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Universities have no excuse for cancelling face-to-face teaching

Universities have no excuse for cancelling face-to-face teaching and students should complain to the watchdog if they feel short-changed, the Education Secretary has said.

Nadhim Zahawi said higher education students who are paying £9,250 in annual fees should complain to the Office for Students to get an ‘explanation’ because schools and colleges are being taught in person.

Durham university announced labs and practical classes will continue in person, but all other teaching will take place online and Queen’s University Belfast has also told students that most lectures, seminars and tutorials are also being moved online.

Mr Zahawi said he has an ‘expectation’ for universities to ‘deliver face-to-face education’ as it emerged more than 100 institutions have also moved their lectures online.

He told The Sunday Times: ‘I want to repeat that my expectation of universities is that they deliver face-to-face education.

‘They need to deliver it and if students feel they are not getting value for money they should take that up with the Office for Students.’

Mr Zahawi said Britain would have to live with coronavirus for at least another five years and although the Omicron variant represented a ‘big bump in the road’ we have to ‘get back a world where students are getting value for money and face-to-face education’.

A spokesperson for Universities UK told MailOnline: ‘Universities in England are doing all they can to prioritise in-person teaching and learning at the start of term, and continue to work closely with health authorities and relevant government departments to keep students and staff safe.

‘All institutions are continuing to take steps to manage the virus, including implementation of the Plan B measures such as the use of face coverings, regular asymptomatic testing and having outbreak plans agreed to prepare for any spike in cases – such as support for students who need to self-isolate.

‘Universities have strongly encouraged vaccinations with uptake in the student age population well above the national average. UK is in contact with government to ensure universities are able to do everything they can to support the enhanced booster programme announced by the Prime Minister.’

He said higher education students who are paying £9,250 in annual fees should complain to the Office for Students to get an 'explanation' because schools and colleges are being taught in person© Provided by Daily Mail He said higher education students who are paying £9,250 in annual fees should complain to the Office for Students to get an ‘explanation’ because schools and colleges are being taught in person

A King’s College London Spokesperson added: ‘We are teaching in person this semester, which begins on Monday 17 January. As stated in our latest update to students, we are planning for in person teaching to take place on campus from that date as originally timetabled.’

Durham University issued the statement: ‘It continues to be our policy to deliver a high-quality, in-person teaching and learning experience. Last term we offered a fully in-person experience and we firmly plan to have the same this term.

‘The health and safety of our students, staff and the wider community remains our priority. We want to manage our teaching and learning environment as safely as possible, given rising infection rates both locally within North East England and nationally.

‘We have, therefore, introduced temporary Covid-controls for the next two weeks as we manage the current wave of Omicron infections. This will enable a short transition period to test on arrival and assess the prevalence and degree of required self-isolation in our community.

‘In week one, all labs and practical classes will continue with existing robust Covid mitigation measures, and all other teaching will take place online. In week two, we will reintroduce in-person small to medium sized group teaching while larger group teaching will remain online. We fully expect to revert to full in-person teaching following this transition period.’

Mr Zahawi, who is set to deliver his much-anticipated schools white paper in the spring, said he was determined to keep schools open and said ‘the best intervention is still vaccines’.

This comes as more than a third of schools have at least one in 10 teachers absent due to Covid reasons, as some students refuse to wear masks in class or take tests, according to unions.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said schools so far are largely managing staff absences well, but that education chiefs have warned of trickier times ahead.

A survey by the union found one in three school leaders are experiencing staff absence levels of over 10% as a result of soaring Omicron cases.

A majority (95%) have at least some pupils off for Covid-related reasons at the start of term – and 29% said they had more than 10% of their students absent.

Mr Zahawi admitted that staff absences are likely to rise in schools in the weeks ahead, amid warnings that heads should prepare for as many as one in four absences.

Mr Whiteman told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘Our members are doing everything they possibly can to keep the show on the road and to make sure face-to-face education continues.

The mandatory wearing of face coverings in schools and colleges was scrapped in May. Some were concerned that masks interrupted learning, but others warned they were necessary to suppress outbreaks. Pictured: children wearing facemasks at Outwood Academy in Doncaster in Yorkshire in March© Provided by Daily Mail The mandatory wearing of face coverings in schools and colleges was scrapped in May. Some were concerned that masks interrupted learning, but others warned they were necessary to suppress outbreaks. Pictured: children wearing facemasks at Outwood Academy in Doncaster in Yorkshire in March

‘Our survey of 2,000 school leaders this week tells us more than a third have 10% or more of their staff away for Covid reasons at the moment, but they’re managing that reasonably well, with only 7% of those having to collapse classes into larger classes, and just 4% sending children home.

‘That’s on absence rates of about 10%, and the government is warning everybody to expect absence rates of about 25%, so it’s going to be incredibly difficult.

‘But yet again what we can see is school leaders and their teams stepping up and rising to the challenge.’

The findings came as pupils returning to class after the Christmas break, with new advice for secondary school and college students in England to wear face coverings in classrooms.

However, a number of children are refusing to do so, according to another education union.

Original coronavirus-fighting measures deployed in English schools contributed to 1.1million children being stuck at home during the most disruptive days of the Covid pandemic.

Ministers said dropping face masks would improve interactions between teachers and pupils, while ending bubbles would ease disruptions to education.

Source: Dailymail.co.uk

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