 to 24 with an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan.

Less clear, is who will be defined by the government as key workers and whether their children would need to attend school or college if under the age of 18.

Again, the government promises answers tomorrow.

And keeping campuses open through the Easter and summer holiday will also come at a substantial cost.

As one ESFA official put it: “We recognise that colleges and other providers may incur additional costs as a result of responding to covid-19, for example where colleges open over the Easter holidays. We are looking to put in place a process for providing re-imbursement for those costs.”

Also being worked on is an “urgent package of financial mitigations for providers”.

In an email to a training provider today, one the ESFA official also said: “We recognise that there will be a substantial overall financial impact to colleges and other providers from covid-19 and that for some this will be rapid and severe.

“We are seeking to put in place a range of measures looking at both flexibilities around funding and processes for emergency funding and intend to set out further details shortly.”

And tonight the skills minister, Gillian Keegan, told FE Week: “We are continuing to work closely with the sector to work through a range of areas that have been raised in order to provide clarity and certainty.

“I would like to thank everyone for their continued support and cooperation during these challenging times and we will provide an update as soon as we possibly can.”

So, financial support is coming and those in the FE and skills sector will need to all work together to ensure that when it does, it makes the most positive difference.

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