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Changes to learning, exams, and attending schools and colleges during the coronavirus pandemic.

First published:
24 March 2020
Last updated:

Return to college arrangements from March

What are the arrangements for learners attending college before Easter?

From 15 March, additional learners will be able to return to further education colleges and work-based learning centres. This builds on the return of those studying “licence to practice” qualifications in priority sectors from 22 February. These include:

  • vulnerable learners – it is the responsibility of the provider to identify which learners should attend due to their vulnerability, and to make the necessary arrangements for those learners to attend provider premises
  • learners undertaking assessments or examinations - wherever possible, assessments or examinations should be rescheduled or undertaken remotely. Where this is not possible, and where the learner is unable to progress in their course without the assessment, they can attend their college or learning centre to do so
  • learners who have been identified as priority groups to return to face-to-face learning – individual colleges have identified priority groups, which may include learners who need access to specialist facilities and equipment in order to develop their skills , and those who are preparing for for assessments such as A levels and BTECs. 

At this stage, learning must be delivered on a socially distanced basis and providers should manage their facilities and timetables to control numbers on-site to facilitate distancing. Blended learning models should continue to be used to help to minimise the time that learners need to spend on-site.

In work-based learning, centre-based learners, such as those studying employability programmes, may return to face-to-face learning on a prioritised basis in line with the broad categories set out above. 

Apprentices may attend colleges or learning centres at this time to undertake practical learning activities and/or assessments that cannot be delivered remotely. Assessors may visit workplaces in order to undertake assessments, but should continue to undertake routine reviews and wellbeing check-ins remotely until after Easter.

Why have you made this decision?

The decision to allow priority groups of learners to return to face-to-face learning from 15 March is because this cohort of learners need access to specialist facilities and equipment in order to develop their skills and/or prepare for assessments. We have also made it possible for colleges to prioritise learners in key qualification years, such as those studying A levels and BTECs, who are returning to school at the same time.

At this stage, learning must be delivered on a socially distanced basis and providers should manage their facilities and timetables to control numbers on-site to facilitate distancing. That is, all learners and staff must stay two metres apart throughout the day, in workshops or classrooms as well as in communal areas in the college or learning centre. 

Work is ongoing, in consultation with post-16 learning providers and the Joint Trade Unions, to plan for the return of all learners to face-to-face learning when infection rates drop sufficiently, subject to public health advice.

When will all other learners be able to return college?

On 12 March, the First Minister set out his expectation that, subject to public health advice and to a continued reduction in infection rates, all learners will return to on-site learning after the Easter holiday from 12 April.

Schools, colleges and other learning providers should plan on that basis.

What does this mean for exams and assessments?

For Vocational Qualifications, learners were able to access their college or training centre to sit the January WJEC examinations for the Health and Social Care, as well as BTECs. Learners who were unable to sit exams now should be able to do so in summer.

Most vocational qualifications are regulated by Ofqual as well as Qualifications Wales, and Ofqual has recently consulted on arrangements for awarding vocational qualifications in 2021. The arrangements will apply to most vocational qualifications taken by learners in Wales. 

Following its consultation, Ofqual has provided clarity on what the approach to assessing and awarding the different types of vocational qualifications will be in Wales, England and Northern Ireland.  There will be 3 broad categories:

  • qualifications similar to A levels or GCSEs, such as BTECs, WJEC Vocational Awards and Applied Certificates and Diplomas will be awarded using a centre determined grade; and learners should receive their results no later than learners studying GCSEs or A levels
  • qualifications that support progression to further study or employment but are not similar to GCSEs or A levels, for example Essential Skills Wales or ESOL. Exams and assessments for these qualifications can continue where it is safe to do so, remotely or in person. If learners are unable to take the assessment when they need to, then alternative arrangements will be available to give them every chance to progress
  • qualifications that are used to demonstrate practical skills, such as plumbing, construction, performing arts or hairdressing, will still need to be assessed before they can be awarded. Assessments for these qualifications should be continuing as normal where possible, although they may be held in a different way. In some cases assessments may need to be delayed until they can be carried out safely in line with public health guidance. 

Qualifications Wales has written to learners and centres to inform them of the arrangements for assessing and awarding vocational qualifications this summer, and will continue to monitor arrangements put in place for the assessment of qualifications in 2021.  Further information on specific qualifications is available from the relevant awarding bodies on the detailed arrangements for each of their qualifications and can be accessed from the awarding body websites.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning provides a combination of face-to-face learning and dynamic digital activities and content that facilitate any time/any place learning.

The Welsh Government has published a number of documents and guidance for the post-16 sector (further education, work-based and adult learning in the community), including the Covid-19 Resilience Plan for the post-16 sector, a framework and vision for the post-16 learning experience from September 2020 and blended learning guidance for post-16 providers.

College operations

Before 12 April 2021, which learners might attend the premises by reason of their vulnerability?

It is the responsibility of the college to identify which learners should attend college due to their vulnerability, and to make the necessary arrangements for those learners to attend college premises. In identifying vulnerable learners, the college should take account of the following principle:

  • all children and young people must be safe, seen, heard, nurtured and developing

The decision of identifying vulnerable learners should:

  • consider the impact of any restrictions on the learner’s emotional, mental and physical health, and educational development
  • consider how risks of not attending college could be mitigated through the most appropriate support for the learner
  • consider those who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home (for example due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study)
  • take account of the views of the learner, so their needs can be understood and delivered through the most appropriate support
  • learners should be prioritised for support according to decisions about their risks and benefits, and these risks should be regularly reviewed and monitored on a multi-agency basis

Learning providers should ensure that they have arrangements in place to monitor attendance by vulnerable learners, and that teaching and support staff know who is allowed to attend for this reason (with appropriate consideration for the learner’s privacy).  Attendance can be for learning support or wellbeing check-ins as well as formal learning delivery.

I should be going on a work placement as part of my course, will it still go ahead? 

For work-based learning, providers may resume centre-based provision of Traineeships and other employability provision. Traineeship learners who are currently on a work placement can continue, if the employer is open and the provider has completed a workplace health and safety check. Any new college or Traineeship work placements should not commence at the moment. We anticipate that new work placements will be able to start after Easter. 

For learners on adult employability programmes, work placements specifically designed to result in job outcomes with that employer can continue at the present time, if their employer is open and the provider has completed a workplace health and safety check.

Contact your college or training provider if you have questions about this.

I’m an apprentice and have been in touch with my training assessor over the last few months online and by phone, can they come into my workplace to do reviews and assessments?

Assessors can visit workplaces to carry out assessments, but should continue to do other interactions like check-ins, reviews and learning delivery remotely wherever possible until after Easter.

Will Education Maintenance Allowance or Welsh Government Learning Grant payments still continue?

Yes, colleges are allowed to continue EMA and WGLG (FE) payments for eligible learners during the COVID-19 pandemic, at their discretion. Learner absence for reasons of illness, self-isolation or college closure can all be treated as authorised absences. Please contact your college if you require more information.

Learners can apply for EMA for academic year 2020 to 2021. The deadline is 31 August 2021, however, please be aware that the timescales for processing applications may be a little longer than usual. Applications can be downloaded from Student Finance Wales or contact your college to ask for an application form.

Please remember that EMA payments can only be made for school and college term times. EMA payments are paid fortnightly.

WGLG (FE) applications for academic year 2020 to 2021 must be received by Student Finance Wales within 9 months of starting your course. Applications can be downloaded from Student Finance Wales or contact your college to ask for an application form.

WGLG (FE) payments are paid termly.

I’m due to go on work experience soon as part of my school or college course, will that still go ahead?

Work experience will not go ahead at this current time but the situation will be kept under review. You may be able to reschedule your work experience for a later date, but at this stage it is still too soon to set firm timescales for this.

Face coverings

Will I have to wear face coverings or personal protective equipment (PPE) when I’m at college?

Face coverings must be worn by staff and learners in all areas where two metre social distancing cannot be consistently maintained (except when eating and drinking). This includes when moving around the premises, such as in corridors and communal areas. This should form part of a provider’s risk assessment. 

Face coverings should be worn by all learners when travelling on dedicated home to college transport (unless there is a medical exemption).

Providers should be aware of, and sensitive to, legitimate exemptions, such as people who have disabilities or other complex needs which means that they cannot correctly use a face covering, or those who are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who is deaf or has any level of hearing loss. Providers should put systems in place, such as the sunflower lanyard, to ensure that exemptions can be signalled and staff know when and how to challenge those not using face coverings.

Your college might also require you to wear PPE in some cases, for example if you’re studying a course which involves contact with other people. You can choose to wear a face covering at all times in college if you prefer to. Your college will be able to give you more information on when and where face coverings or other PPE should be worn.

You can see more information on our face coverings page.

Will personal protective equipment (PPE) be made available to college staff?

Physical distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene (catching a cough or sneeze in a tissue or covering the mouth and nose with an elbow or sleeve and then washing your hands) remain strongly evidenced to be the most effective ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus. There is no need to use PPE when undertaking routine educational activities in colleges or centres.

Providers should carry out risk assessments for vocational and work-based delivery and should use appropriate industry-standard PPE, where necessary, to help reduce the risk of infection. This will be necessary for “close contact” industries in particular, and for employed learners such as apprentices.

Where learners are based in any workplace and if work-based learning practitioners visit, they must adhere to the rules on wearing face coverings in indoor public places as appropriate to the workplace.

Ventilation

What are colleges and training providers doing to ensure adequate ventilation of classrooms?

Ventilation is a key mitigation measure to control the far-field (greater than two-metre) transmission of COVID-19 by aerosols between people who share the same indoor space.

Providers should ensure adequate levels of ventilation. Where centralised or local mechanical ventilation is present, re-circulatory systems should be adjusted to full fresh air. If this is not possible, systems should be operated as normal.

Ventilation should commence ahead of the start of the day and continue after classes have finished. 

For further information, please refer to the HSE guidance on ventilation systems.

Staff and learners defined as clinically extremely vulnerable – previously known as ‘shielding’

I am a lecturer or member of staff who was shielding. Am I expected to return to college?

People who are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, because they have particular existing health conditions, will have received a letter from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, advising them that they should no longer attend work or learning outside the home.  This is particularly the case for those whose work requires them to be in regular or sustained contact with other people, or where individuals share a poorly ventilated workspace for long periods.

The Chief Medical Officer confirmed on 12 March 2021 that, from 1 April, advice to the clinically extremely vulnerable to follow shielding measures should be paused. Please refer to the Guidance on protecting people defined on medical grounds as clinically extremely vulnerable.

If a learner or staff member lives in a household with someone who was previously shielding, they should closely adhere to the social distancing measures when they attend their college or learning centre.

I am a learner who was shielding. Am I expected to return to college?

People who are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, because they have particular existing health conditions, will have received a letter from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, advising them that they should no longer attend work or learning outside the home.  This is particularly the case for those whose work requires them to be in regular or sustained contact with other people, or where individuals share a poorly ventilated workspace for long periods.

The Chief Medical Officer confirmed on 12 March 2021 that, from 1 April, advice to the clinically extremely vulnerable to follow shielding measures should be paused. Please refer to the Guidance on protecting people defined on medical grounds as clinically extremely vulnerable.

A learner whose parents, carers or siblings were previously shielding, can attend college but should closely adhere to the social distancing measures when they attend their college or learning centre.

I am a member of staff classed as at ‘increased risk’ of contracting the virus, what are my options regarding attending work?

In the context of COVID-19 individuals at 'increased risk' are at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19. This category includes people aged over 70, those who are pregnant and those who have a range of chronic health conditions. The advice to staff in this group is the same as it is to the wider population. This group should continue to closely follow the guidance on social distancing and hand and respiratory hygiene.

Adults in this category should continue to attend work as long as the work place is COVID secure, but should continue to work from home if they can. Staff should satisfy themselves with the COVID secure measures their employer has put in place in the work place should strictly follow social and physical distancing rules. Colleges should continue to carry out risk assessments and put in place controls to minimise risks, such as the need for frequent and thorough hand washing, surface hygiene and cleaning and one-way systems. If anyone has concerns they should discuss these with their employer, occupational health and their GP.

Cross-border travel

Can I travel across the England/Wales border to attend college?

Cross-border travel to attend education is permitted.

Travel into England to attend college, e.g. in Herefordshire and Shropshire, is allowed providing colleges in England are open for face-to-face learning. The advice for staff who work at colleges in England and therefore travel over the border, is that they can continue do so.

Learners who live in England but study in Wales, can travel to college, providing they are part of the priority groups of learners allowed to return to face-to-face learning from 15 March.

Testing for COVID-19

How will the COVID-19 testing for college staff and learners work and when it will be available?

It was announced on 5 February that all staff working in education and registered childcare and play settings, will be offered twice weekly routine testing, and will have access to Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs) which will enable them to undertake a test for coronavirus at home twice a week. The LFDs provide a result within 30 minutes and don’t require a laboratory to process. 

The test is for those who do not have coronavirus symptoms. If staff have coronavirus symptoms, they should self-isolate and arrange to have a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test (which can be booked online or by calling 119). 

The offer will now be extended to all learners in school years 10 to 13 and all learners in FE colleges. College learners will be able to access LFDs should they choose to undertake regular twice weekly asymptomatic testing.

Our latest frequently asked questions on testing are available.

Vaccinations

When will college staff receive the vaccination?

In Wales, we are working to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority schedule. The JCVI is the expert body which advises all four UK governments, and the priority schedule of vaccination we are working to is the same as the schedule for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The JCVI has set out that the priorities for the vaccination programme should be the prevention of deaths relating COVID-19, and the protection of health and social care staff and systems. College staff and other key workers will be immunised depending on what age and risk category they fall into. The priority list is published on the website.

I work with Independent Living Skills (ILS) learners or learners who have Additional Learning Needs (ALN), will I receive the vaccination?

College staff whose role is to provide intimate personal care for some of our most vulnerable learners with complex medical needs, were  included as part of the priority list, along with social care workers, in the vaccine roll out, and should by now have been invited by the Local Health Board to receive their vaccination.

Please refer to the Covid-19 vaccination guidance for advice on what to do if you think you might have been missed.