Coronavirus Update: AoC Alert (14.05.20)

Published: 14 May 2020

DfE reopening guidance and AoC notes

The further education specific guidance for college reopening was issued this evening. It’s a lengthy document, but worth reviewing carefully as there are a number of references to flexibilities afforded to college leaders and governors in assessing risk and making decisions on timing of opening, cohorts of learners which may be invited in, and types of delivery within it.

To help you in your thinking, we’ve put together our own guidance note to accompany it. Worth noting are:  

  • The intent behind the guidance is to start to help students to benefit from some face to face pastoral support, advice or teaching/training, in a managed, phased and prioritised way. There is no requirement or minimum expectation on colleges and we have made it very clear to DfE that we will be advising every college to make their own decisions on assessment of priorities, needs, the context in which you operate, risk assessments and what is possible.
  • The guidance does NOT set 1 June as a rigid date for re-opening, as this may not be sufficient notice for campuses which have been closed or need adaptation. There is also a presumption that many or all students will NOT return full-time this term. Some may be for a few days over the term, or a day or two a week for instance.
  • It is acknowledged that colleges do not recruit year groups in the same way as a school or some sixth form colleges may.  Students whose qualifications have been delayed, due to the need for in-person assessment and those who would benefit from pastoral support, careers advice or some delivery to maintain or reinstitute engagement could be prioritised, and the guidance allows for that.
  • We have made clear that there will be additional costs for colleges - transport, modifications, smaller group sizes and so on and we will continue to ask for support for this.
  • There is little mention of adults in the guidance because the politicians have decided to prioritise young people first. As the lockdown eases nationally, we expect DfE will consider adults. We will continue to pursue this with DfE, so expect further guidance on 16-19 and adult provision over the coming weeks.

Operational considerations for reopening

Our Reopening Groups ‑ with representatives from colleges of all types from across England, government officials and unions ‑ have been working through the issues of reopening. The consensus from these groups is that the priorities for colleges in June will be:

  • Continuing to develop online engagement and learning
  • Continuing to work with EHCP and vulnerable students who require some onsite provision
  • Prioritising the completion of delayed VTQ assessments which for health and safety/ licence to practise reasons have had to be delayed
  • Providing face-to-face careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) and transition preparation, where appropriate and needed, on a pre-arranged basis with due regard to risk for both staff and students
  • Piloting and trialing processes and systems to allow for smooth opening in September 2020
  • Other priorities depending on community need and context recognising the diversity in the sector.



There is an emerging view that  buildings can only be reopened with a minimum of 4 weeks’ notice to:

  • prepare buildings (including arranging engineering visits to ensure water systems are safe)
  • plan one way systems
  • install screens in reception areas
  • changing timetables and communicating changes to students to ensure that smaller numbers come in at any one time
  • Working through transport issues to ensure that students can arrive at college and also to avoid groups gathering elsewhere in towns. Poor transport in very rural areas and congested public transport in cities  could be a barrier to attending college in June and beyond

You can read the notes from these groups here.

It might also be worth checking out AoC Chief Executive, David Hughes’ Tes blog on considerations for colleges.

Union concerns around reopening

The five unions of our National Joint Council (GMB, NEU, UCU, UNISON and Unite) have raised concerns on behalf of their members setting out five tests government and colleges must meet before staff and students can return.

As part of our Reopening Group work, a subgroup is liaising with union representatives on a safe return to work for staff, and they are developing a framework which can be agreed to identify measures which are compliant with safety standards. We will share in due course.

We are also continuing conversations with all concerned and next week we are joining a meeting with the Department for Education, the government’s scientists and union representatives to discuss concerns and to try to find a way forward. Outcomes of that meeting will be shared afterwards.

AoC weekly leader Q&A

Our weekly Q&A webinar with David Hughes, David Corke and Kirsti Lord will resume this Friday following the Bank Holiday weekend. If you have already re-registered to join these weekly sessions you will receive an email Friday morning with the access details so please check your inbox. Members can register online here. If you have any issues or have questions you’d like addressed in the session, please email Sam Ayerst.

Supporting staff with their mental health free webinar

If you're concerned about your colleagues mental health during this period, join us for this free to attend webinar, providing practical approaches that you can implement in your college. We will be sharing the ways two colleges are doing this and highlighting the variety of services available that colleges can access. Register here.