The government has pushed FE student return dates back by an extra week – but BTEC and other vocational exams will go ahead as planned in January.

Under revised plans announced this afternoon by education secretary Gavin Williamson, providers will open for onsite teaching to only vulnerable students and children of critical workers next week.

Students preparing for exams in 2021 will study remotely and return to campus the week beginning 11 January, with remaining learners studying online until the following week.

Vocational exams, of which there are around 130,000 scheduled to start from the week of 4 January according to the Association of Colleges, will still go ahead.

The new plans are said to give college leaders more time to rollout mass testing. The testing scheme is only currently available to colleges and schools – not other FE provider types.

It comes two weeks after the government announced plans for exam year students to start onsite teaching from 4 January, with face-to-face education starting for all from 11 January.

Today’s changes have been made to tackle spiralling cases of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, primary schools in a “small number” of tier 4 areas with the highest infection rates will be closed to all but vulnerable and key workers’ children (click here for the list of areas this applies to).

You can read Williamson’s speech in full here.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “Exam groups in college, tested and learning face-to-face, after one week? That’s about 1,500 students in an average size sixth form college.

“The delay is welcome, but the revised plan is still a huge ask.

“The plan to delay the start of the January term and focus on online lessons for many young people makes sense and will not faze colleges.”

A spokesperson for awarding body Pearson, which runs BTECs, said: “We will continue to work closely with you to support learners as they undertake their assessments. Our existing guidance on the BTEC approach to adaptation to delivery and assessment in 2020/2021 on our dedicated webpage is available here and an assessment summary is available here (PDF).”

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