Here’s what’s changed in DfE’s Covid guidance for higher education
Paragraph one of the guidance makes clear that DfE’s penchant for framing universities as big schools hasn’t gone away by basically erasing mature students altogether:
Covid-19 continues to be a virus that we learn to live with and the imperative to reduce the disruption to children and young people’s education remains.”
And paragraph two reminds us in crayon that DfE is both rather keen on in-person teaching for those children, and less keen on meaningfully adapting the schools guidance to make it suitable for a higher education context:
Our priority is to support you to deliver face-to-face, high-quality education to all students. The evidence is clear that being out of education causes significant harm to educational attainment, life chances and mental and physical health.”
So apart from the mood music, what’s actually changed?
First of all, what was a longish paragraph on graduation ceremonies now simply reads:
HE providers should continue to conduct graduation ceremonies.
Thanks for that.
In the previous version, the section on face coverings read
Though no longer recommended, HE providers may still choose to use them voluntarily”.
That sentence has now been deleted.
What the guidance doesn’t say is whether higher education providers are able or allowed to go beyond the law on masks. Before you get going on those meetings making sense of all this on Tuesday morning, it’s not weird for higher education providers to have some rules of conduct that go beyond legal minimums. It’s just that that’s now up to you and no longer “suggested” by DfE.
A section on the twice daily cleaning of surfaces has been totally removed, with providers referred instead to generic advice on the cleaning of non-healthcare settings. At the time of writing that hasn’t been updated since 19 July 2021, and says that as a minimum, frequently touched surfaces should be wiped down twice a day.
So basically, the government still seems to want you to do your pointless hygiene theatre over an airborne virus, it’s just that that advice is now a few more clicks away.
“Outbreak plans” have now changed their name to “Contingency plans” and a clause has been added that reminds with a sledgehammer that “RESTRICTIONS ON FACE-TO-FACE TEACHING SHOULD BE A LAST RESORT”. Got it?
As noted last week, staff and students are no longer expected to continue taking part in regular asymptomatic testing and should follow asymptomatic testing advice for the general population. Testing sites on campuses and the ability to obtain lateral flow tests on campus have now gone.
For self-isolation, readers are told to read the old text until February 24th, after which they should refer to the advice on self-isolation from the UKHSA.
Again, what the guidance doesn’t say is whether higher education providers are able or allowed to go beyond the law on self-isolation. And again, before you get going on those meetings making sense of all this on Tuesday morning, it’s not weird for higher education providers to have some rules of conduct that go beyond legal minimums. It’s just that that’s now up to you and no longer “suggested” by DfE.
My own view on this is while enforcing mask wearing was a “debate” back last September, it is probably less easy for a university senior manager to say “it’s perfectly OK for a student or staff member to wander into campus with Covid symptoms and cough all over other students and staff because the government hasn’t told us that it’s banned any more”. To be honest, anyone senior attempting something similar to that is likely to sound quite stupid.
And anyway, students and staff are going to want clarity on whether Covid isolation absences count in various employment and education related policies, what the burden of proof will be, and so on.
And that’s about it. As with last Autumn, the government has moved straight from “we’re managing behaviour from Whitehall” to “individuals are managing behaviour” without an ounce of thought about the various settings and bodies in the middle that retain a responsibility to manage behaviour and competing views on freedom and (health and) safety.
There’s no time to do it, and the industrial relations situation isn’t ideal, but this would be a good time to be co-producing the new rules with staff and students, I reckon.