COVID-19: Latest news and government announcements

Last updated: 28 May

The COVID-19 pandemic is fast moving and advice to educational settings is likely to be updated regularly. Natspec’s core position is to advise member organisations to follow the official guidance from the UK government and Public Health EnglandPublic Health Wales.

***Latest updates***

28 May: Added information about guidance for specialist settings opening up more widely.

22 May: Added information from Ofqual on awarding of A levels, GCSEs, vocational, technical and other qualifications in Summer 2020

18 May: Updated version of the Vulnerable learners guidance added, to reflect the changes regarding wider opening arrangements.

15 May: Added text in section 1a below to reflect revised guidance relating to wider opening for FE. The government is now encouraging education settings to open for more young people. For SPIs, this means continuing provision on a risk-assessed basis, working towards a phased return of more young people.

15 May: Added guidance on safe working in education, including the use of PPE (section 1c)

Contents:

  1. Official Guidance
  2. Funding
  3. Ministerial letters and statements
  4. Qualifications
  5. Inspection and monitoring
Finance and business issues    Resources: supporting students’ learning    Keeping in touch

1. Official Guidance

The full collection of DfE documents is here and the main pages relevant to the specialist FE sector are below.

Many Natspec colleges will also find it useful to refer to the full collection of DHSC documents for the social care sector.

a) Overarching guidance – maintaining educational provision and FE general guidance

Since Monday 23 March, schools and other educational settings have been closed “except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children”.  Specialist colleges are asked to stay open for dependants of critical workers and those that cannot safely be provided for at home.

Guidance on maintaining further education provision: this includes specific reference to specialist colleges (special post-16 institutions) and details on how to maintain delivery, communication and support to those who are safer at home, funding arrangements, data collection, exams and assessment. The guidance details how FE providers should plan for a phased return from w/c 1 June at the earliest, and includes a checklist of considerations regarding re-opening.

The list of key workers who can access educational settings for their dependants will remain in place until 1 June. The list includes “specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response”. This guidance has been amended from 14 May to “strongly encourage” all dependants of key workers and vulnerable children and young people to attend education settings.

Guidance on Supporting Vulnerable Children and Young People: Guidance on the definition of vulnerable children and young people, expectations for attendance, safeguarding, staffing, transport and logistics. Those with an EHC plan whose “needs can be as safely or more safely met in the educational environment” are considered as vulnerable for the purposes of continued attendance. Attendance of these young people is “expected, where it is appropriate” following a risk assessment. The guidance has been amended to reflect the wider opening guidance that “settings should encourage attendance”.

Information for parents and carers: Generic Q&A for families that schools and colleges are closed for the majority but being asked to remain open for the most vulnerable groups and the children of key workers.

Guidance on Supporting Children and Young People with SEND details considerations schools, colleges and specialist provision should take into account as educational settings prepare to open up more widely.

b) Decisions on attendance and preparing for wider opening

SEND risk assessment guidance clarifies how local authorities, working with education settings, and children/young people and their families are expected to undertake risk assessments to determine whether children/young people with EHC Plans will be able to have their needs met at home, and be safer there than attending an educational setting. It sets out some of the typical circumstances where children/young person are more likely to be safer at home and where they are more likely to be safer at home/college.

Actions for education and childcare settings to prepare for wider opening from June 1, 2020 sets out the overarching aims and principles for admitting more children and young people as lockdown in England is eased. The advice for specialist colleges and special schools is to plan a phased return on a risk-assessed basis. This document should be read alongside Coronavirus (COVID-19) implementing protective measure in education and childcare settings. A Q&A for parents on the re-opening of education and childcare settings is also available in the Guidance for parents and carers.

c) Risk assessments, safeguarding and infection control

Safe working in education, including the use of PPE explains the principles of infection prevention and control and advice on cleaning, minimising contact and the situations when the use of PPE should be used.

Implementing protective measures in education provides information on effective infection protection and control, PPE and face masks, and implementing protective measures and communicate to students, staff and families.

Safeguarding guidance: colleges should continue to have regard for Keeping Children Safe in Education, which is statutory guidance, but may need to consider safeguarding policy and processes differently from usual. This includes, for example, what to do if the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) is not available or on-site and how to keep safe young people who are moving to different settings during the emergency period. It also covers safer recruitment practices if the college needs to take on additional staff or volunteers.

Guidance on isolation for residential educational settings: for residential colleges and other settings, with advice on managing isolation for individuals or groups, if someone shows symptoms. Residential specialist colleges “are usually considered households” for the purposes of the household self-isolation policy. You will need to decide which buildings are designated as separate households.

Guidance for educational settings: general guidance and a poster about coronavirus, covering limiting the spread of infection, what to do if someone displays symptoms on site, cleaning and waste. The general helpline number for education settings is 0800 046 8687.

Social distancing: the government replaced the “Stay at Home” message with “Stay Alert” on 11 May, and this guidance explains the rules on social distancing that apply in England. Note this guidance supersedes previous social distancing guidance and that the list of ‘clinically vulnerable people’ in Section 8 no longer includes those ‘with learning disabilities’. The Welsh guidance retains the emphasis on staying at home. 

Guidance on The Mental Capacity Act (2005) (MCA) and Deprivation of Liberty
Safeguards (DoLS) during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic has been published by the Department for Health and Social Care. It confirms that the main principles and safeguards still apply and that all decisions must be made for individuals rather than groups. The guidance states that most changes to a person’s care or treatment in response to COVID-19 will not constitute a new deprivation of liberty or require a new DoLS authorisation. If a new authorisation is required, decision makers should follow their usual DoLS processes, including those for urgent authorisations using a new, shortened Urgent Authorisation form.

d) Reporting and operational considerations

Attendance recording: guidance on recording and reporting attendance of students who are still attending on site. This includes FAQs, details of how to use the online reporting form, and a sample spreadsheet to use internally.

Guidance on reducing burdens on educational and care settings sets out which data collections and services will be either cancelled, paused until 30 June, deferred until an unspecified date in 2020, or continue. Critically it states that providers should submit an ILR return as normal, but only if they have the resources available to do so.

Guidance on getting tested sets out the provisions for the testing of keyworkers, including staff at specialist colleges. There is a self-referral process for staff to apply for a test if they are self-isolating. There is then a booking process to book a slot at a test centre. Matt Hancock has written a letter to all keyworker employers explaining the process.

Guidance on maintaining premises explains what educational settings need to do to make sure learners and staff are in safe buildings during reduced occupancy arrangements.

1.1 Welsh Government

For specialist colleges in Wales and those in England that recruit Welsh learners, please check:

Eligibility for ongoing provision in Wales: parents should keep children at home wherever possible, and settings should only be open for those who “absolutely need to attend. Residential special schools, boarding schools and special settings should continue to care for children wherever possible”. This includes independent specialist colleges in Wales.

Information for businesses in Wales: including details of the The Economic Resilience Fund which aims to plug the gaps in the support schemes already announced by the UK Government, for Welsh firms, charities and social enterprises.

The Welsh Government has confirmed that  funding for specialist colleges is guaranteed until the end of this academic year for those programmes of study already agreed which are disrupted by coronavirus. This funding will be provided even where a young person is not attending due to coronavirus and even if a specialist FE establishment temporarily closes or reduces its services, in response to the coronavirus outbreak. A review of this arrangement will take place at the end of the current academic year.

We’ve summarised the current Welsh position (April 24) in a presentation to Welsh Colleges.

2. Funding

The government has also confirmed that funding for all settings, including specialist colleges, “whether from local or central government, will be maintained and not reduced because some or all pupils are not in attendance (either because of self-isolation, or where the institution has closed).”

This includes top-up (Element 3) funding in respect of individual children and young people, which will still be needed by the school to keep their staff in employment.

See 1.1 above for a similar guarantee made by the Welsh Government.

Financial support for education: ESFA payments for 2020 to 2021 will be made in line with allocations and the usual payment profile. with an amended methodology to calculate 2021 to 2022 allocations, as they would normally use data from 2019 to 2020.

Bursary Funding can be used to provide technology for disadvantaged young people, including learners aged 19-25 with an EHC Plan. You can complete a business case for additional funds to meet this demand. There are also resources from Jisc, ETF and others to help support remote working.

You can also submit a business case to ESFA for further funding if necessary to help purchase technology to support students.

Free meals in Further Education: The generic free meals guidance includes a coronavirus specific update confirming that all providers with a free meals in further education allocation will be able to apply to the national voucher scheme, with the value of the vouchers being claimed back via free meals in further education/16 to 19 bursary allocations. There is a template to submit a business case if you need further funding.

Other funding streams for specialist colleges, including health and social care contracts, are being discussed. The Cabinet Office has advised local authorities to pay all supplier contracts “up to at least the end of June”.

Business support package, detailing the full range of business support available; some of which may be relevant for specialist colleges depending on your legal structure and other income streams

Job retention scheme: guidance on claiming for wage costs for employees during the coronavirus crisis. Furloughing should only be used for non-publicly funded roles, for which funding is not continuing. The guidance states that: “Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them. This also applies to non-public sector employers who receive public funding for staff costs. Organisations who are receiving public funding specifically to provide services necessary to respond to COVID-19 are not expected to furlough staff.”

However the guidance accepts that the scheme may need to be used for staff in privately funded activity. If you are considering this scheme, you should look at it for roles that are non-publicly funded such as charitable activities, income-generating work, events and other activities that can be separated from your educational activities.

More on this scheme, for charities, can be found in a blog from VWV 

3. Ministerial letters and statements

The Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford MP wrote an open letter to the SEND sector. The letter, dated 24 March, reinforced the messages that risk assessments should be undertaken to decide whether home or college is the safest setting for young people with EHC plans. It also refers to the new legislation which introduces temporary emergency powers to allow modification of the legal requirements on local authorities in relation to EHC plans.

Other letters and statements are listed below.

31 March joint statement from Justin Tomlinson, Vicky Ford and Helen Whately: outlines legislative implications of the Coronavirus Act on the Care Act, the Children and Families Act, and the Mental Health Act
31 March Kirsty Williams letter to Welsh specialist colleges, confirming their funding
25 March Gavin Williamson thank you letter to teachers
26 March Gavin Williamson thank you letter to colleges
20 March Gillian Keegan letter to colleges, setting out funding and support available

4. Qualifications

Ofqual has now published information on how grades will be awarded for GCSEs, AS and A level and Extended Project Qualifications examinations for summer 2020. Schools and colleges will use their professional experience to make a
fair and objective judgement of the grade they believe a student would have
achieved had they sat their exams this year. These judgements will then be subject to a standardisation process managed by the awarding organisations, using a model developed with Ofqual.

Ofqual has also published information on  how vocational and technical and other general qualifications will be graded and awarded this summer. This includes qualifications in personal and social skills, independent living skills, functional skills, and bite-sized English and maths. Colleges can check the proposed method to be adopted for specific qualifications using this interactive tool. Any queries should be directed to individual awarding organisations.

5. Inspection and monitoring

5.1 Inspections

Ofsted has suspended routine inspections. The consultation on changes to post-inspection and complaints handling has been extended until 30 April 2020.

Ofsted has a rolling update page giving information to all providers. The publication of inspection reports has been re-started, following six weeks of initial suspension. Inspection reports are only published if the provider wishes Ofsted to publish them.

All Estyn inspection and other related activities are suspended until further notice. These suspensions will also apply to joint inspections with Care Inspectorate Wales.

The Care Quality Commission has also ceased all routine CQC inspections.

5.2 Performance monitoring

DfE has confirmed that the publication of performance tables that were due to be released in October and December 2020, and in January and March 2021, will not go ahead. Institutional level national achievement rate tables for 2019 to 2020 will also not be published. Ofsted and local authorities will not be able to use any performance data from this academic year in their monitoring of your provision.