The Department for Education has finally updated its main Covid-19 guidance document to include details of how FE leaders should handle this year’s partial college and training provider closures.

Many of the instructions on how to keep providers Covid-secure are similar to or the same as they were before, but there are some new instructions.

Here’s what we learned.


Students who have difficulty accessing remote education can attend onsite

Colleges and training providers should only stay open to vulnerable learners and children with at least one parent who is a critical worker during the new national lockdown.

The definition of vulnerable students has now been updated to include those who “may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home”, for example due to a “lack of devices, connectivity or quiet space to study”.

The government has removed a previous rule that students who need access to specialist equipment can still attend.

Providers must now make alternative arrangements for students studying courses that require specialist equipment or facilities.


Remote education expectations

The DfE does not provide set hours for how much remote education needs to be provided like in schools, but rather asks FE providers to “use your best endeavours to deliver as much of students’ planned hours as possible”.

The department “recognises for some students this may not be possible for example where a student is undertaking a course involving practical teaching and training which necessitates the use of specialist equipment and supervision or with respect to work experience and placements”.

Providers are expected to have systems in place to check, at least weekly, for “persistent non-attendance or lack of engagement with remote education and to quickly agree ways in which attendance and participation can be improved”.

They are also told to identify a “named senior leader” with “overarching responsibility for the quality and delivery of remote education”, as well as publish details of their remote education offer on their website by 18 January, as previously announced.

Providers are told to “as far as possible” provide students live online teaching in lieu of face-to-face delivery.


Apprentice assessment can continue face-to-face

The DfE says that “where possible”, apprenticeship training and assessment should be delivered remotely.

But where this is not possible face-to-face end-point assessment and functional skills assessments “can continue in colleges, training providers’ premises, assessment venues and workplaces, where providers and end-point assessment organisations judge it right to do so”.

The guidance also confirms that providers can continue with the BTEC and other vocational exams that are due to take place in January, where they “judge it right to do so”.

Specific guidance for delivering apprenticeships can be found here.


Face coverings in communal spaces

Under national lockdown, face coverings should be worn by adults and students when “moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained”.


New advice for clinically vulnerable staff

According to the DfE, clinically extremely vulnerable FE staff and students are “advised that they should not attend the workplace”. These individuals will be identified “through a letter from the NHS or a specialist doctor”.

Clinically vulnerable staff can continue to attend work, but should follow sector-specific measures to “minimise the risks of transmission”.

Pregnant staff are considered clinically vulnerable, but if they cannot work from home, they and their employers should follow the government’s advice for pregnant employees.


Special settings should continue as normal

The DfE says that special post-16 settings should “continue to welcome and encourage students to attend full-time (or as per their usual timetable) where the student wishes to attend”.


Unclear if Ofsted’s planned monitoring visits will go ahead from this month

Ofsted had announced in December that monitoring visits, including to those with grade three and four ratings and new apprenticeship providers, would resume in January.

Inspectors were also planning ‘support and assurance’ visits to colleges, which would result in a report, but no grade, similar to the interim visits which took place last term.

But the DfE said today that for FE and skills providers inspection activity “remains under review and more guidance will be published in due course,” the DfE said.

However, Ofsted will “continue to have the power to inspect in response to any significant concerns, such as safeguarding”.


Support for remote education

The DfE reiterated that the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund provides financial support to help students access devices and connectivity support.

The department also announced in December that their ‘Get Help with Technology’ scheme will be extended to provide support with devices and connectivity for 16 to 19 year olds. Schools with sixth forms, colleges and other FE institutions will be “invited to order laptops and tablets during the spring term to further support disadvantaged learners to access remote education”.

For adults aged 19 and over “we introduced a change to the ESFA adult education budget funding rules for the 2020/21 academic year to enable you to use learner support funds to purchase IT devices and/or internet access for disadvantaged students to help them meet technology costs, where these costs are a barrier to accessing or continuing in their training,” the DfE added.

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