And English further education college

Covid-19 advice for FE staff

UNISON is working with colleges to ensure that staff are paid properly and treated fairly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We know that many staff will be worried and anxious during this time, and UNISON is doing everything it can to uphold your rights at work, guarantee your financial position and safeguard your health.

UNISON has produced some FAQs setting out the latest advice for college staff working in England and Wales. They cover pay, operational issues, health and safety, home working and Easter working.

Advice for staff in Scotland is available in the resources section below.

For more general information about your rights at work during this health emergency please visit our dedicated web page.

My rights at work 

If you have any concerns or other questions, please contact your local UNISON branch.

Find my branch

External sources of information

The Department for Education (England) has produced guidance for colleges:

The Association of Colleges (in England) has produced guidance for its members:

Colleges Wales issued the following statement for its members:

Jump to FAQs for college staff


  • Easter

    Will colleges be opening over Easter holidays? If so, do I have to come in, and will I be paid?

    Some colleges have indicated that they will be opening during what would normally be the Easter holidays in order to provide support for the children of critical workers. Some have also indicated that they intend to open seven days a week. UNISON is encouraging members to support the national effort to enable critical workers to continue working. However, we do not believe that staff should be forced to work outside their normal contracted hours, particularly if they have caring commitments of their own.

    Many staff in colleges are on term time only contracts. This means that they are not contracted or paid to work during college closure periods. If term time only staff are required to work outside their normal contracted hours, i.e. in the college holidays, then they should be paid for this. Staff will normally be paid at their standard hourly rate if they are working on what is a normal working day. We would expect colleges to seek volunteers in the first instance and to consider any booked holiday or caring commitments.

  • Operational issues

    Should my college be expecting all support staff to be in?

    Colleges are only open for vulnerable young people, and those whose parents are critical to the Covid-19 response and cannot be safely cared for at home.

    Colleges are generally responding to the fact that very low numbers of learners are coming into college and some are closing the entire site as a result. Other colleges are arranging rotas and schedules for support staff in order to provide safe care for those who need to attend, whilst minimising the number of people on site.

    Colleges should not be asking all staff to come in and undertake routine tasks. It would undermine the social distancing measures the government has ordered.

    I have been asked to provide cover for other roles, but this work will be very different to my usual roles at college. Where does this leave me?

    We know that support staff are absolutely committed to doing their part and UNISON is totally committed to doing all we can to support you, protect your finances and safeguard your health and wellbeing. There may be a need for staff to help with alternative roles, but this should be on a voluntary basis first and with proper support from your employer. If you have any concerns about any changes, please speak to your local branch.

    My manager is asking me to login remotely all day even though there isn’t much work for me to do. Can they do that?

    The key word here is ‘can’. Whilst a manager can make a request like this, UNISON does not think it is reasonable that they should. Managers need to maintain good relationships with their staff during this difficult time as they will be relying on them to get colleges up and running again once the crisis is over. If you feel your manager is making an unreasonable request like this, get in touch with your rep or branch who will be able to help.

    My manager is micro-managing me, what should I do?

    There is no reason why a manager should micro-manage at any time and particularly at a time when we are all worried about what is happening. You should first raise this issue with your manager, they may not realise how their behaviour is affecting you.

    If you do not feel comfortable doing this, or the situation does not change once you have raised it, then contact your UNISON rep who will be able to advise you on the best course of action.

    I have booked annual leave and I am not allowed to cancel it.

    We are in an unprecedented situation at the moment. UNISON branches up and down the country are in negotiations with your employers about how to rectify this issue. We are reminding colleges of their responsibility to maintain good relationships with staff.

    One issue that makes it difficult to find a reasonable solution at this current time is that we do not know when colleges are going to get back to normal. Rest assured we will work to find a fair and reasonable solution to this issue.

    We were due to be inspected by Ofsted (in England) or Estyn (in Wales). What is happening now?

    Ofsted/Estyn inspections will not be taking place and Ofsted/Estyn will not be responding to complaints about individual colleges at this time. The only exception is when Ofsted/Estyn believe there is a safeguarding risk.

    My college is in the middle of a restructure and/or redundancy consultation. Should this be put on hold?

    We are in a middle of a global health emergency and college support staff are in the front line with others in the battle to help beat this virus and help save lives. Absolutely nothing should detract from this effort and UNISON is therefore calling for all redundancies, restructures, TUPE transfers and non-urgent disciplinaries to be put on hold. The battle to save lives must come first.

    The Further Education Commissioner, who is responsible for overseeing college finances in England has stated that staff welfare is of paramount importance and colleges should not be thinking about restructures at the current time.

  • Health and safety

    I am being told that I have to go into work to support key workers’ children but my partner is in the vulnerable group. Can I say no?

    You should raise this with your manager and explain the situation. The current government advice is that vulnerable groups must be protected. There should be very few key workers’ children in college since the government has made it clear that sending them into college should only be a last resort if no other options are available.

    Most colleges should have enough staff to cover the very few learners who will be on site without putting anyone at unnecessary risk.

    Will tests for Covid-19 be carried out for staff and learners still in colleges? 

    Currently, testing is limited to those admitted to hospital with symptoms. The government is expanding the number of tests being carried out daily. UNISON is pushing for all frontline public service workers to be tested. At the moment, if you or learners at college are displaying symptoms of Covid-19 it is crucial that you are not at college and follow government advice on self-isolation.

    Our college doesn’t have adequate supplies of hand soap and sanitiser. How can we work safely?

    It is incredibly important that learners and staff have access to soap and warm water or sanitiser to wash your hands as this is a key recommendation to protect ourselves from the virus. The college must provide adequate supplies of soap/ sanitiser for all staff and learners. Ask the employer to increase the supply as a matter of urgency. Stocks of soap should be checked and replenished before the start of every day and hand sanitiser should be made available in classrooms and at reception.

    Who should be cleaning the college given the heightened levels of risk and what provisions should be made for their safety?

    Those employed to clean the college should be provided with the correct equipment. This will include Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves and appropriate cleaning solutions along with instructions.

    See our detailed advice.

    What should happen in a deep clean situation when there has been a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19?

    In this situation the employer should do the following:

    1. Conduct full risk assessments
    2. Contact the Local Health Protection Team for advice and support
    3. Ensure only those fully trained and equipped with the relevant protective equipment are involved in any deep clean. A specialist cleaning team may have to be established.
    4. Provide the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including appropriate face masks for those responsible for decontaminating the college
    5. Notify all staff and keep them updated on any development.

    See our detailed advice.

    Also see the link to the government advice on Covid-19: cleaning in non-healthcare settings.

  • Home working

    What happens if the remote working arrangements I have been given don’t work? Will I still be paid?

    Make sure that you let your manager know that you are unable to use the remote working arrangements. If a solution cannot be found to enable you to work remotely then you must follow the government order to stay at home.

    UNISON is working hard to ensure that college staff are treated fairly and are paid during this time.

  • Pay

    If I have to self-isolate will I still be paid?

    Colleges should be making every effort to ensure that their staff receive full pay. Colleges in England and Wales set their own contractual terms and your local UNISON rep or branch can help you to check yours. As a minimum all employees in colleges will receive at least 80% of their full pay through exceptional government funding that is available specifically for this purpose.

    I work for a catering or cleaning contractor in the college. What will happen to my pay?

    Private outsourced catering cleaning companies are still being paid by the college, so the contract staff should be fully paid. Also, UNISON believes contractors need to comply with the same procedures as the college in this emergency, otherwise this could undermine attempts to reduce the spread of virus.

    I am an agency staff member. Will I still be paid during this emergency period?

    The college should at the minimum pay you to the end date of your assignment. In addition, some colleges have already committed to continue full pay for agency staff, in line with directly employed staff, during the entire health emergency. Agency staff will, alongside other college-employed staff, play a vital role and UNISON is arguing that you should be kept on full pay during this period.