January reopening and testing guidance: AoC response

17 Dec 2020

Association of Colleges - the national voice for England's college sector - has responded to the government's announcement about changes to January re-openings, and details around testing in education institutions.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said:

"There are more than two million people learning and training in England’s colleges. From day one, colleges have been doing everything they possibly can to keep learning happening and students and staff protected, often at great speed, with huge burdens and with no precedent. They should all be congratulated for the way they have stepped up to the challenge.

But their jobs get evermore challenging. Until the vaccine can be fully rolled-out, a range of safety measures including robust testing and track and trace operation are necessary. The announcement on mass testing should have been a welcome one because colleges want to have that capacity. But the government needs to recognise that it cannot keep making monumental announcements at the last minute, which add additional responsibility and stresses on leaders and staff without the full guidance or resources to fulfil their demands. 

Things are moving fast on the virus, requiring government to make difficult decisions, and rapidly. But those decisions need to be realistic and pragmatic. The over-ambitious start date of 4th January is unfair on school and college leaders and staff – just one more unrealistic burden and additional stress after what has already been the most difficult nine months imaginable. If we are going to beat this virus, then we need staff in education institutions to be recharged, energised and ready to do whatever they need to do – this does not help that.

Colleges will, as always, perform miracles to make testing available as soon as is feasibly possible. Government needs to be clear about a long list of issues raised by the entire education sector, before colleges can plan it - including the funding for it, the logistics, the training, the safeguarding and issues of consent. Based on the government advice, we estimate that colleges will need to have more than 5,000 people working full-time on testing to deliver the promises made to the public about students and staff.

Meanwhile around 130,000 college students will be focused on their exams which start in the first week of January – they need urgent reassurance that the exams will go ahead and be safe."