Issue 113 | January 2021

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On 4 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that England would go into its the third national Coronavirus lockdown the following day. Schools, colleges, and universities were closed to most students and GCSE, A-Level and most vocational and technical (VTQ) exams scheduled for the Summer of 2021 were cancelled. On 11 January, the Department for Education (DfE) published guidance for colleges that remained partially open. This was updated on 21 January and can be found here:

Some questions and answers covered in the DfE guidance and various other government updates published this month (January) is given in the sections below:

Who can attend college during the lockdown?

Only vulnerable students and children with at least one parent who is a critical worker are allowed to attend college. Definitions of ‘critical worker’ and ‘vulnerable children’ are given below:

  • Critical workers are defined as those whose work is critical to keeping vital services operational during the lockdown. Interestingly, these include staff involved in Brexit transition work. Colleges are allowed to seek clarification of a parent’s critical worker status.
  • The definition of ‘vulnerable’ has been expanded to include those students who ‘…may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home’, because of, for example ‘…lack of devices, connectivity or quiet space to study’. The guidance says the decision on whether a young person is vulnerable will be ‘…based on local discretion and the needs of the child and their family’.

More information on provision for vulnerable children and children of key workers can be found here:

Although no doubt well meant, the change in the definition of ‘vulnerable’ has resulted in a large increase in the numbers attending colleges, and in particular those located in deprived areas. College leaders say that having so many students back on site is undermining efforts to reduce transmission of the virus and will lead directly to greater infection rates, affecting the least well off the most. They also say that staff have been placed under increased pressure, since in addition to delivering lessons online to those who can’t attend, they are also having to deliver face-to-face teaching for the increased numbers who now can.

Other students should normally be taught remotely, but here are still variations to this. One change in the guidance says that students who need access to specialist equipment or facilities for their studies should no longer automatically assume that they can attend college. Colleges should first try to make alternative arrangements for them. In January students were allowed attend college to take vocational and technical (VTQ) examinations (e.g. BTEC exams) where they had prepared for them or needed competency assessments to gain a license to practice (e.g. gas fitting). The DfE says all exams and assessments scheduled for February and March should be delayed unless absolutely necessary, and only then if they can be conducted in a Covid-safe environment. More information about which students can attend college can be found here:

Will students and staff who attend college in person still be tested for the virus?

Initially, the DfE said that the existing requirements for the provision of testing would remain in place for those staff and students physically attending college. Testing to be carried out included:

  • Weekly lateral flow testing for staff
  • Two lateral flow tests, three to five days apart, for students
  • Daily lateral flow testing for staff and students if they have been in a close contact with a positive case.

The DfE guidelines for testing were published in a handbook on 4 January, which can be found here:

Then, on 20 January, Public Health England (PHE) suddenly recommended that the roll out of the daily testing programme in schools and colleges should be paused. The reason given for this is that the new variant of the virus has higher transmissibility and infection rates in all settings, including in school and colleges. PHE says the pause will enable ‘…further evaluation and modelling work needed to understand the impact of daily contact testing’. However, PHE also recommends that, if possible, colleges should continue to test their staff twice weekly and to test students twice on returning to college. The DfE has accepted PHE’s recommendation. The PHE announcement can be found here

What advice is given for clinically vulnerable students and staff?

Extremely clinically vulnerable staff and students should not attend college during the lockdown. These individuals will be identified through a letter from the NHS or a specialist doctor. Clinically vulnerable staff and clinically vulnerable students eligible to do so can continue to attend college but should follow the rules to minimise the risks of transmission. Pregnant staff are classified clinically vulnerable. Updated guidance for pregnant employees and their employers was published on 13 January and can be found here:

What are the DfE’s requirements for providing remote education for students who can’t attend college?

Students who are not allowed to attend college should be taught remotely. This is now a mandatory requirement. The DfE says that colleges should identify a named senior manager to take overall responsibility for the quality and delivery of the college’s remote education, who should also ensure that students and parents have all the information they need and that this was published on the college’s website by 18 January. Colleges should deliver as many of the planned course hours as possible and provide regular feedback to students on their progress. The latest DfE guidance can be found here:

On 12 January, the DfE published a framework for colleges for delivering remote education. Unlike the mandatory requirement to deliver remote education, the use of the framework is voluntary. The framework invites senior managers to allocate a self-assessed score of between 1 and 5 for the leadership, safeguarding, level of student engagement, and the curriculum planning and delivery of their remote provision. They are then asked to discuss their findings and prepare and implement an improvement plan. A copy of the framework for colleges can be found here:

Colleges can also access government funding for one of two digital education platforms for the delivery of remote education. The DfE says the platforms have been purpose-built for the delivery of remote learning and will allow students to continue with their education during the lockdown by enabling teachers to:

  • Communicate directly with their students and deliver live lessons via video calls
  • Record virtual lessons
  • Let students work together through supervised group calls
  • Continue with students’ formal assessment and provide personalised feedback to students via video or within shared documents
  • Set up separate virtual classrooms for smaller groups of students
  • Develop structured file and folder storage for different users

Colleges can choose to use either:

  • G Suite for Education (Google Classroom)
  • Office 365 Education (Microsoft Teams)

And colleges have until the end of March to claim the funding. More information on this is available here:

What about disadvantaged students who don’t have laptops or tablets?

On 12 January, the DfE announced that a further 300,000 laptops and tablets were to be provided, taking the total to 1.3 million at a cost of £400 million. The DfE also said that from this month students in colleges will also be eligible to be included in the roll out. The DfE press release on this can be found here:

Students will be eligible to receive a device if they are aged 16-19 and are in receipt of free meals, or are aged 19+, have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and are also in receipt of free meals. Colleges can state a preference for the type of device to distribute to eligible students. Details can be found here:

The DfE has also encouraged colleges to provide disadvantaged students with laptops though their 16-19 bursary fund allocation, although college managers say that this has been inadequate to meet the level of demand. In addition, the DfE has encouraged colleges to loan out their own laptops. For adults aged 19+ deemed to be disadvantaged, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has changed its adult education budget (AEB) funding rules for 2020/21 to enable colleges to purchase devices for them.

What help is there for disadvantaged students to access to the internet?

Colleges can request support for disadvantaged students to access the internet via the government’s ‘Get Help with Technology’ scheme. According to Ofcom, for around 880,000 families in the UK, their only connection to the internet is via a mobile device, and many will have data limitations. The DfE says that it is working with UK mobile network operators to provide free data to disadvantaged families until July 2021. Service providers currently supporting the scheme include Three, EE, Tesco Mobile, Smarty, Sky Mobile, BT, Virgin Mobile, Vodafone and O2. The amount of free data offered varies by provider, but Three and EE say they will provide unlimited free data. The DfE also says that it is providing free 4G wireless routers and dongles to help with internet access. Families should not make a request directly to their mobile provider. This should be done through colleges, that will need to obtain the name of the account holder, mobile number, and service provider. Further details of how to access support can be found here:

The BBC also produces educational programmes as part of its charter remit. In this third lockdown the BBC has increased the scale of its provision and now televises three hours of educational programmes each day. It also delivers education content for all ages (including those age 16+) online through its ‘Bitesize’ learning initiative. Customers using BT Mobile, EE, and Plusnet can access BBC Bitesize content from the end of January without using up any of their data allowance. More mobile companies are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks. More information on BBC’s Bitesize provision can be found here:

What about HE students?

Except for those on critical worker courses, HE students in universities and colleges are required to stay at home and teaching will be delivered online until at least mid-February. Critical worker courses include healthcare, veterinary science, and initial teacher training. The latest DfE guidance can be found here:

What about students with special education needs and disabilities (SEND)?

The DfE says that students with special education needs and disabilities who are not extremely clinically vulnerable can continue to attend college, where they wish to attend, and it is safe for them to do so. The latest DfE guidance on this was published on 18 January, and can be found here:

The Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA) is a registered charity operating in England that offers free and independent information, advice and support for SEND children and young people and has also produced a very useful and comprehensive guide. This can be found here:

What are the rules on wearing face coverings in college?

The DfE says face coverings should be worn by staff and students when moving around outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.

What college data returns are required by the DfE during the lockdown?

The DfE has notified colleges that, from 11 January, the requirement to complete the daily Educational Setting Status (ESS) return has been suspended. For those who may have never heard of the form (like me), the DfE has previously required colleges to use the form to submit daily information on:

  • Levels of student attendance
  • Whether the college is fully open, closed or partially open
  • Numbers of vulnerable children and children of critical workers attending
  • Remote education arrangements
  • Free school meals provision arrangements
  • Staff absences.

The DfE now says that it is updating the form to reflect the new lockdown position and will shortly notify colleges about the new ESS form to be used and the date that colleges should resume submitting it. For those sufficiently interested, more information on the current ESS form is available here:

Presumably to make sure that college staff don’t get too much time off from form filling, on 13 January the ESFA published updated guidance for FE providers on its record keeping and retention information requirements. This can be found here:

What about apprentices?

The DfE guidance says that young apprentices who are vulnerable or the children of key workers can continue to receive on-site face-to-face training and assessment. This must be done in small groups and with social distancing in place. Other apprentices should only attend in person in exceptional circumstances and only if premises are Covid-secure. The latest DfE advice for those providing apprenticeships during the lockdown can be found on the apprentice service website here:

What about disadvantaged apprentices who don’t have laptops or tablets?

On 11 January, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills in England, Gillian Keegan, said that disadvantaged apprentices would not be provided with laptops or tablets by the government. This, she said, was because they are employees, and it was the responsibility of their employers to provide them with the necessary equipment. In response, many employers and independent apprentices training providers said they would not be able to afford to pay for the devices and if they were forced to do so, this would lead to apprenticeship redundancies. Presumably, this wouldn’t apply to ‘White Hat’, an independent apprenticeship training provider recently valued at £147 million which is part-owned by Euan Blair, the 37 year-old son of Tony Blair, and which so far has made him £73.4 million (see here). Two days later, on 13 January, in another U-turn, it was confirmed that the government would provide free digital devices for disadvantaged apprentices aged 16-19 in receipt of free meals, or aged 19+ with an EHCP and in receipt of free meals.

What about Ofsted inspections during the lockdown?

Ofsted had previously announced that monitoring visits to colleges and other providers with requires improvement and inadequate grades, and to new apprenticeship providers, would resume in January. However, on 12 January Ofsted announced that visits will now take place remotely over the period commencing 25 January until after the February half term. More information on this can be found here:

Are education settings really safe?

The Coronavirus Infection Survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published on 22January shows that at the end of December, one in 27 secondary-age children and one in 40 primary-age children was infected with the Coronavirus. In London, this rises to one in 18 secondary pupils and one in 23 primary pupils. Of these, young people aged 14-18 were shown to have the highest transmission rates. This has reinforced concerns about the safety of educational settings. The ONS data can be found here:

On 13 January, education trade unions and sector representative bodies sent a joint letter to the Health Secretary for England, Matt Hancock, the Education Secretary for England, Gavin Williamson and the Vaccinations Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, calling for front line education staff to be included in the second wave of vaccinations. This, said the letter, would help fully reopen education settings as soon as possible. The signatories to the letter included the Association of Colleges (AoC), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), the University and Colleges Union (UCU), the National Education Union, the GMB, Unison and Unite. A copy of the letter can be found here:

The DfE response was to say that priorities for vaccination are determined by the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) but that there was a very strong case for front line education staff, along with the police, ambulance, fire, transport and other key workers, to be moved up the priority list.

When might schools and colleges in England fully reopen again?

Lockdowns have been shown to damage young people’s education (and, in particular, that of disadvantaged young people). They have also increased safeguarding risks and have damaged some young people’s mental health. Speaking on Sky News on 21 January, Gavin Williamson said that it was the government’s objective to fully reopen schools and colleges soon as possible, hopefully by Easter. He said that there was likely to be a phased return depending on the level of infection in each area, but that schools and colleges would be given two-week’s notice of the date when they should fully reopen. The government is now under increased pressure from MPs and sector representatives to produce a road map for school and college reopening and to specify the conditions needed for this to happen.


Following his announcement that GCSE, AS and A-Level exams and most vocational and technical qualification (VTQ) assessments in 2021 were cancelled, Gavin Williamson said that Ofqual had been asked to develop alternative arrangements for assessing and awarding grades this summer and to consult with the education sector and other key stakeholders on their proposals.

On 13 January, Mr Williamson wrote to the new Chief Regulator for Ofqual, Simon Lebus, setting out his own proposals for what should be included in the consultation. These included the following:

GCSE, AS and A-Level exams
  • Students should only be assessed on what they have learnt. This will need to be balanced against the need to ensure a reasonable coverage of the curriculum.
  • Teachers should assess their students. Algorithms should not be used to standardise the grades they award. However, teachers’ judgements should be supported by robust evidence.
  • The consultation on what evidence should be used to help determine a teacher’s assessment of a student’s grade should include a consideration of the use of externally set tests.
  • A teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade should be made as late as possible in the academic year to maximise teaching time and to ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education.
  • Any student who doesn’t believe their grade reflects the standard of their work should be allowed to appeal. However, changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion.
  • A plan needs to be developed for private candidates (e.g. home schooled children) to get a grade.
  • Other equivalent qualifications, such as core maths and the International Baccalaureate, should have a similar approach to that taken for GCSEs and A-Levels.
VTQ exams and assessments
  • Remaining January VTQ exams can go ahead where providers judge it is right and safe to do so. (This decision was left to individual providers. Some colleges cancelled VTQ exams and assessments and some went ahead with them as scheduled).
  • VTQ exams and assessments scheduled for February and March should be delayed. (Some assessments in which a student is required to demonstrate the professional competence required to enter directly into employment, e.g. gas fitting, can proceed, but only if absolutely necessary, and with protective measures put in place to ensure they are conducted within PHE guidelines).
  • Ofqual should consult on proposed alternative arrangements for those VTQ exams and assessments that are delayed.

A copy of Mr Williamson’s letter to Mr Lebus can be found here:

Mr Lebus swiftly wrote back to Mr Williamson on the same day, basically saying that he agreed with all of Mr Williamson’s guidelines for the consultation. A copy of Mr Lebus’s letter can be found here:

No doubt having taken due note of Mr Williamson’s comments, on 15 January Ofqual published their proposals for alternatives to holding exams this summer in two consultation documents, The first covers GCSE, AS and A-Level exams, while the second covers VTQ exams and other applied general qualifications. The consultations close on 29 January, giving those who wish to do so 2 weeks to respond.

Ofqual’s proposals for awarding GCSE, AS and A-Level grades include the following:
  • Grades should be based on teachers’ assessment of the standard at which the student is performing and should draw on a broad range of evidence of a student’s work (e.g. homework and project work).
  • The final assessment for grades will be made towards the end of the academic year, at about the time students would have taken their exams.
  • Exam boards should provide training to help teachers make objective and consistent decisions.
  • Exam boards should make available a set of test papers for teachers to set their students as part of their assessment. The tests could use materials from past exam papers.
  • Exam boards should sample teachers’ marking of tests as part of the external quality assurance process, to help support consistency within and between schools and colleges and help with appeals.
  • All students (including private candidates) should be able to appeal their grade.
  • The timeline for awarding grades should be as follows:
  • Students should continue with their education during this academic year (face-to-face or remotely).
  • Students should be assessed by their teachers in a period beginning May to early June.
  • Teachers should submit grades to the exam boards by mid-June.
  • External quality assurance (EQA) by the exam boards would be ongoing throughout June.
  • Results should be issued to students once the EQA process is complete, most likely in early July.
  • Student appeals should be submitted immediately following the issue of results and would first be considered by schools and colleges.

This consultation document, along with details of how to respond, can be found here:

Ofqual’s proposals for awarding VTQs and other general qualification include the following:
  • VTQs grades awarded in 2020 by teacher assessment (in a similar manner to grades awarded to GCSEs and A-Levels) should be determined by teacher assessed grades again in 2021.
  • VTQs that require a practical assessment to demonstrate occupational competency or a licence to practise can continue to take place, but only if absolutely necessary and can be conducted safely and in compliance with the latest PHE coronavirus guidance.
  • Assessments should be delayed if there is no way to deliver them safely. Given the rapid spread of the virus, very few VTQ assessments, if any, should be carried out in February and March.
  • Under the existing Extended Extraordinary Regulatory Framework (ERF) introduced in October 2020, awarding organisations have had the flexibility to adapt their assessments and qualifications to mitigate against the disruption the pandemic has caused. Ofqual will issue a revised ERF which:
  • Allows awarding organisations (AOs) to continue to offer adapted assessments and to develop an approach to awarding qualifications on the basis of incomplete assessment evidence.
  • Expects AOs to be mindful of the burden this approach places on centres and learners, and to provide clear and timely advice and guidance.
  • Requires AOs to issue certificates (where appropriate) as normal and to not refer on the certificate to a result having been determined under the extraordinary regulatory arrangements.
  • Requires AOs to include private learners in their arrangements as far as possible.
  • Expects AOs to consider and address the risks around possible malpractice.
  • T-Level core exams should not go ahead as planned. Instead, they should be held in 2022.

The consultation document, along with details of how to respond can be found here:

What about the assessment of apprenticeships?

On-site apprenticeship assessments in February and March should be delayed unless absolutely necessary. Where this is the case, they must be conducted in a Covid-secure manner. The latest DfE guidance on delivering and assessing apprenticeships during the lockdown can be found here:

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) has produced details for how apprenticeships could be assessed during the pandemic and says that the temporary ‘flexibilities’ put in place last year will remain in place until at least the end of August. More information can be found here:

Examples of how apprenticeship assessment flexibilities have been applied thus far can be found in IfATE’s first External Quality Assurance (EQA) Report, which can be found here:


GCSE English and maths: The November 2020 GCSE English and maths results were published on 14 January. An analysis of the results reveals that:

  • There were 48,896 entries in English Language (compared with 50,057 in November 2019).
  • 4% of candidates achieved at least a grade 4 (up from 33.2% in November 2019).
  • There were 60,359 entries in GCSE mathematics (compared with 52,967 in November 2019).
  • 9% of candidates achieved at least a grade 4 (up from 27.1% in 2019).

More details on the November 2020 GCSE English and maths results can be found here:

A-Level results:  Results for A-Levels taken (or retaken) in November were published on 17 December. Entries were low compared with November 2019, at around 20,000. Students sat their exams between 5 October and 23 October. Ofqual also says that the grades awarded in November were based on examiner judgement rather than teacher assessment, but to be fair to students taking exams in the autumn series, arrangements were put in place with exam boards to carry forward the ‘generosity’ of grades awarded in the summer of 2020.

Analysis of the results show that:

  • 84% of A-Level entries were from students who already had a summer grade in the same subject.
  • Of these, almost 50% improved their A-Level grade.
  • Students who received grade A or A* in the autumn exam series was 29.7%compared to 38.1% in the summer of 2020.
  • The percentage receiving C or above in the autumn series was 71.7%. In the summer this was 87.5%.

Further details of the autumn series A-Level and AS-Level results can be found here:

A comparison of 2020 GCSE and A-Level results with previous years can be found here:

Ofqual has updated its guide for students to help provide answers to questions they might have about their GCSE and A-Level results. This can be found here:


On 21 January, the DfE published the long anticipated White Paper on FE reform entitled ‘Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth’. The White Paper sets out proposals for a total of 35 changes to the way the FE sector in England is organised, funded, governed, and held accountable. The main proposals (which will be consulted on before becoming law) are outlined below:

Putting employers at the heart of post-16 skills:
  • At a national level, overarching government decisions on FE will be informed by expert advice on the labour market and national skills gaps provided by the new Skills and Productivity Board.
  • At a local level, Local Skills Improvement Plans will be developed. Employers and employer associations will be given a central role in this, working closely with colleges and other providers. The plans are intended to shape local technical skills provision so that it meets local labour market skills needs. The Plans will be piloted in designated ‘Trailblazer’ areas before wider rollout.
  • The pilot areas will be able to access a share of £65 million from a new Strategic Development Fund. This will be used to support colleges to reshape their provision to address priorities in the Local Skills Improvement Plan. The Strategic Development Fund will also be used to establish Business Centres within colleges to enable them to work with employers on business development and innovation.
  • Post-16 technical and higher technical education and training content, along with VTQs will be aligned to employer-led standards set by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE).
  • More effective participation in English, maths, and digital training will be supported to meet employers’ needs and to enable young people and adults to progress in employment or further study.
Providing the advanced technical and higher technical skills the nation needs:
  • In the White Paper, the government says it will ‘…end the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, and that further and technical education is the second-class option’.
  • In addition to enabling adults to access a free Level 3 course in subject areas deemed to be necessary by employers, the proposed flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement to an equivalent of four years of post-18 education will be made available, but not until 2025.
  • More emphasis will be placed on developing higher technical education and qualifications (at Level 4 and 5) that provide the skills that employers say they need and lead to higher wages for those that hold them. Newly approved higher technical qualifications will be introduced from September 2022 supported by a government-backed quality mark.
  • Mechanisms will be developed to introduce modular provision in higher technical courses and to support credit transfer between institutions and courses.
  • Investment in college estate will continue to better support the delivery of higher technical courses.
  • Clear information on career options will be provided through occupational maps and wage returns data.
Support for outstanding teaching
  • A national recruitment campaign for teachers in further education settings will be launched. Initial Teacher Education will be based on employer-led standards.
  • High-quality professional development and support will be provided for current FE teachers. This will include a high-quality Workforce Industry Exchange Programme.
  • Funding will be focussed on delivering high quality outcomes from Local Skills Improvement Plans.
  • Funding will be simplified, and the introduction of a multi-year funding regime will be considered.
Accountability and governance
  • The governance of colleges will be strengthened. There will be a clearer understanding of what constitutes good governance and leadership. Individual colleges will be judged against this.
  • Emerging risks will be more closely monitored. New powers will be given to the Secretary of State for Education to intervene quickly in cases where there are problems that cannot otherwise be addressed (e.g. if colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes, or the local skills priorities for that area).

A copy of the White Paper can be found here:

  • Wave 2 capital allocations from the T-Level Capital Fund (TLCF) announced: On 13 January, the DfE announced that £48.5 million in capital funding would be allocated to the colleges that will be delivering T-Levels from September this year. The funding is part of the £95 million in capital funding earmarked for wave two T-Level providers and will be used for buildings refurbishment. The remaining capital is being held in a Specialist Equipment Fund (SEA) and will be allocated to providers next month (February). Further information on the SEA is available here:
  • Wave 3 TLCF applications invited: Also, on 13 January, the DfE announced that colleges and other providers involved in delivering the third wave of T-Levels in September 2022 were invited to bid for a share of £135 million to help refurbish their premises and to pay for industry standard specialist equipment. The DfE press release on this can be found here:

And details on how colleges can apply can be found here:

  • Consultation delayed: Meanwhile a DfE consultation launched in October last year, asking for views on the proposal to remove funding from applied general qualifications (such as BTECs) at Level 3 and below, that compete with T-Levels and A-Levels has been extended to 31 January. A copy of the consultation document can be found here:

In its own response, published on 18 January, Ofqual says that the DfE should consider a delay of one year in implementing any changes arising from the consultation because of the already turbulent conditions arising from the Coronavirus pandemic. The Ofqual response can be found here:

  • T-Level Professional Development Programmes: The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) announced that ‘route specific’ T-Level Professional Development (TLPD) courses were now available to book. These are online courses which cover the first four of the T-Level routes, which are, Education and Childcare, Construction, Health and Science, and Digital. The courses are targeted at middle managers and frontline teachers and further details of the courses, along with information on how to apply, can be found here:
  • Online development programmes for governance professionals in colleges: The ETF has launched two new development programmes for governance professionals in colleges. These are full or part time employees charged with ensuring good governance practices within a college (e.g. a clerk to the corporation or a senior manager with corporate governance services as part of their job description). Delivered on behalf of the ETF by the AoC, the programme has two strands; one for those relatively new to the role and one for those with more experience. The first is an induction and mentoring programme, which is aimed at those who have been in their role for 18 months or less. Details are here:

The second is designed for experienced governance professionals looking to prepare themselves for more senior strategic roles. Further details can be found here:

  • The Apprenticeship Workforce Development (AWD) programme: This is a suite of eight online courses intended to provide apprenticeship trainers with teaching skills, subject knowledge and an understanding of apprenticeship assessment and accreditation. The courses are funded by the DfE and are available free of charge to participants. More information is available here:

The ESFA has published details of how 16-19 funding will be allocated in England in 2021/22. The ESFA says that allocations will be calculated using the 16-19 National Funding Formula. This mainly reflects student recruitment the previous year, but includes other factors such as student retention rates, higher cost subjects, disadvantaged students, and area costs. This is supplemented by an additional funding allocation for high needs students and student support. More information is available here:


The DfE has announced that schools and colleges in England will continue to be able to order products for any students who need them until December 2021. Further details can be found here:


The long term aim of the EU (and its predecessors) is the ‘ever closer union’ of member states towards an eventual political unification into a single federal state. A report produced by the European Commission in 1984 said ‘European unification will only be achieved if Europeans want it. Europeans will only want it if there is such a thing as a European identity’. To help develop a sense of European identity, in 1987 the Commission established a cultural exchange programme between member states for young people. One of the stated aims of the programme was the encouragement of young people to see themselves primarily as being citizens of Europe. This became known as the Erasmus programme, and in 2014 it evolved further into a new, expanded Erasmus+ programme. With an annual budget of around €30 billion provided from the central EU budget, the current Erasmus+ programme provides students from EU countries with increased opportunities to study for part of their degrees or to participate in other activities such as volunteering and work placements in other EU countries. Non-EU countries can also participate if they contribute towards the costs. The House of Lords’ European Union Committee produced a report in February 2019 which, given its heavily pro-EU composition, perhaps predictably recommended continued UK participation in Erasmus+ post Brexit. The report can be found here:

One of the main arguments made for maintaining membership of Erasmus+ was that the UK has received substantial funding from the EU for UK students to participate in the programme. In 2018 (the latest year for which figures are available), the UK received €62 million from Erasmus+ to enable 10,133 UK students to study for part of their course in other EU countries. Against this, 29,797 EU students used Erasmus+ funding to study in the UK. Since English is by far most popular choice for a second language for non-native speakers, this was the main reason most EU27 Erasmus+ students gave for choosing to study in the UK. More information on the Erasmus+ programme can be found here:

Those unconvinced of the benefits of continued UK membership of Erasmus+ argue that, since the UK’s financial contribution to the EU central budget has been around twice the level the UK gets back, any Erasmus+ funding received was simply our own money coming back to us. They also argue that the amount of Erasmus+ funding received by the UK was, as a proportion of population size, much less than that received by other EU countries. They go on to say that UNESCO figures show that more UK students choose to study in the US and Australia than in the rest of the EU combined. For details of this see here:

The government has now decided that the UK will no longer contribute to, or participate in, the Erasmus+ programme. It has instead set up a new global scheme that stretches beyond the EU called the Turing Programme (named for the computer scientist, Alan Turing). The government says that in 2021/22 more than £100 million will be provided to fund around 35,000 students from UK universities, colleges, and schools to participate in study and other activities abroad, and that disadvantaged backgrounds can be better targeted to participate in the programme. More information on the Turing programme is here:


The DfE is seeking views from stakeholders on whether to move to a post-results system for HE admissions (i.e. students apply for places after their exam results are known). The consultation is open until 13 May and the consultation document can be found here:


On 12 January IfATE announced that from the end of March, funding for the Level 7 senior leadership standard would be cut by 22% to £14,000. IfATE also announced that the MBA component of the apprenticeship would no longer be a mandatory part of the apprenticeship, although employers could still include it in the apprenticeship, if they could pay for it either within the new maximum funding band limit or pay for it from their own resources. More information can be found on the IfATE blog website here:


Almost two years after it was published, this month the DFE released an interim response to the Auger review of Post-18 Education and Funding. The DfE says that its final response will not be published until after the next Comprehensive Spending Review. Much of the interim response reflects government plans outlined in the FE white paper (see above). A copy of the DfE interim response can be found here:


The Kickstart scheme was announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak last July. Under the scheme, young people aged 16-24 who are receiving Universal Credit and who are deemed at risk of long-term unemployment are offered a six-month work placement during which they will be paid the National Minimum Wage for their age group by the government. National Insurance contributions will also be covered by the government. The scheme is backed by £2 billion of government funding and is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Employers wishing to offer placements are paid £1,500 for each placement to help with set up costs, however they must be prepared to offer a minimum of 30 placements. Currently, smaller employers wishing to join the scheme must do so through Kickstart Gateways, who will combine the applications of smaller employers and submit them on their behalf to the DWP, for which they are paid £300 per placement to cover administrative costs.

Over the period since the scheme started last September, around 120,000 placements have been found but thus far these have led to around 2,000 jobs, with the pandemic being blamed for the relatively small number. In addition, more than 600 organisations have been successful in becoming approved Kickstart Gateway providers. These include independent training providers, voluntary sector groups, employer representative groups (e.g. Chambers of Commerce) and colleges. However, it has been reported that some organisations that have been approved appear to have very little or no trading history, no tangible assets, no obvious relevant experience and some are even based outside of the UK. There have also been examples of approved Gateways keeping the £1,500 per placement intended for the firms providing the placements. Apparently, the DWP has become so concerned about possible malpractice that they have stopped taking any further applications from organisations wanting to become Gateway providers. Also, from 3 February, the DWP has ended the requirement for small employers to have to apply through a Gateway to join the scheme. Genuine Kickstart Gateway providers have expressed concern at this change since there may now be very little reason why small employers would need to use their services.


A student named Arthur was in the first year of a course at his local FE college. Despite having tried to burn the invite, Arthur’s parents nevertheless came into the college for a parents’ evening to hear about his progress. Arthur’s course tutor said she was very glad to see them but said that Arthur was simply a disaster. He was very badly behaved in class. He was rude to his teachers and was always upsetting the other students with his antics. He very rarely handed in his assignments on time, if at all, and when he did, he got very low marks. She went on to say that Arthur was, without a doubt, the most difficult and challenging student she had encountered in her entire teaching career. Arthur’s behaviour got worse as the course progressed and became so bad that eventually he was permanently excluded from college.

25 years later, Arthur’s course tutor was diagnosed with a serious cardio-vascular disease, Doctors told her that she urgently needed a heart transplant to save her life, but the surgical procedure required in her case was so complex there was only one surgeon in the country who had the knowledge and skills to perform it. Fortunately for her he worked at the same hospital. She underwent surgery the very next day and when she opened her eyes after the operation the first person, she saw was the surgeon, a man in his mid-40s smiling down at her. This man strangely reminded her of someone, perhaps an older version of someone she had known in the past, but she could not quite remember who it was. This troubled her and she wanted to thank the surgeon and to find out more about him and his past but was impeded by the oxygen mask she had on. Seconds later she became animated and looked up at the surgeon as if to say she had now realised who he was, but before she could say anything, she started having difficulty breathing, her face turned blue and she slipped into unconsciousness. The worried surgeon looked down at his patient, then something he could not explain made him turn around. And there, just inside the recovery room, stood Arthur. He was a cleaner at the hospital, and he had absentmindedly unplugged the patient’s oxygen supply so that he could plug in his vacuum cleaner.

Alan Birks – January 2021

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