New app could help schools and colleges stay open amidst Covid-19 infections

12 Oct 2020

The University of Exeter, working with Petroc College and the Association of Colleges and supported by City and Guilds, have produced an online tool for forecasting the spread of Covid-19 in colleges and helping to keep buildings open for as many students as possible.

While still in its beta edition, after a successful trial period with several colleges, the app is now available to every further education setting in the country. It allows colleges to input their setting’s data under different control systems, including class-based bubbles, larger year group bubbles and attendance on different days. The tool allows the user to input community infection rates and all the information about how they are running their institution to forecast how many people may need to self-isolate and other steps they can take to minimise disruption.  

As colleges have started reopening their campuses to students after a summer of nearly all online learning, college staff have put robust plans in place to make learning on site a safe and enjoyable experience for students. This tool will help staff re-configure the curriculum should there be an infection.

With rising infections in many areas, the new covid planning and modelling app will support schools and colleges in forecasting when they may need to take action or amend their plans. Crucially it has the potential to help school and college leaders forecast how many students and staff might need to self-isolate and plan accordingly.

Sean Mackney, Principal at Petroc College said:

“The flexibility of this app is its greatest asset and can provide useful forecasts for different approaches for different cohorts of learners and to see the combined effect at college level. The app has helped inform our decisions about bubbles, social distancing in teaching spaces and the timetable. It allowed us to control infection and minimise the numbers who would self-isolate.

As you can set your own variables, it is also useful to see whether the approach we took when community cases were 10 per week will still be the best ones to take if we were seeing 200 cases a week – so we can use it to revisit the way we set up our college to be sustainable, stable and safe, whatever the external context.”

David Corke, Director of Education and Skills Policy at AoC said:

We hope this new app will give schools and colleges the confidence to work from the data they input and make timely and sensible decisions on safety measures, the amount of blended learning they provide and keep students and parents informed of any changes quickly.

Keeping students and staff safe is the number one priority and the new online tool will giving colleges an indication of when and if they need to change tact in dealing with coronavirus.”

Patrick Craven, Director of Policy & Strategic Partnerships at City & Guilds said:

We are proud to be able to support this initiative and play a part in supporting learners and tutors to stay safe but engage with as much learning and development as they can.  The impact of disruption to learning must be minimised if we are to give these learners their best chance for achievement and progression.  A combination of this App to help planning and adjustments plus the support we already offer in digital learning and assessment should go some way to helping achieve these aims and keep everyone learning.”

Professor Gavin Shaddick, Chair of Data Science and Statistics at the University of Exeter said:

"Developing this app has been a truly collaborative effort. We have worked together to ensure that the underlying epidemiological forecasting model reflects the kinds of situations that colleges may experience during the pandemic. Similarly, the App has been designed jointly between data scientists and stakeholders to provide users with an easy to use interface, providing the tools needed to assess the effects of different scenarios and measures that are designed to reduce disease transmission within students and staff.”

If it continues to be useful to colleges and schools, we will seek funding to refine the tool, extend the support for users of it for a longer period, and share lessons learned.

Colleges can find out more about the app and how to access it by contacting Tammi Jahan.