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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 January

What are the arrangements for learners returning to college after half term?

The Minister for Education announced on 5 February, the prioritised return to face-to-face learning of some vocational learners in the post-16 sector after February half term. This is limited to those studying 'licence to practice' qualifications who must attend college to do so – not all vocational learners.  It is separate to the current exemption for vulnerable learners. There is a clear understanding and consensus that the initial cohort of vocational learners can only return on the basis of strict compliance with control measures. This will mean fully socially distanced delivery, with colleges and training providers managing the numbers on-site and in workshops in order to ensure social distancing at all times. 

Vulnerable learners will continue to have access to on-site provision, along with learners undertaking essential exams and assessments. This applies to work-based learning (such as apprenticeships) and adult learning too.

All other learners will continue working remotely until further decisions around the phased return to face-to-face learning are made. If you are not sure whether your qualification is included at this stage, please check with your college or training provider.

Why have you made this decision?

The decision to allow vocational learners studying “licence to practice” qualifications, including apprentices, to return to colleges after February half term is because this cohort of learners will need to access training or workplace environments in order to undertake their practical qualifications.

In this first phase of return, face-to-face learning and assessments must be delivered on a socially distanced basis. 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. 

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. 

Key proposals in the consultation included:

  • from April onwards, written exams should not take place for Vocational and Technical qualifications that are taken instead of, or alongside, GCSEs, AS and A levels. Alternative arrangements will be put in place to award these results
  • practical exams and assessments which are required to demonstrate occupational competence for employment and apprenticeships should continue to take place throughout the academic year where they can be delivered in line with public health guidelines, including remotely. Where they cannot be delivered safely, they should be delayed

Further details on next steps following the consultation will be published in later in February.

Qualifications Wales has written to centres, including an update on vocational qualifications and providing information on the content of the OfQual consultation; and Qualifications Wales will be continually monitoring arrangements put in place for the assessment of qualifications in 2021.

Will colleges be open to any learners?

Colleges will be open to vocational learners, including apprentices, undertaking “licence to practice” or other qualifications that cannot be delivered online, from 22 February. Colleges remain open for vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments.

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

When colleges are closed for face to face learning, 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? 

Any new Traineeship work placements should not commence, as part of our efforts to reduce non-essential travel and contact as far as possible. Traineeship learners who are currently on a work placement can continue for now, if the employer is open and the provider has completed a workplace health and safety check. This position will remain under careful review in light of the current infection rates and wider restrictions. 

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 go into workplaces for specific purposes i.e. to conduct assessments towards a learner’s qualifications. Other activities, such as reviews and “keeping in touch” should be done online.

What support will be available for learners who don't have access to computers at home?

Individual colleges and learning providers are taking action to help ensure that  learners can access e-learning, for example through loaning laptops to learners who do not have facilities at home. Learners should be able to get further information from their learning provider.

We have provided some funding to colleges and other learning providers to buy laptops and other equipment to help learners who don’t have their own.

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?

Under the current COVID-19 restrictions, work experience will not go ahead because we need to limit travel and contact as much as possible to help control transmission of the virus. 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 should be worn by staff and learners in all areas where it is difficult to maintain social distancing. This includes when moving around the premises, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained. This should form part of a provider’s risk assessment. 

Face coverings should also be worn on dedicated transport.

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) remain strongly evidenced to be the most effective ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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. Please refer to the guidance on protecting people defined on medical grounds as clinically extremely vulnerable.

In this first phase of return to face-to-face learning, under no circumstances should either staff or learners in the “extremely clinically vulnerable” category attend their college or learning centre. 

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. Please refer to the guidance on protecting people defined on medical grounds as clinically extremely vulnerable.

In this first phase of return to face-to-face learning, under no circumstances should either staff or learners in the “extremely clinically vulnerable” category attend their college or learning centre. 

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.

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). 

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 first 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 will be included as part of the priority list along with social care workers in the vaccine roll out.  We will give colleges more information about this over the coming weeks.