News and comment

Header Banner Graphic

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. If your local area is under a more stringent local lockdown (at present, colleges in Leicester are in this position), follow the guidance 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, as well as all other schools and colleges, are now open to Year 12 students for some in-person teaching, although the majority of teaching continues online. The summer 2020 exam series has been cancelled, and grades will be awarded to students based on a combination of teacher assessment and statistical modelling. Full re-opening is expected in September 2020. Further detail on what all this means for colleges is below.

Full return to college in September

At present, the Government's intention is that colleges return to full provision in September. The detailed guidance on planning for this is available here, but key points 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 students should still undertake enough guided learning hours to meet funding requirements. There are some dedicated funds available for students who need help to catch up and for 18 year olds who choose to spend another year in FE; see below under 'funding' for details.
  • 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.
  • PPE is currently not recommended for use in educational settings, even where social distancing of at least 2 metres is not possible at all times, except where staff are required to be in contact with a symptomatic student or carrying out certain kinds of personal care. For further information on this, see here
  • Clean college sites thoroughly and frequently; there is guidance on how to do this 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 Public Health England here, who will organise a deep clean of the college.
  • 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.
  • Ofsted has officially halted routine inspections, and most normal data collection has been suspended.
  • Newly-Qualified Teachers who miss a significant amount of their statutory induction period due to Covid-19 will not have their induction period extended - providing that they fulfil the Teachers' Standards, they can complete their induction this academic year as expected. For more on NQTs, see here.

Exams and qualifications

  • A level, AS level, and GCSE students due to sit exams this summer will instead be awarded a grade based on teacher judgments of how students would likely have done if they had sat their exams (which teachers will agree within departments based on a holistic assessment of students’ work so far, guided by Ofqual advice), as well as a ranking of students within each grade boundary, which will then be moderated by exam boards to take account of colleges’ prior attainment profiles, previous results, and the national picture. More guidance on this process is available here.
  • Grades will be available on August 13th for A levels and Level 3 AGQs, and GCSEs on the 20th, and have a similar distribution as in previous years. They can be appealed, but the appeals process will focus on administrative errors only, as students have the option to take exams in early autumn if they are unhappy with their grades.
  • Students will be 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. 
  • Vocational qualifications generally used for progression to FE and HE, which includes most applied general qualifications and tech levels, will be assessed similarly to A levels, with a calculated grade based either on teacher judgments, awarding body judgments (which will be based in part on any coursework that has already been completed and assessed), or both. In the case of qualifications which provide a license to practice or are largely focused on entry to the workplace, however, adapted assessments will be 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. Awarding bodies will decide which precise approach to follow for each qualification. More information is available on this here.
  • Calculated grades 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.
  • Staff should work to provide as high a quality of online provision for Year 13s as they can for now. However, there is no need to set additional mock exams or homework for the purpose of determining an assessment grade.
  • The process for apprenticeships is slightly more 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.

The full guidance is here for A levels and here for vocational and technical qualifications.

Free school meals

Colleges are expected to continue making free school meals available to eligible students throughout the summer holidays and while they are not attending college, 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 (a national scheme to do this for schools has now been launched; sixth form colleges can take part in the scheme, but only 16-19 academies can do so without having funds clawed back in future bursary/FSM allocations; the template designated sixth form colleges and FE colleges must fill in to participate is here).

The options above apply over the summer holidays as well as during the summer term; no additional funding has yet been announced to help colleges who have not academised to pay for summer delivery. Eligible students include some who usually have no recourse to public funds; for details on this group and 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. Students will receive the same per-pupil rate as 16 and 17 year olds in full-time education (£4,188) plus a £400 bonus.
  • Some providers may face additional costs as a result of the COVID-19 response. 16-19 academies are eligible for the school exceptional costs fund, explained here. 16-19 providers will be able to use bursary funds to purchase technology, such as devices or 4G routers, through the DfE's new industry partnership; if these are not sufficient, colleges can make a business case to ESFA for top-up funding by completing the business case template here.
  • 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.
  • 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 after checking whether it has been asked in the FAQ (linked below).

Other helpful links:

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now