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UCU response to government announcement on January college return

17 December 2020

UCU accused the government of creating more chaos for college staff and students by waiting until the last minute before announcing changes to students' return in January.

The union was responding to new government guidance to schools and colleges, which includes a delayed return in January and a Covid testing programme. The government has said it will provide Covid tests for colleges, but has not yet explained who will carry out the testing or how it will be resourced. A recent study showed that the type of tests that will be used have been found to miss up to half of Covid cases. 

UCU said moving online for the first week of January is the "bare minimum" the government needs to do to protect staff and students but the decision should have been made earlier. UCU said last minute changes create more chaos for overworked staff, and raised concerns over how the government will support staff and students working remotely. These concerns include the unreliability of the tests being used and how the testing will be funded and implemented. UCU said colleges are much bigger than schools and it could not see how testing could be scaled up in the government's time frame or who would safely carry out the tests. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The government clearly has not got this pandemic under control. A delay to in-person teaching is the bare minimum it should do to protect college staff, students and the wider public. We know that in-person teaching risks increasing the rate of transmission, so it beggars belief that the government has threatened legal action to keep classrooms open this week and has waited until the day before staff and students break up for Christmas to announce these plans. Staff who have been working hard all term now have to once again respond to last minute guidance that should have been decided months ago.   

'We have  concerns about the reliability of these tests. The results cannot be relied upon as the basis to reopen college campuses when studies have shown they are often wrong. Government needs to fully fund and resource this testing programme. Most colleges have thousands of students, it will be incredibly hard to put everything in place to test all of them by January, and it is unrealistic to expect untrained staff to be able to safely administer the tests.' 

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