College FAQs on COVID-19

Here you can find answers to many questions that we have had from colleges. This will be updated as events develop. 

If you have any additional queries please contact AoC via

Updated on Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Q1. Who counts as a vulnerable student?

The official advice is that vulnerable children include: those who have a social worker and those with an educational health and care plan (EHCP) – a legal document that describes a child’s special educational needs and the support they require.

Children who do not fall into these two groups should remain at home with "appropriate care". DfE say that nurseries, private schools and sixth forms should also follow this guidance.

It has also been recognised that wherever possible students with EHCPs should be supported at home unless they would be at ‘significant risk’. Colleges need to carry out and record risk assessments for those who are likely to be at ‘significant risk’. DfE has acknowledged that the number of vulnerable students and students with EHCPs who will continue to be in college is likely to be very small.

This definition does not include those on free school or college meals (16% of the college 16-to-18 population) just a much narrower group (perhaps 4% on average). Government guidance can be accessed here.

Q2. How can colleges stay open for such a small group of students?

The Education Secretary has acknowledged that provision might not be able to be delivered in the same place that students are used to. Discussions need to be held with Local Authorities and in many cases one centre (maybe the college or maybe another site such as a special school) will be designated as the place where students who cannot be at home are provided for.

For all students including those who are vulnerable or have EHCPs colleges need to provide remote, home learning plans. In addition those who are most vulnerable and in some cases their families will also require additional ongoing individual support either by telephone or online. AoC has circulated a list of various documents which show safeguarding measures which need to be in place for delivery of online learning and online one to one support.

Q3. Will Local Authorities continue to pay colleges for their High Needs Learners?

The 7 May update Guidance for FE providers confirms that colleges will continue to receive HNF for the remainder of the academic year and that ‘If placements for the summer term, and top-up funding, were anticipated but have not yet been agreed, the local authority should consider funding the institution on the basis of previous patterns of placements and commissioning, so as to make sure that the staff can remain in employment and be available for when the special provision is needed.’

It is of course very important that colleges keep very clear records of the ways in which they are supporting their vulnerable and High Needs Students who are at home.

For all information relating to vulnerable children and young people, please visit the government webpage.

Q4. What does the new SEND risk assessment guidance mean for colleges?

The main points to note are:

  • Local Authorities and providers are responsible for carrying out risk assessment and they should decide together who is best placed to undertake the risk assessment
  • DfE does not require a standard form or procedure
  • Young people with SEND should be in the place which is safest for them

This guidance document relates particularly to children and young people whose need for hands on care or whose behaviours mean that there are more, or more nuanced, risks to be managed than for the majority of children and young people with an EHC plan and acknowledges that while there may be some of these young people in mainstream settings most of these young people will attend special schools or specialist colleges.

N.B. Where a risk assessment has already been carried out and appropriate provision and support is in place ‘there is no need to re-do these because this guidance has been issued’

Q5. What do the changes to the guidance on temporary legislative changes to education, health and care needs assessments and plans mean?

On 30 April the Government announced temporary changes to the law regarding EHC plans stating that providers must now use ‘reasonable endeavours’ to secure the provision set out in a young person’s EHC plan. This legal change will be in force from 1 - 31 May with the possibility of extension.

Secondly, where a reason relating to coronavirus applies, the usual timescales in regulations for various EHC processes will be replaced by the requirement to act as soon as reasonable practicable. These changes will be in force from 1 May - 25 September and will be kept under review.

Guidance has been issued to accompany these changes  Education, Health and Care needs assessments and plans: guidance on temporary legislative changes relating to coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Key messages for college providers are:

  • That there might need to be modifications in the way in which a plan is delivered
  • That co production must be maintained and any modifications to means of delivery of EHC plans must be discussed with young person, family and Local Authority
  • That the given timescales for needs assessments, annual reviews, response to being named in a plan etc. wherever possible should remain but an acceptance that because of the current situation there might need to be some delay in carrying out these procedures.

The Guidance also states that ‘Local Authorities must already have completed this year’s required transfer reviews for a child or young person moving between key phases of education. There is no change to the statutory deadlines for these reviews. Where, exceptionally, completion has been delayed these transfer reviews need to be finalised as a priority.’

In reality we know that these transfer reviews often miss the deadline and we are concerned that there should be no additional delay which would make it difficult for colleges to have a clear indication of their September intake.


Q6. What does the new SEND guidance for colleges reopening mean? 

The Supporting children and young people with SEND as schools and colleges prepare for widening opening guidance relates to children and young people with EHC plans and others with complex needs who may have SEND but do not have a plan.

Students with EHC plans or SEND in mainstream college provision should experience the same phased return to college from 15 June as their peers without EHC plans, if necessary informed by an individual risk assessment.

For those students with EHC plans attending specialist learning programmes there should also be a phased transition back to college with decisions made in conjunction with the young person, parents/carers and the Local Authority. Priority should be given to those young people who would most benefit from being on site and to those who need support at key transition points. It is acknowledged that some of these young people might need additional preparation for return and return might be part time and part of a blended learning package. It is also acknowledged that return depends upon assurance of the safety of the young person and staff; the provider having sufficient staffing to support students at safe ratios; and appropriate transport arrangements being in place.

Q7. What about students on free college meals?

DFE hasn’t yet changed the rules but a short-term measure is probably to pay into bank accounts or even cash pending, setting up proper systems for the week that follows. The existing rules already allow colleges to pay vouchers to be used in college or local food outlets. Supermarket vouchers would be a reasonable extension to this. Keep records.

Q8. Who counts as a key worker?

If your work is critical to the COVID-19 response then you are counted as a key worker; this includes those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors outlined below:

  • Local and national government
  • Food and other necessary goods
  • Public safety and national security
  • Transport
  • Utilities, communication and financial services

There is a fuller description on the GOV.UK website (updated 19 March).

The aim here is really about allowing people in these roles to focus on their job. It is less clear that their 16 or even 14-year-old children have the same needs as younger (primary age) children. We’ll take this up.

In the Skills Minister’s for representative organisations, she made three extra requests of colleges:

  • To work with organisations in the area on these issues (in a national crisis, this is the time to set aside differences) because the college might be a good place for resources to be focused and lots of children, not necessarily only college students, to be looked after.
  • To try to keep college nurseries open to maintain local provision - and to take on children of key workers.
  • To try to provide a continuous service (including staying open over the Easter break.

It should go without saying that the health advice (7 day self isolation with symptoms, 14 day household isolation for any family members, social distancing for those with severe asthma, diabetes etc) means some students need to stay at home for everyone else’s interests.

Q9. What exactly is happening with A-levels, GCSEs and other qualifications?

Ofqual has published proposals for A Level and GCSE which outline proposals for centres to produce Centre Assessed Grades and rankings and is consulting on aspects of these proposals. Details on A Level and GCSE assessment and FAQs here.  Proposals for Technical, Vocational and Functional Skills assessment including the criteria for the decision to calculate, adapt or delay assessment are available here with the associated consultation here open until 08 May. The AoC response to the A Level and GCSE consultation is available here.

AoC has hosted webinars on both sets of proposals, available here and here.

Q10. What is being done on funding, for example adult education budget tolerance?

Senior DfE and ESFA officials have confirmed to us several times that they understand the issues set out for them in David Hughes’ Tuesday 17th letter and that they are working on arrangements to take these into account. The AEB and 16 to 19 study programme money is already committed and can be paid on profiles, so that is relatively easy for DfE to pay and for tolerances on actuals to be very relaxed, to reflect the closures. The updated guidance for FE colleges published on 3 April contains some information in section 7.2 regarding AEB.  We are currently seeking clarification on certain points made within the announcement regarding evidence requirements. 

Q11. If government doesn’t act soon, my college will run out of money

ESFA, the banks and the FE commissioner team are all aware of this risk and AoC is working with key people in what is a very fast changing and new environment. Colleges need to keep managing their cashflow and work through whether this is a risk that crystallises in April, summer or later. We have suggested to ESFA that they bring forward the April 16-to-18 profile payment to 03 April but it may be too hard to make this change at short notice. Everyone is assessing the risks including the FE commissioner team finance specialists who (instead of normal work) are pulling together information on which colleges are most at risk and when issues arise. College finance staff need to work on this. ESFA and we are also talking to banks to urge their support.

Q12. What about colleges that cannot simply close because they are land-based, have residential students or other issues?

Colleges have been asked to close as part of a national public health measure but college leaders have the authority (for the moment) to make the decisions that make the most sense in the circumstances. A few colleges this week closed because of mass staff absence when the government said institutions should stay open.  Likewise colleges with dairy farms, zoos etc or with international and domestic students still in residence need to make decisions that support national objectives in a way that prioritises student and staff safety.

Advice for educational establishments with residentail settings can be found here.

Q13. Can I train apprentices who have been furloughed and if so, what should I consider?

Yes, recent DfE guidance confirmed that off-the-job training can be delivered during furlough. The apprentice must receive 100% of the minimum wage applicable to them whilst they are training. National Minimum Wage rates are here. The majority of apprentices are paid over the minimum wage level, but it is possible that there are some learners who will fall short of this. A college could offer to subsidise this wage to allow training to continue (if the employer is unwilling/unable), but would need to be clear in the way the money allocated was accounted for, ensuring it did not come from their apprenticeship funding as wages are an ineligible cost.

For example: a furloughed apprentice studied for two full days a week = 16 hrs will need to be paid at the appropriate minimum wage. If this is lower than or equal to their furloughed wage (which is 80% of their usual wage), then no adjustment need be made.

In all instances where the learning programme is altered the college needs to maintain evidence and note changes on the delivery plan/commitment statement. This should apply also to any checks required to ensure learners are being paid sufficiently to allow them to continue study.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has also published FAQs relating to COVID-19 and its impact on the apprenticeship sector. 

Q14. What extra funding is there for schools?

DfE has promised some modest additional funding for schools to assist with exceptional costs incurred between March and July 2020. A maximum of £75,000 is available for the largest school; the money is only for extra premises, cleaning or free meal costs associated with longer opening hours and the funding is not available for schools anticipating a revenue surplus in 2020-1.

Q15. I’ve read to the end and you haven’t answered the most important question

We’ll keep this list updated as further guidance and news is announced.

For additional queries, please contact AoC on 0207 034 9900 or email

DfE is encouraging people to use the email address for queries, but please email us if there are other issues.