Learning and research environments
Key areas of mitigation in learning and research environments will include good ventilation, the appropriate use of face coverings as well as encouraging and providing the facilities for good hand hygiene and regular surface cleaning.
The Cabinet Secretary wrote to University and College principals on 15 November regarding their plans for in-person teaching moving forward, and includes the following guiding principles:
- at the current time, any increase in face to face interaction with people we don’t live with provides a chance for the virus to spread
- the strongly preferred position is for the sector to not make any changes next semester given real and increasing concerns over harm 1 and 2
- we recognise harm 3, and take that seriously. We are genuinely worried about it given the duration of restrictions, and note that the sector has introduced many mitigations, over and above the baseline required now we are operating in Beyond Level 0. Those measures, along with vaccines, have resulted in a successful return of students to university accommodation and campus life this academic year
- given harm 1 and 2 concerns as above, it is important that any changes are phased, very modest and are focused on groups whose qualifications/ progression are at risk without changes – as well as those who are particularly isolated or disadvantaged
- along with that, a commitment from institutions to increase adherence to existing Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (any increase in numbers using classrooms, etc will need to be taken into account for regular cleaning timetables, hand hygiene provision, and ventilation assessment) and vaccine uptake, with stronger messaging on the importance of regular testing (both asymptomatic and symptomatic)
- engagement with trade unions, staff and student representatives should be an integral and ongoing part of the process for determining an institution’s approach to in-person teaching/learning
Institutions should ensure precautions are in place so that students not fully protected by vaccines can take part in-person learning and research, together with wider student activities safely, including working with student associations. Alternatively, consider other ways of offering protection to ensure their safety and wellbeing, where that is reasonably practicable. For example, postponing the start of in-person learning and maintaining online learning in the first few weeks of term may be one way of achieving this.
As part of their overall approach to risk management, and calibrated to the restrictions across all society, colleges and universities should also consider the need, in specific circumstances, for limiting direct face-to-face learning involving very large numbers of students. In considering this, institutions will need to ensure that this is done without detriment to learning or the overall student experience.
Colleges are now able to facilitate the return of senior phase school pupils studying at college who require in-person provision for the 2021/22 academic year. All reasonable steps should be taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing students and staff, taking into account local circumstances.
As Community Learning and Development activity for youth work and adult learning is an essential part of the education system, it is expected that community facilities will permit access to organisations and groups working within this sector with the required baseline mitigation measures, provided for either by regulations or in guidance, being adhered to.