@EducationGovUK have updated their #FE operational guidance today (3 Apr). 

#Coronavirus (COVID-19): maintaining further education provision 

 Substantive changes have been made to the following sections of this guidance:

  1. Vulnerable young people
  2. Funding arrangements
  3. Ongoing learning arrangements and online learning support including additional information on online learning resources and amended support from provider associations.
  4. Inclusion of arrangements around audit

Operational guidance for further education (FE) providers on maintaining education and skills training provision.

1. Introduction

This operational guidance provides further detailed information on new arrangements and responses to questions for organisations delivering further education including general further education colleges, sixth form colleges, and other providers.

The guidance relates to the announcement made by the Secretary of State for Education on 18 March 2020 regarding cessation of classroom delivery for most learners due to outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). It also covers wider areas as announced over the past few days. The guidance will be updated and expanded as further information becomes available and in response to questions from colleges and other providers.

Guidance for apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations relating to the apprenticeships programme in response to the impact of COVID-19 is available.

For colleges in significant financial difficulties, the existing support arrangements remain in place including short term solvency support through emergency funding.

2. Changes to delivery

Colleges and other providers were asked to stop classroom delivery of education and training from Monday 23 March for all ages of learners. Providers are not however, being asked to close their doors and stop all delivery.

Colleges and other providers are being asked to continue to provide care for a limited number of children and young people including:

  • dependents of critical workers
  • vulnerable children and young people

3. Dependants of critical workers

Parents whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response include those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors outlined in maintaining educational provision.

We recommend you ask for simple evidence that the parent in question is a critical worker, such as their work ID badge or pay slip. It would be overly burdensome on key sectors at this critical time to ask employers to write a letter on behalf of their employees.

4. Information on vulnerable young people

The definition of vulnerable young people can also be found in the advice outlined in Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance on vulnerable children and young people.

We are clear that all colleges and other providers should have measures in place to support vulnerable learners.

To ensure vulnerable learners are protected, the government is asking colleges and other providers to remain open to these young people where possible. Special post-16 institutions should remain open to meet the need of vulnerable learners that cannot be safely accommodated at home.


Where it is not possible to remain open, we are asking providers to work with other providers in order to put alternative arrangements in place for vulnerable learners.

Whether or not colleges and other providers remain open, we are asking providers to maintain regular communication with social workers, vulnerable learners and their families to ensure that they know where their vulnerable learners are and that they are safe. Social workers will remain in contact with vulnerable learners and their families, including remotely if needed.

Further information on supporting vulnerable children and young people in educational settings can be found in the advice outlined in Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance on vulnerable children and young people.

Colleges and other providers should continue to comply with the Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance. Further information on safeguarding is outlined in Coronavirus (COVID-19): Safeguarding in schools, colleges and other providers.

5. Holiday opening

We are asking providers, wherever possible, to maintain provision for vulnerable learners and children of critical workers over the holidays.

Whether or not colleges and other providers remain open, we are asking providers to maintain regular communication with social workers, vulnerable learners and their families to ensure that they know where their vulnerable learners are and that they are safe. Social workers will remain in contact with vulnerable learners and their families, including remotely if needed.

If necessary, special post-16 institutions should remain open throughout the holidays to meet the needs of those learners that cannot be safely accommodated at home.

We expect that providers that remain open over the holidays to support vulnerable learners should be able to do so through flexibility in their staffing, and co-operation with other local institutions. We do recognise that this may put some providers under pressure, and we are keen to understand this further as we look at the overall support the sector requires.

6. Residential providers

We are expecting residential further education providers to keep their residential provision open where necessary, and decisions will have to happen on a case by case basis. It is especially important that residential providers remain open to those who have particular needs that cannot be accommodated safely at home, and those who do not have suitable alternative accommodation.

In collaboration with Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care, we have produced guidance on isolation for residential educational settings, including further education providers with residential accommodation and residential special colleges. This contains advice on managing the setting in the case of self-isolation or infection.

7. Funding

We recognise that the COVID-19 outbreak carries financial implications for many providers, and we are working to make changes where we can. We set out below the flexibilities we are introducing to support grant funded providers to continue to deliver learning.

To help manage the financial implications, we can confirm that the ESFA will continue to pay grant funded providers their scheduled monthly profiled payments for the remainder of the 2019 to 2020 funding year.

ESFA allocations for 2020 to 2021 have been confirmed, and payments will be made in line with the national profile which will be confirmed in the relevant 2020 to 2021 funding rules.

7.1 16 to 19 funding arrangements (grant-funded providers)

As we will use data from the 2019 to 2020 academic year to calculate 16 to 19 allocations for 2021 to 2022, the ESFA may need to apply a different approach to a number of elements within 16 to 19 funding. Where appropriate we will therefore use alternative data sources to calculate allocations for 2021 to 2022 to ensure as far as possible that there is not a disproportionate impact on funding.

The retention factor

If students are unable to complete their study programme as a result of COVID-19 and are recorded as withdrawn in end-year data this could impact on the retention factor used to calculate 16 to 19 allocations for 2021 to 2022. We will therefore review the data we use to calculate this as the impact of COVID-19 becomes clearer.

In year recruitment of students

We currently use the profile of recruitment throughout the year to determine the lagged student numbers used in 16 to 19 allocations. For providers who recruit students later in the year rather than purely at the beginning of the academic year, and whose enrolment of new students in the summer term will have ceased, we will determine a way to ensure this does not have an unfairly detrimental impact on future allocations. For example, we could still apply the current approach of identifying what proportion of student numbers were recruited after we take the initial data return in the autumn but use full year data from 2018 to 2019.

Student prior attainment in English and/or maths GCSEs

Three elements within the 16 to 19 funding formula use students’ prior attainment in English and/or maths. These are:

  • the condition of funding
  • disadvantage funding - block 2
  • level 3 programme maths and English payment

We anticipate that these will continue to be calculated as now following the alternative plans that have now been published to award grades to students in the absence of GCSE exams this summer, and so providers will still be allocated additional funding for young people with low prior attainment in GCSE English or maths. As further details are published for how the replacement for exams will work we will consider these elements in more detail.

Funding to prepare for and deliver T levels

Allocations have been made to providers who will be delivering the first wave of T levels in 2020 to 2021 based on planned T level student numbers. We have already published the approach for applying a tolerance where enrolment of T level students is below the planned number.

Due to the lagged student number approach, where the level of T level students recruited means the tolerance would be implemented, only the numbers above the tolerance would be converted to a full-time band 5 student. Read more about the tolerance in the How T levels will be funded in 2020 to 2021 guidance.

We will monitor the suitability of this approach over the coming months as we get nearer to the introduction of T levels.

7.2 Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), Adult Education Budget Funding (AEB) (grant funded providers) and advanced learner loans bursary fund

Year-end reconciliation

For 2019 to 2020 only, the ESFA will not carry out the final reconciliation for grant funded providers in receipt of ESFA funded AEB (adult skills, community learning, learner and learning support and 19 to 24 traineeships) and the advanced learner loans bursary fund. These providers will be funded in line with the current agreement schedule with no clawback.

Providers must:

  • continue to deliver learning online wherever possible including for ESFA funded AEB via existing sub-contracting arrangements to support existing learners to successfully complete their courses/qualifications or retain evidence where this is not possible
  • support furloughed workers to enhance existing or develop new skills

Where it is not possible to deliver online, for example where learning requires physical access to specialist equipment or materials, providers should keep and provide records of where this applies and keep evidence of efforts made to remain in contact with learners and prepare them for a return to learning in the future.

However, there will be exceptions for grant funded providers who had already forecast significant under-delivery in their mid-year returns for ESFA funded AEB and/or Advanced Learner Loans Bursary Fund, in advance of the impact of COVID-19. ESFA will contact affected providers to discuss their forecasts and potential clawback. We also reserve the right to clawback funds where it can be demonstrated that a grant funded provider has not sought to continue delivery wherever possible online or otherwise, either directly or for ESFA funded AEB through their existing subcontractors.

When planning ESFA funded AEB allocations for 2021 to 2022, we will consider how we set a fair baseline given our default position would have been to use funded delivery in 2019 to 2020.

7.3 Advanced learner loans

With regard to advanced learner loans, the Student Loans Company (SLC) will continue to make scheduled fee payments to all providers with a loans facility. Providers must continue to inform the SLC if and when a learner’s circumstances change.

7.4 Devolved AEB

From 1 August 2019, the AEB is apportioned between the ESFA and 6 mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the ESFA is no longer accountable for administering AEB in those devolved areas. The MCA or GLA will be responsible for agreeing arrangements with their providers in respect of devolved AEB.

8. Data collection and recording

8.1 Disruption to training

It is our priority to support learners and providers to continue with their learning online during this period, ensuring that where breaks in learning are required learners are able to resume their ‘classroom’ learning and continue to a successful completion, whilst maintaining quality.

8.2 Breaks in learning

ESFA funded AEB and advanced learner loans (including bursary fund) funding rules for 2019 to 2020 already make provision for ‘breaks in learning’ for a range of circumstances.

You and the learner can agree to suspend learning while the learner takes a break. This allows the learner to continue later with the same eligibility that applied when they first started their learning.

We are extending the current breaks in learning rules for ESFA funded AEB and advanced learner loans learners to allow a break in learning:

  • at the learner’s request where a learner is self-isolating, or caring for others affected by COVID-19 and is unable to continue by distance learning and/or on online offer
  • to be recorded where a provider is unable to deliver because of the impact of COVID-19 on their own business and there is no possible delivery by distance and/or online learning

Where some learning aims have been delivered this should be evidenced in the usual way. However, where a break in learning is now beginning or expected, providers should include these learners in their individualised learner record (ILR) submission and record breaks in learning as starting on the date of the last learning activity for the aim. It is likely that these aims will have been suspended knowing that it will be reviewed at stages over the coming months. Under no circumstances should the current planned end date be changed.

To record breaks in learning for COVID-19 reasons, providers should:

  • include these learners in their ILR submissions
  • record, retain and submit evidence in the usual way
  • record a break in learning in their ILR submission
  • ensure that the affected learners are not recorded as permanently withdrawn from their learning, by entering the ‘completion status’ field of the ILR as ‘6’, denoting that the learner has temporarily withdrawn from learning due to an agreed break in learning as a direct impact of COVID-19

9. Ongoing learning

We want learners to be able to continue to study. Colleges and providers are moving more learning online to allow students to continue with studies remotely. For some, this is an extension to their existing online provision whilst for others this is a new step. Two DfE grant funded organisations - Jisc and The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) - are well placed to advise and support colleges and staff online.

Jisc runs the Janet network which connects all FE providers across the UK and provides practical advice to college ICT staff on how to ensure continuity of teaching and learning.

Support available includes free content, blogs, and community support. The ETF’s Enhance Digital Learning Platform offers free training to teachers in how to use ed tech. ETF is also running webinars for FE providers on how to make the most of online learning.

Any strategy for ongoing learning will likely be informed by the needs of staff and students, and their home learning environments. Where possible, colleges should:

a) prepare staff on distance learning practice through bitesize or refresher training sessions focused on how to use college virtual learning environments (VLEs), communication tools and digital and non-digital resources

b) use tools already available at your college including physical and digital resources, and how to make use of cloud storage systems (e.g. Office 365 or Google G-Suite), ensuring staff and students have log-in details and know how to access online content

c) provide students with accessible guides on distance learning, focusing on where, when and how they are expected to engage and demonstrate their learning and how assessment and feedback will be delivered

d) consider provision for partnership working with the relevant agencies (including Health and Social Care) to help ensure support for vulnerable children and children with SEND

e) consider how you will deploy your staff to ensure safeguarding and security policies are maintained. The NSPCC provides guidance on how to work from home whilst adhering to these policies

f) consider lesson capture to allow students to dip in and out of lessons at their own pace

g) be sensitive and adaptive to the wellbeing and wellness of both students and teachers, recognising that health and caring responsibilities will disrupt the teaching delivery and learning journey for individuals during the closure period

We understand that what providers can offer will vary. Some colleges have already indicated they aim to run a regular timetabled offer of online learning, which is excellent practice if it can be reasonably maintained.

The local ESFA teams will also provide support and you can submit enquiries through the ESFA enquiries service.

Richard Atkins the FE Commissioner (FEC) and his team of highly experienced Deputy FECs and FE Advisers have offered their services to college leaders that would like to talk through plans, concerns and issues. Our pool of National Leaders of Governance (NLGs) also stand ready to offer any support they can. If you would like to arrange a phone conversation between yourself and a member of the FEC team or an NLG, please email: FECThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

We continue to collect examples of best practice and will share these through our usual communications channels.

9.1 Support from your provider associations

Provider associations are also offering information and links to resources on their websites:

  • Association of Colleges (AoC) can offer support and advice with questions relating to business continuity at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.AoC has also published guidance on governance
  • Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has collated guidance and support
  • Holex has produced a checklist for partially closing or closing an Adult Education Centre
  • Natspec is updating a regular briefing page
  • Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) have an Online Learning Hub with resources that will be updated on a regular basis

10. Examinations and assessments

No exams will be taking place in schools and FE providers this summer.

Our priority is to ensure that students and adult learners can move on as planned to the next stage of their lives, including starting university, college or sixth form courses, or apprenticeships in the autumn or getting a job or progressing in work.

For academic qualifications, Ofqual will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students. The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit, for each student, a set of evidence, which will include performance in mock results as well as their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.

Ofqual and exam boards will be talking to teachers’ representatives before finalising an approach, to ensure that the approach taken is as fair as possible. Ofqual has published further guidance on this on 3rd April.

There is a very wide range of vocational and technical qualifications as well as other qualifications for which students were expecting to undertake final assessment and/or sit exams this summer. These are offered by a large number of awarding organisations and have differing assessment approaches.

We recognise it is imperative students and the sector have information as soon as possible about assessment of these qualifications so they can plan accordingly. We are continuing rapid work with Ofqual to agree appropriate approaches for this range of qualifications and to ensure students are not disadvantaged.

We and Ofqual will provide further information as soon as possible.

11. Regulation, accountability and audit

We have suspended routine Ofsted inspections and FE Commissioner Intervention visits and non-critical ESFA intervention. The Secretary of State has allowed Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to do this.

Guidance from Ofsted has confirmed that urgent inspections where specific concerns have been raised can still go ahead. This will allow Ofsted to prioritise the immediate safety of young people where necessary.

11.1 Audit

Prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement of the new COVID-19 lockdown measures on Monday 23 March 2020, we made the decision to pause the start of any new routine funding audits for all post-16 providers for the short-term, as result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have now extended this pause to cover the period for, at least, the duration of the lockdown.

Where funding audits and investigations were already in progress, we have sought to complete the work, taking into account providers’ capacity to resolve any issues. We understand the challenges providers face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and have been sensitive to these challenges when contacting providers.

It may be necessary for the ESFA to contact providers during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to continue to maintain effective oversight and protection of public funds. Where such contact is necessary, we will continue to be sensitive to the challenges providers face as a result of COVID-19.

We will continue to monitor and review the situation in the light of the circumstances. When the COVID-19 lockdown measures are reduced and there is a return to office-based working across the country, we will assess when it is appropriate to restart routine funding audits.

12. Broader support to the community

Further education providers are major community institutions and have greater capacity and organisational resilience than smaller schools.

We know a number of colleges have already taken steps to support vulnerable learners, or the children of critical workers who can’t be supported elsewhere.

This is a hugely valuable contribution; colleges have a vital role to play in holding communities together and supporting our broader national response to COVID-19.


Maintaining education and skills training provision: further education providers



Follow this advice if you’re a:

  • post-16 further education (FE) provider
  • FE college
  • sixth form college
  • other FE provider

It explains what you’ll need to do during the coronavirus outbreak to maintain provision.

Published 23 March 2020
Last updated 3 April 2020 + show all updates

  1. Updated with latest guidance.

  2. First published.

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