Coronavirus Update: AoC Alert (26.06.20)

Published: 14 Jul 2020

Lifting the lockdown

The Prime Minister’s announcement that more businesses can open on Saturday 4 July and the introduction of a new 1 metre plus social distancing rule has prompted a flurry of new general government guidance across many sectors and settings. We expect updates to DfE’s further education guidance but nothing particularly significant. The “15 June” guidance for 16 to 18-year-olds remains in place and the overall plan is for a full return in September, even though that inevitably will include a more blended approach. DfE officials are fully aware of practicalities across a range of issues from transport to managing a safe return to the need for catch up activity for many students and we will continue both to work through these issues with them and report back to you in the coming months.

Government economic measures

The Prime Minister is due to make a set-piece speech about the UK’s recovery in early July while the Chancellor is due to publish an economic update (not quite a mini-budget) soon afterwards. The main focus will be on restarting economic activity and averting unemployment. There is a long list of measures that the government might take, including capital and infrastructure spending, planning reforms, investment in particular sectors, temporary tax cuts, changes to universal credit rules and education and training measures. We continue to use AoC’s Rebuild plan to pitch proposals.

Time is running out to write to your MP

One of the best ways to get further education issues onto the government agenda is for you to ask your MP to write to the Chancellor in support of the REBUILD #skillsledrecovery plan. Jon Cruddas MP did just that, you can read how simple it was here. In the coming week we will also be asking staff, students, employers and Chambers of Commerce to write to their MPs. MPs from the governing Conservative party or who are also Treasury Ministers will have more influence than most, but all parties are important.

Also, following the Government’s announcement of “catch up” funding that didn’t include colleges, please consider signing and sharing the petition calling on the Government to reverse their decision to drop 16 to 18-year-olds from their catch-up plans.

AoC mid summer Covid-19 survey

We are circulating a second Covid-19 survey to follow up the one we sent in April and published in early May. This is part of our work to summarise college experiences across a range of areas and identify issues to take up with various external agencies. We are looking for best estimates rather than exact figures. We do not think the survey should take more than 15 minutes to complete and please make returns by Tuesday 7 July. As with all surveys, individual college details and your personal details will remain anonymous.

Note that we are not asking many finance questions because we will be asking you to share your July finance returns with us via the RCU MIDES services. More details on that to follow in the next week or so.

Confidentiality of calculated grades this summer and the potential for Subject Access Requests in the autumn

We are working with Ofqual and the DfE on guidance around potential Subject Access Requests (SARs) which students might make following the results days in August. Centre Assessed Grades and Rankings are considered to be personal data and are exempt from SARs until after results are published, with 40 days to respond.

Pending more specific advice about this and also about general communications around the August results, colleges should continue to keep all data relating to grade setting and ranking which they sent to awarding organisations strictly confidential and secure while also communicating with students and their parents about how the process was managed, emphasising the fairness and robustness of their systems.

We hope to have more advice for members on this very shortly.

Creating a post-COVID 19 EdTech strategy

Funded by Ufi VocTech Trust, we have carried out research into colleges’ current capacity to enable high-quality distance learning. The research has resulted in a series of articles written by colleges, as well as other organisations within the sector. The articles are available on our website and provide solutions for the biggest challenges that colleges face. There are also three more webinars that will be running in July looking at high quality teaching, learning and assessment, learning spaces and communities, keeping college IT networks secure and more.

Climate Action roadmap for FE colleges

Next week we will launch the Climate Action roadmap for FE colleges. This has been developed as part of AoC’s work as a founding member of the UK Climate Commission for HE and FE leaders and is a significant  milestone in our work on behalf of colleges since the launch of the commission. The Roadmap has been created specifically for college sector Principals and their leadership teams, students, and other members of the college community. We are grateful for the generous support of the Nous Group for the help in producing this and the support of college leaders and students who have worked with us on it through concept to publication.

On 16 July the Climate Commission is hosting an event for the FE sector. It aims to share work thus far with you to ensure it is relevant and captures the diverse experiences and needs of UK colleges. Student Commissioners will be leading the discussion. More information is available here.

Students and student leaders are also being invited to contribute to focus groups led by the commission. Further information can be found here.

International students

On 23 June the Minister of State for Universities issued a written statement in Parliament regarding the eligibility rules for EU nationals in England for the 2021-2 academic year. This reverses free movement rules first introduced in the 1990s but the actual impact will be modest for most college students because Irish nationals as well as EU, EEA and Swiss nationals with settled status will continue to have home student status. Officials have also confirmed to us that 16-18 year funding rules will not change. The people who will be affected are EU nationals without settled status who start higher education and other 19+ courses in 2021-2 (adult education, apprenticeship and advanced learner loans). ESFA does not normally confirm detailed rules until spring but it will be worthwhile colleges ensuring that marketing materials and admission process for 2021-2 are changed to reflect the forthcoming changes.

Ahead of this change in fee status, it is very unlikely that there will be an extension to the current Brexit transition period. The UK's new points-based post-Brexit immigration system will come into effect from 1 January 2021, at which point freedom of movement between the UK and the EU will end. Colleges that currently recruit staff or students from within the EU and that are not already Tier 2 or Tier 4 sponsors will need to consider whether they should apply for a sponsor licence to be ready for 2021. More information on Brexit is available here. Contact Emma Meredith or Julian Gravatt for any questions.

Mental Health

AoC has recently completed a package of five webinars focused on mental health in partnership with NAMSS.  Now The Department for Education (DfE), in collaboration with NHS England and Public Health England, will be hosting a free, 1 hour webinar for school and college staff on 9 July on how to support returning pupils and students. You will hear from experts on the impacts of the pandemic on children and young people’s mental wellbeing and recovery techniques, along with education leaders about the actions they have been taking. You can find further information registration details here. We have been consulted on this workshop to ensure that there is a focus on colleges as well as schools.

DfE is also hosting a webinar to support local systems in responding to returning pupils and students’ mental health and wellbeing.

Make the most of your AoC membership and join our free to attend webinars taking place next week.