Partial college closures announced by Government

18 Mar 2020

A summary of today’s major announcements relating to colleges:

  • The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have both said that all schools will close for most pupils after Friday until further notice but make provision for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.
  • Colleges, early years providers and private schools are asked to take the same measures.
  • Summer exams will not take place as planned. DfE, Ofqual.GCSEs, A-levels and other externally assessed qualifications will shift to teacher assessment and coursework within a set of rules still to be announced by Ofqual and awarding bodies.
  • The FE Commissioner Richard Atkins has announced that his team have paused all activity in colleges except where they can, with their consent, provide support to colleges they are already working with. They are also providing information and support to DfE and ESFA as required.

DfE will be publishing more information on the details of these announcements, including a list of key workers (NHS staff but also people involved in food supply) and what it expects with regard to vulnerable children and young people.

The announcement on colleges - and schools - recognises that colleges are finding it increasingly difficult to remain fully open. We know that many colleges have already had to announce locally that learning will continue on-line and students will be supported remotely.

There is a massive amount to absorb. The Education Secretary and Skills Minister have both thanked schools and colleges for the work they have done to stay open. We will be sending a fuller briefing first thing tomorrow.

Emergency Powers (Coronavirus) Bill will give power to the Education Secretary over schools and colleges.

The draft bill, which is likely to pass parliament without a debate, includes powers for a wide range of services including education settings and the NHS. The education powers give the Secretary of State the ability to keep schools and colleges open, to close them, and to temporarily amend other legislation that impacts on these decision (e.g., monitoring by local authorities. The education powers are as follows:

provide powers to require educational institutions or childcare providers to stay open or relax some requirements around education legislation in order to help these institutions run effectively during the event of an emergency. This could include reducing teacher ratios, adapting school meal standards and relaxing provisions for those with special educational needs. This will ensure that children, young people and those who work with them remain safe, while minimising disruption to everyday life and progression to further and higher education or employment by ensuring schools have the flexibility and support they need to respond pragmatically to the changing situation.

Chief Executive David Hughes sent the following email to members after the announcement was made:

The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have announced that all colleges will close for most students after Friday until further notice. The Education Secretary has recognised the vital civic role that colleges can and do play with a request to help key workers to stay in work and support vulnerable students, including over Easter. I am confident from our detailed discussions with officials and ministers that the Government recognises the need to provide financial certainty and security to colleges at this difficult time, in order to allow college leaders and staff to focus on their students and their communities.

Colleges will also need to maintain skeleton staff to manage their estates, finances, IT and payroll as well as any residential students or other facilities including farms they may have. We are keen to facilitate sharing between colleges on how you are managing in these unprecedented times and making sure that innovative approaches are able to be replicated quickly. Please talk to your Area Director if you are willing to share, or have questions.

We are working very closely with DfE and ESFA to manage the flow-on implications of this announcement and in particular the funding support which will minimise the long-term impact on students and colleges. Discussion also continues around how the summer exams will be affected, and how assessments on all other qualifications will be dealt with. Plans are coming together, but it is too early at this stage to provide any details today.

More than anything I want to make sure that every college leader feels confident to do everything they can do to support their students and communities without having to worry too much about the financial challenges. I have been given assurance that the financial issues will be dealt with sensitively, and that early notice to ESFA of cashflow problems or future financial distress is the best course of action. Early engagement will be viewed as a strength, rather than a weakness, and the FE Commissioner will not be sent in because every college will need support.

Please stay safe and keep communicating with us at AoC. And good luck, it is tough times indeed.

Best wishes,

David Hughes,
Chief Executive