COVID-19 advice for staff in colleges

UNISON is working to ensure that staff are paid properly and treated fairly, and that colleges operate safely in 2021/22.

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.

For 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.

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Colleges in England

UNISON advice applies to all support staff working in further education and sixth form colleges.

In August/September 2021 colleges are expected to resume a full timetable of face-to-face learning for all 16-19 year olds and many adult learners. This means that all colleges must now revisit their risk assessments to include new measures, including:

  • ‘bubbles’ are not required on site (they may be deemed necessary by local management plans in areas with a high number of cases)
  • contact tracing will be carried out by the NHS and not by colleges
  • face coverings are no longer advised but are recommended in enclosed and crowded spaces
  • good ventillation is needed and areas that do not have sufficient natural or mechanical ventillation should not be used as work areas
  • all staff and learners should carry out two lateral flow tests, 3-5 days apart at the start of term
  • no-one with symptoms should be on-site

UNISON has produced detailed guidance on conducting risk assessments to support branches and reps who are involved with this.

Our COVID-19 risk assessment

Colleges in Scotland

The devolved government for Scotland has announced beyond level 0 guidance that reflects the general lifting of many restrictions and the advice prepared to support Higher and Further Education bodies.

At the start of term (and beyond for those under 16), institutions are strongly recommended to implement a greater level of protective measures and FE colleges should ensure measures go further than the minimum necessary to keep people safe. These minimum measures are:

  • it will continue to be the law, subject to exceptions, that face coverings must be worn in indoor public places and on public transport
  • Test & Protect will continue to contact-trace positive cases. Anyone who is required to self-isolate will, if eligible, continue to have access to support
  • local incident management teams will adopt appropriate outbreak control measures
  • travel restrictions, as and when necessary, will be used
  • continue to advise home working where possible, recognising that some staff will start to return to offices in line with staff wellbeing discussions and business need
  • rigorous hygiene, including regular hand washing, will along with good ventilation, continue to be essential
  • continue to advise that, especially indoors, keeping a reasonable distance from people in other households and avoiding places that are crowded will minimise risk.

Colleges are expected to continue taking all reasonable steps to protect staff, outsourced workers, students, visitors and others from coronavirus. By law, institutions will continue to undertake appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment work, and involve trade unions in such work.

Colleges in Wales

The Welsh Government has published general help and guidance for further education providers and students. They have also published some specific safe operation guidance for post-16 learning providers.

In consultation with the trade unions, the FE sector has published an ‘operational protocol’ to support the return of staff to
further education colleges in Wales.

Colleges in Northern Ireland

The NI Executive has stated the following:

FE colleges return to face-to-face teaching for all students in the new academic year and as ‘normal’ an academic learning environment as possible with social distancing in the classrooms removed.

However, all other mitigations contained within the Framework for the Safe Resumption of On-Site Educational Provision and Related Activity must remain in place and should still be adhered to.  This includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • wearing face coverings at all times on site;
  • the continued use of good hand hygiene;
  • maintaining 2 metre social distancing outside the classroom environment;
  • ensuring that surfaces are regularly cleaned and sanitised;
  • risk assessments and safe systems of work should be updated in line with existing HSE guidance and to reflect today’s changes, before the re-opening of premises and activities conducted on and off premises;
  • continuation of the agreed track and trace procedures; and
  • continue with the provision of Lateral Flow Self Testing (LFT) at FE college campuses for staff and students.

Providers have been advised to continue to follow industry guidelines where appropriate.

Additionally, the Executive has agreed to change the rules on self-isolation and therefore track and trace procedures should be updated to reflect this.

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:

Advice for staff in Scotland is available at this link and in the resources section below.

Please note the FAQs below are currently being revised.