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COVID-19: Latest advice for colleges

COVID-19: Latest advice for colleges

This page will be updated daily, but the very latest government advice can always be found here.

The SFCA Online Learning Hub contains a range of resources to aid online learning and is also updated on a regular basis. Click here to access the hub.

Sixth form colleges have now fully re-opened. From November 5th, England has entered national restrictions, with most workplaces closed; however, colleges will remain open. Further detail on what Covid-related regulations and guidance mean for colleges is below. 

Keeping colleges open safely

The Government's intention is that colleges remain fully open in 2020/21. The key points to ensure this happens safely are summarised below.

  • Grouping: Maintaining distinct groups who do not mix makes it possible to identify those who need to self-isolate more quickly and to keep the number of students and staff infected low. 'At a minimum', keep year groups and cohorts separate during the day; the smaller a unit can be created while still delivering a full curriculum to students, the better. Where the smallest possible group is still large, other measures for distancing, such as staggered break times, become even more important.
  • Transport: On dedicated educational transport which only carries learners to the provider, students do not need to keep a one or two metre distance from one another, although they should space out as much as possible and face coverings and other measures used to make transport safer. On public transport, one metre plus rules will apply.
  • Education delivery: Students should undertake their full study programmes. Some of this may be delivered remotely where safer, but generally speaking the majority of funded learning hours should be delivered on-site. If you would like to move to greater online learning, or have been directed to do so by local public health teams, this must now be discussed with your local ESFA territorial team. Continue to deliver after- and before-college activities as normal.
  • Everyone in the UK over the age of five is now eligible for testing if they have symptoms or live with someone who has symptoms; book a test here. Colleges have been issued with an initial supply of ten home tests, which may be given to students who you believe may have barriers to accessing testing elsewhere. You can order an additional supply of ten kits per thousand students enrolled every three weeks if required through this link.
  • Students and staff must now (from November 9th) wear masks in communal areas. Masks are not recommended for classroom use, but may be worn if students or teachers feel this makes them safer. For further information on PPE more generally, see here.
  • Vulnerable staff and students: Extremely clinically vulnerable staff should work from home. In the rare event that students are classed as extremly clinically vulnerable according to their doctors, they should also be supported to learn from home. Staff and students who are clinically vulnerable, but not extremely clinically vulnerable, should continue to attend college as normal.
  • Conduct a risk assessment to understand which controls are required in your context; details on changes that may be required to ventilation, timetables, cleaning, and other aspects of estate use are here. This advice from DfE will be of help to colleges needing to order PPE or cleaning products.
  • Staff and students should stay home if they develop a new, continuous cough or high temperature, or lose their sense of smell/taste; if they develop symptoms while in college, they should be moved to a room where they can be alone if possible until they can be collected. If this is not possible, they should be moved to an area at least 2 metres away from others. If they need to use the bathroom, they should use a separate bathroom if possible and the bathroom should be cleaned and disinfected before it is used by anyone else. Further information on how to effectively clean a space where a symptomatic person has spent time can be found here.
  • If you have a confirmed case within your college, contact the DfE helpline on 0800 046 8687 and select the option for reporting a positive case; you will be transferred to a specialist NHS education team who will discuss next steps.
  • Those self-isolating and living alone should stay home for 10 days from the start of their symptoms, while households where a member has symptoms should all stay home for 14 days. 
  • College trips overseas or domestically for students under 18 should be cancelled, and the government is now advising against non-essential travel outside the country for everyone. Further travel guidance is available here.
  • Outdoor sport should continue, with large indoor spaces with good ventilation used where this is not possible. Competitions with other colleges should not go ahead.
  • Ofsted has officially halted routine inspections, although low-touch 'visits' have now been introduced.
  • Residential colleges should limit travel in and out of the setting during term time.

Exams and qualifications

  • A level, AS level, and GCSE students due to sit exams in summer 2020 have instead been awarded a grade based on teacher judgments of how students would likely have done if they had sat their exams.
  • Students are able to sit exams in October (A levels) and November (GCSEs) or in summer 2021 if they wish if unhappy with the system or the grade they receive. 
  • The appeals process for students is strictly limited to cases of suspected admin error or bias; the regulations can be read here.
  • Vocational qualifications generally used for progression to FE and HE, which includes most applied general qualifications and tech levels, have been assessed similarly to A levels, with a grade based on teacher judgments and awarding body judgments (based in part on any coursework that has already been completed and assessed). In the case of qualifications which provide a license to practice or are largely focused on entry to the workplace, however, adapted assessments have been used. If it is not possible to hold these this year, some assessments may need to be taken in the autumn, resulting in a delayed graduation. More information is available on this here.
  • 2020's gades will 'count' for the same as examined grades in previous years, and universities will honour offers as usual. Students with a confirmed university place may choose to take autumn exams; they will need to discuss with their university whether they can start their course as planned or delay their entry. Universities have indicated that they will be flexible if possible.
  • In 2021, Ofqual has announced that the majority of GCSE, AS, and A level exams will take place three weeks later than usual between 7th June and 2nd  July. Some AS/A levels which typically have low numbers of students will be scheduled in the week before half term, as well as one paper in each of GCSE English and maths. Results will be announced on 24th August for AS/A levels and 27th August for GCSEs. There will be no further changes to the adaptations already announced to exams by Ofqual, but there will be a period of consultation with the sector around contingency arrangements in case students are not able to sit the exams and to account for regional differences in access to learning. 
  • The process for apprenticeships is complicated due to the work-based nature of learning and assessment. Detailed guidance on apprenticeships is here. If assessment can be carried out online, it should be; otherwise, if workplaces are closed to assessors, end-point assessments will be delayed until they become possible. Apprentices who have been made redundant should be supported by their training provider to find a new role within the next twelve weeks. Apprentices can be furloughed, and may be able to continue learning online during this time, preventing the need for a break in learning. If a break in learning is unavoidable, as online learning is not possible and apprentices cannot attend work, the apprenticeships guidance explains step-by-step how this should be recorded.
  • Exam and assessment data from 2020 will not be used to hold colleges to account by the DfE, and will not be published. Ofsted will use 2019 data in risk-assessing colleges for inspection instead.

Free school meals

Colleges are expected to continue making free school meals available to eligible students if they are unable to attend college due to self-isolation or a local lockdown, using one of the following options:

  • Ask existing catering providers and services, if possible, to continue to use FSM funding to make food parcels and meals to be collected from college or delivered to homes
  • Use a local school acting as a community hub or a local charity to offer free school meals
  • Provide families with supermarket vouchers (the national scheme to do this for schools has now ended).

For further information on FSM delivery during the pandemic, see here.


  • The government has guaranteed that 16-19 and Adult Education Budget funding as allocated for 2019/20 will continue and will not be reduced. There will be no reconciliation process for the Adult Education Budget, so colleges will not be penalised for drops in participation at the end of the academic year.
  • School and college leavers ('third year', 18 year old students) who choose to stay in FE in 2020/21 rather than progress to HE or work will receive funding to take 'high value courses' in colleges. Details of this funding are here; eligible courses include A levels and AGQs in STEM subjects. Each additional student (compared to the equivalent number studying these courses in 2019/20) will receive £4,100 plus a £400 bonus.
  • There is now £100m available via a 16-19 tuition fund. Colleges will receive funding for this based on the number of students without English or maths GCSE grade 5 or above in their 2020/21 allocations (£150 per instance of each).  This funding can only be used to support students without English or maths GCSE grade 4 or above. DfE’s expectation is that these catch up classes will contain no more than 5 students.
  • The Cabinet Office has published guidance which suggests that colleges should continue to pay their suppliers as normal. However, the Treasury's Job Retention Scheme covers many businesses that supply colleges, and will allow these suppliers to furlough their staff. The DfE has now clarified that, while colleges should continue to pay suppliers if they are at risk of ceasing operation due to the crisis and are essential suppliers, colleges should first check whether they have taken advantage of the Job Retention Scheme and other business protection measures, and then assess the degree of risk to the business. The guidance on this is here.
  • College staff themselves may not be furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme if they are mainly funded through ESFA grants. However, some college staff are term-time only or sessional, and others are funded by commercial or other non-ESFA income; for some staff, it is difficult to clearly denote where funding comes from. The DfE has now confirmed that staff who are funded through non-ESFA income can be furloughed; further information is available here.
  • In 2021/22, a number of the factors used to calculate 16-19 funding, such as student numbers and retention in 2019/20, will be adversely affected by the current crisis and college closures. The DfE is therefore looking at how to mitigate this; in the case of retention, an average of 2017/18 and 2018/19 retention data will be used to stand in for 2019/20.
  • For apprenticeships, the DfE recommends that providers continue to train apprentices via online learning. Some apprentices' workplaces may also remain open during the crisis. However, where apprentices need to take a break of four weeks or more, they or their employer/training provider must report this to ESFA, and the payment of funding will be paused. This will mean extending the apprenticeship's end date.

For the latest advice for educational settings, see here; the page is updated regularly. SFCA staff are monitoring government advice as it changes, and are also working to collate member queries for the DfE and Ofqual; if you have a question for officials, please send it to Noni.

Other helpful links:

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