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On 4 January 2021, the Government announced a third national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to the lockdown, students were expected to return to Further Education (FE) colleges on 18 January and Higher Education (HE) students were planning for a staggered return to campuses from 25 January 2021.

The lockdown rules prevented the majority of students from returning to campuses. Only HE students taking specific courses relating to key health areas, and FE students who were vulnerable, the children of critical workers, or taking vocational courses that were about to be completed where assessments could not be done remotely were allowed to return for teaching. The remainder of courses reverted to online delivery.

On 28 January 2021, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that colleges and universities would return from 8 March at the earliest.

On 22 February 2021, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a roadmap for ending lockdown restrictions in England. The roadmap set out that from 8 March all schools and colleges would be able to fully open, while students on HE courses requiring practical teaching and specialist facilities would also be able to return to campus.

Updated guidance was issued for FE and HE providers in March. The guidance widened the groups of HE students who could return to campus, and stated that the return of other students would be considered over the Easter break.  

On 13 April 2021, the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan announced that remaining HE students would be able to return to in-person teaching from 17 May at the earliest.

On 6 July 2021 Gavin Williamson announced the ending of all restricitions in schools, colleges and universities from 19 July.

This briefing paper discusses announcements affecting the FE and HE sectors in England from January 2021 and was correct at the time of writing.

Details of earlier Covid-related restrictions for the sectors and their impact are given in the following briefing papers:


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