Containing Covid-19: Testing and attendance monitoring in colleges

16 Sep 2020

The 240 colleges across England have prioritised safety in organising the September start to the academic year.

Every college employs hundreds of people and teachs thousands of students and apprentices across more than 700 campuses. Inevitably there have been cases in recent days where individuals have developed symptoms and have needed tests. DfE has helpfully arranged for each college to have 10 testing kits to use in the most urgent cases but this is not enough. Today we have talked to officials across DfE about options for stepping up testing of both staff and students. Colleges remain as committed as ever to a full September return which, as ever, involves flexible attendance patterns and blended learning.

DfE collects daily attendance statistics from schools and colleges but, as yet, has not published any of the college data. We have had many complaints from college leaders that the data collection is excessive. DfE is acting on some of these complaints and has informed colleges today of three changes:

  • the return each day (at midday) will gather data on attendance from the previous day rather than same day attendance
  • the return will ask colleges to compare actual attendance against expectations rather than a theoretical situation in which every single student is on site for all ten half-day sessions (unlikely given current FE funding levels).
  • the return allows colleges to count planned and timetabled remote learning sessions as full attendance.

This is progress. We are glad that DfE is listening. We still do not understand why the returns need to be daily (rather than weekly) or why they cover adult and higher education students. Just last week DfE's consultation on reducing bureaucracy in higher education confirmed that the student data collection in universities would remain an annual affair. All institutions (universities, colleges and schools) keep detailed attendance records these days but more thought is needed in the Department about when to ask for data and what to collect.

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