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.

The SFCA Online Learning Hub contains a range of resources to aid online learning. Click here to access the hub.

Sixth form colleges are now fully open. Remote education should be provided to students who need to self-isolate. Summer 2021 exams have been cancelled. Further detail on what Covid-related regulations and guidance mean for colleges is below. 

Safe operation of colleges

All students should now 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: 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, and should also wear them in classroom where social distancing is not possible. For further information on PPE more generally, see here.
  • Clinically vulnerable staff and students: Extremely clinically vulnerable staff and students should continue to shield at home, and participate in education/work remotely. From 1st April, this will change: staff can come on-site if they cannot work from home, while all students should return on-site unless they are under the care of a paediatrician who advises against this.
  • 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.
  • Sport: All formal outdoor sport, including competition, can restart from the 29th March; the same is true for indoor sport from 12th April, with some variation depending on the sport’s national body’s guidelines.
  • Ofsted expects to re-start graded inspections in September. However, Ofsted has resumed monitoring visits of colleges with grades 3 or 4, or which are not yet graded, and is conducting pilot inspections of other institutions in preparation for a full return to inspection in September.
  • 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 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.

  • All staff and any students who have completed three tests on-site 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 will 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, will not take place as planned this summer. Instead, grades for A levels and GCSEs will be allotted to students as determined by teachers, with coverage only of content they have been taught. You can find more guidance on how to do this, the timeline, and the procedures to follow here (from Ofqual) and here (from JCQ). You will need to submit grades by the 18th of June. Results day for both GCSEs and A levels has been moved forward to the week of the 9th of August to allow for additional time for appeals. The same arrangements will be used for the majority of AGQs offered by our members. Exam boards will carry out checking exercises. 
  • 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. 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 for any additional costs incurred during the January-March lockdown period; you can claim for this 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 £96m available via a 16-19 tuition fund for 2020/21, and a further £102m 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 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 precise arrangements for next year's funding have not yet been confirmed, and we are pressing for broader eligibility.
  • 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:







Your browser is out-of-date!

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