Coronavirus Update: AoC Alert (25.03.20)

Published: 25 Mar 2020

Coronavirus Update: AoC Alert (25.03.20)

To help colleges through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are providing daily updates which include the latest political outlook, advice, guidance and useful documents.

Letter to the Secretary of State on priorities for colleges

Today we sent a follow up letter to the Secretary of State, setting out a number of areas which require government decisions in the coming days and weeks to assist college leaders in focusing on their challenges. The five main areas are: the need to start work now on future skills; clarity on job retention; confirmation on adult education budget tolerance; resolving outstanding apprenticeship issues; and setting up a more simple emergency financial support scheme.

Coronavirus Bill due for Royal Assent

The Coronavirus Bill has today passed through the House of Lords with no amendments, and is due for royal assent. A reminder on the educational elements excerpt from the bill can be found here. This law, when enacted, will give the government enhanced powers to deal with COVID-19 without the need for parliamentary sign off. The bill has a sunset clause of two years.

Parliament has adjourned today, a week earlier than scheduled recess, returning after Easter on 21 April. Concern remains around support for the self-employed and details on the 80% Job Retention Scheme are yet to be finalised. 500,000 people have applied to DWP in the last week for assistance while 400,000 have registered as NHS volunteers.

In his last sitting in parliament as leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn has urged the Prime Minister to remain available for scrutiny as he continues to lead the country through this crisis. The new Labour leader is set to be appointed on 4 April.

Education Select Committee meets ‘informally’ by teleconference with Minister Keegan on apprenticeships

While Parliamentary procedure dictates that Select Committees are unable to meet unless in person, the Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, held an informal meeting today via digital conference. Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, appeared before the committee to discuss apprenticeships. The committee meeting was attended by Lucy Powell MP, Nick Gibb MP, Jonathan Gullis MP and likely other members of the committee, however it was not publicly broadcast and will likely not have a transcript released due to the informal nature of the meeting. However with all the furore about the apprenticeship guidance over the last 48 hours, the meeting subject was certainly topical and hopefully some progress in apprenticeship support was made.

Exam cost queries raised

We have been made aware today that some colleges have received invoices for May’s exam entries from awarding organisations. Given that exams will not go ahead as normal now and have been cancelled we will raise the issue and report back to you as soon as possible.

Maintaining HE quality and standards

QAA is working on Covid-19 guidance for providers to help maintain quality and standards. AoC is part of the task group that is looking at issues affecting quality, standards and student outcomes during this challenging period. If you would like to discuss any issues, please contact Arti Saraswat. The UK-wide guidance is available here to all providers and not restricted to providers that are QAA members.

We are also speaking to other representative organisations this week about higher education issues, in a call organised by Universities UK. If there is anything you’d like us to raise, get in touch with Arti. We will report back in due course.

Home Office extends visas and announces changes to sponsor requirements

The Home Office announced on 24 March that visa nationals who cannot return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to extend their visas. The announcement also indicates that the Home Office will waive a number of requirements on visa sponsors, such as allowing non-EU nationals under study routes to undertake their work or study from home. If your college has international students, please check the details of the announcement and the next steps.

College Collaboration Fund process paused

DfE is currently targeting efforts at providing a response to colleges’ immediate needs and ensuring all colleges are free to focus on the welfare of their own institutions, staff and students. Due to this, the CCF has been paused and applications suspended until further notice.

They will be exploring flexibilities within the CCF to support colleges to share good practice on maintaining delivery through this period.

Changes to the process of withdrawal of funding from qualifications with low and no enrolments

The ESFA has confirmed some changes to this process.

For qualifications on the “low enrolment” list, the process is being suspended. Qualifications on the published low enrolments list will retain funding approval for 2021 to 2022. ESFA will re-launch the notification process for these in the autumn. This will be done as part of the second cycle of funding approval decisions for qualifications with low and no publicly funded enrolments. These qualifications will therefore be in scope to have funding approval removed from August 2022.

For qualifications on the “no enrolment” list the deadline for awarding organisations to inform ESFA that they will be submitting a notification to retain a qualification remains 27 March and the deadline to submit accompanying evidence has been extended to 30 April. There will be an additional window for further submission of evidence during September 2020. Following that, ESFA will confirm the qualifications with no enrolments which will have funding approval removed from August 2021.

Government guidance on social distancing in an educational setting released

Guidance for education and childcare settings on how to implement social distancing can be found here.

Ofqual considerations for vocational and technical qualifications

Ofqual are considering how similar arrangements to those set out for GCSEs and A Levels could be applied to vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs). Suggesting teacher calculated grades, estimations based on assessments that have already taken place and adapted assessment and delivery arrangements as just some of the ideas they are considering. The full statement is available here.

Update on SEND students

Colleges are responding very efficiently to arranging provision for the small number of EHCP students who might need to go to college either at their site or in collaboration with other providers. They are also providing excellent support via phone for those at home.

There have been suggestions from one or two colleges that a Local Authority might stop paying the college Element3 funding. Liz Maudslay has contacted DfE and LGA about this and received assurances this is not the case. Also, a few colleges have been asking about PPE for staff who deal with personal care needs. We recognise this is a serious issue and have been raising it but as you know there is currently a real shortage of this equipment. We will keep pressing and update you as soon as possible.

If you do have any urgent SEND issues or questions, please contact Liz Maudslay.

College closures

We have received a number of queries from colleges about closures due to the very small number of EHCP students in attendance.  Our recommendations are:

  • Any decision should be taken in liaison with other key stakeholders and partners. In a couple of places colleges have worked with local schools to open one institution, pool staff where needed and offer this as a place for vulnerable learners to attend as a hub. Students who were expected to attend should be contacted to confirm they are ok at home and can access work.
  • You should carry out a risk assessment to show that all students are able to access their learning online wherever feasible, and can access pastoral support and keep in proactive contact with those who are most vulnerable.
  • One option is to describe it as a temporary (“early Easter”) closure which you will review towards the end of the week; there might be a few students who are self-isolating at the moment, but intend to attend in the future. As above, keep the LA, parents/carers, other local partners informed.

VocTech Now grants worth up to £25k

VocTech Now has been prompted by the unprecedented situation vocational trainers and their learners face and is offering grants of up to £25K.

For projects that will last no longer than three months, Ufi wants to hear from vocational learning providers who need to use technology to deliver fast results for its learners online and need support to get their idea up and running.

Aware of the need to quickly offer support to businesses, VocTech Now will open for applications on 30 March and close on 6 April. Find out more here.

Best wishes,

David Hughes,

Chief Executive