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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. Click here to access the hub.

Sixth form colleges have now re-opened using the new Step 4 guidance, as signposted below. Remote education should be provided to students who need to self-isolate. Further detail on what Covid-related regulations and guidance mean for colleges is below. 

Safe operation of colleges

All students should have returned to on-site provision; college (as opposed to school) members have discretion to continue with some remote education, as long as students are on site every week and for a large majority of their planned learning hours. Follow the practices below to maintain a safe environment, and conduct testing of staff and students as laid out in the separate 'testing' section below.

  • Grouping: There is now no need to have 'bubbles' of students.
  • Transport: After Step 4, distancing will not be required on transport, but face coverings continue to be recommended on public transport and home to college transport.
  • PPE: Students and staff do not need to wear masks on site except in local areas where outbreaks mean you have received advice to the contrary from PHE. For further information on PPE more generally, see here
  • Clinically vulnerable staff and students: Extremely clinically vulnerable staff and students should attend on-site as normal unless special clinical considerations apply - in other words, shielding has now ended.
  • Risk assessments: 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.
  • Self-isolation and case management: Staff and students should stay home and order a test 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.
    • From Step 4, you no longer need to carry out any contact tracing. This will be done by NHS Test and Trace instead. From 16th August, students under 18 years and 6 months, as well as staff and students above that age who have been fully vaccinated,do not need to self-isolate after being notified that they have come into contact with a positive case – instead, they will be asked to take a PCR test and will then need to self-isolate if they test positive. Students and staff over 18 years and 6 months who have not been vaccinated are the only group who immediately need to self-isolate after a contact regardless of test results. Again, however, this will be handled by Test and Trace.
    • Those who test positive, and members of their household, should self-isolate for ten days after a positive test.
  • Off-site behaviour: You are asked to communicate to students and staff that they should continue to behave safely off-site, and to consider minimising temporary staff and visitors by e.g. using fewer supply staff for more hours, College trips domestically for students are now allowed. Further travel guidance is available here.
  • Ofsted has restarted graded inspections. 
  • Residential colleges should limit travel in and out of the setting during term time.

Remote study

For those studying remotely, whether 100% for a short period due to self-isolation or as an element of their full programme, students should be able to undertake their full study programmes to the extent possible. DfE has published guidelines for remote learning in colleges as an update to the FE operational guidance, including expectations of providers and expectations of remote education. Important points include a requirement to provide feedback to students learning remotely at least weekly for academic courses and fortnightly for general and technical courses, and to check online 'attendance' at least weekly. You must publish some details of your online learning offer on your website; suggested content is outlined here.


Everyone in the UK is eligible for PCR testing if they have symptoms or live with someone who has symptoms; book a test here. All members of the public are also eligible for twice-weekly asymptomatic LFD home tests, which you can register for here; families of college students and staff can get these separately hereColleges have also been issued with an initial supply of ten PCR 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. Arrangements for rapid lateral flow testing in colleges as recommended by the DfE are laid out below.

  • All staff and any students who have completed two tests on-site in September may receive home test kits and complete two per week. Do, however, maintain a small on-site test centre to enable those students and staff who would rather test in college to be tested. Those who test positive at home or on-site will need to order a confirmatory PCR test. 
  • Colleges will be provided with the necessary equipment and materials to deliver the testing and will be able to recoup administrative costs such as staff time. Read more on in-college testing here. Testing is not mandatory for either students or teachers, but should be encouraged. Resources (guidance, costs calculators, and training guides) for testing are here.

Exams and qualifications

  • Summer 2021 exams, including GCSE, AS, A level, and AGQs, did not take place as planned. Instead, grades for A levels and GCSEs have been allotted to students as determined by teachers, with coverage only of content they have been taught. The same arrangements have been used for the majority of AGQs offered by our members.
  • Summer 2022 exams will go ahead with some changes. These proposed changes are set out in consultations here (GCSE and A level) and here (vocational and technical qualifications). 
  • 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 and 2021 will not be calculated, published, or 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 until 2022 data is available. Destinations measures will be released as normal in 2021, as they are based on cohorts which graduated before Covid-19 hit. 2022 exam data will, however, be published and used for accountability.

Free school meals

Colleges are expected to continue making free school meals available to eligible students if they are studying remotely, using one of the following options:

  • Ask existing catering providers and services, if possible, to continue to use FSM funding to make food parcels to be collected from college or delivered to homes;
  • Provide families with supermarket vouchers
  • Other approaches as appropriate to your context

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


  • 'Third year' students who choose to stay in FE in 2021/22 for the purpose of completing a two-year course initially intended to end in 2021 will receive full funding in lagged allocations. More information on this is available here.
  • There is now £102m available via a 16-19 tuition fund for 2021/22. Colleges will receive funding for this year based on the number of students without English or maths GCSE grade 5 or above in their 2021/22 allocations, and for students that do have English and maths GCSE but are from the 27% most deprived areas in the country under the IMD (£100 per instance under each of the two criteria).  This funding can only be used to support students to whom the funding attains. DfE’s expectation is that these catch up classes will contain no more than 7 students. 
  • College staff 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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