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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 will be closed to all except vulnerable students, children of key workers, and those sitting external exams from 6th January until at least mid-February. Remote education should be provided to all students, and summer 2021 exams have been cancelled. Further detail on what Covid-related regulations and guidance mean for colleges is below. 

Partial closure

From January 6th 2021 to (at least) the February half term, colleges will be closed except to vulnerable students and children of key workers, as well as any students who have external exams taking place on-site in January. You have discretion to include students without sufficient access to technology or workspace at home in your definition of 'vulnerable'. Vulnerable students should take up their places if possible, but if key workers can keep their children at home safely, they should do so rather than taking up the offer of a place. Meanwhile, deliver education remotely for students who are not on-site, and continue to support students on free school meals via on-site catering for those in college and food parcels or bank transfers for those studying remotely. Conduct lateral flow testing regularly for students in college; see the section on testing below.

For those students who are in college, follow the below practices to maintain a safe environment:

  • 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.
  • PPE: Students and staff must now 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.
  • Clinically vulnerable staff and students: Extremely clinically vulnerable staff and students should shield at home, and participate in education/work remotely.
  • 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 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 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 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 expects to re-start graded inspections in the summer. However, Ofsted will resume monitoring visits of colleges with grades 3 or 4 from January, with a new focus on remote education. When full inspections resume, Ofsted will use the education inspection framework. 
  • Residential colleges should limit travel in and out of the setting during term time.

For those studying remotely, students should 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 by 18th January 2021; suggested content is outlined here.


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 also 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. Arrangements for rapid lateral flow testing in colleges as recommended by the DfE are laid out below.

  • Weekly testing for all staff to pick up asymptomatic cases;
  • Daily serial testing for staff and students who are close contacts of positive cases, preventing the need for self-isolation unless testing positive. However, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority, which regulates the use of lateral flow devices including by the government, has not approved this type of use and recommends that close contacts self-isolate for ten days instead.
  • 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, will not take place as planned this summer. We will be working with Ofqual and DfE to shape what the alternative arrangements look like. 
  • January exams and assessments are continuing under Covid safety restrictions subject to college discretion; see here for these. It is not yet clear what the alternative means of assessment will be for students who do not sit the January exams, but this is an option colleges can take.
  • 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. Performance data will not be published from 2021 either; it is yet to be seen what the ramifications for accountability are. Destinations measures will be released as normal in 2021, as they are based on cohorts which graduated before Covid-19 hit. They will also publish a list of the subjects students at each college have been examined in as a source of curriculum information for parents.   

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 (you can access the national scheme for this via Edenred if you are a 'school' member);
  • Other approaches as appropriate to your context

For further information on FSM delivery during the pandemic, see here. There is some additional funding available to 'school' members for providing parcels and vouchers; see here.


  • Exceptional costs funding in November/December 2020 has been made available for workforce costs and will cover the current half term, backdated to 1st November. As was the case for exceptional costs funding in the summer term, it will only be open to those without significant reserves, and with high levels of staff absence necessitating the additional costs. Details are available here.
  • 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.
  • 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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