You will all be aware of the statement from the Prime Minister in the Commons on Tuesday 22 September, and his address to the nation later that evening.
Some of the new measures announced have implications for on campus services and activities for students, such as 10pm closing and restrictions on indoor sport. We and the Students’ Union have responded quickly to the changes. The Students’ Union have already adapted their events programme and are working with sport clubs and societies to help them develop activities which adhere to the new rules. Venue opening hours across campus have also changed.
With the first week of term now concluding, and teaching beginning next week, we have revised other aspects of campus life in response to feedback and concerns raised. We have expanded the role of marshalls for the largest class sizes (2% of our face-to-face, on campus, delivery), updated our expectations around the wearing of face coverings to require their use in all indoor spaces and introduced new coronavirus related fines for students who choose not to respect rules around areas including, but not limited to, social distancing.
We know that one of the reasons students come to Royal Holloway is because they value our campus experience. We want to continue to offer that, but only if it is safe and practical to do so.
Like the vast majority of the higher education sector, our decision to adapt all of our courses and move to a flexible teaching and learning support model was based on careful risk assessments of all spaces and activities. This gave us confidence that, with measures applied, we could provide a safe working and learning environment for all staff and students and allow everyone to access important resources and facilities. Measures taken include, for example, re-configuring all teaching and office spaces, venues and catering outlets, so that they can be used within appropriate social distancing guidelines; and additional measures have been installed such as screens. One-way circuits have been created where possible, signage and hand sanitisers installed to remind us to play our part to keep ourselves and each other safe. Not so visible are the changes in labs and for performance where new protocols have been created to ensure vital research and teaching can be conducted safely. QR codes have been created for our venues to support test and trace, this will, for a period, work alongside the NHS Test and Trace app launched yesterday (24 September). Individual health assessments are being undertaken and unique working practices agreed for many colleagues.
Our efforts mean that we now have NQA accreditation
, verifying that we have met relevant guidance and best practice to alleviate the transmission of Covid-19 in accordance with Government guidelines. Where we have not been able to create safe conditions in some smaller classrooms, we have withdrawn them from timetabling. We have launched a student app which makes it easier for students to access information digitally and we have partnered with the Students’ Union to support them to develop and deliver a safe, compliant and comprehensive programme of welcome activity for new and returning students.
Please be in no doubt; the health and safety of our staff, students and wider community has been and will remain our number one priority. With this in mind, the rise in transmission rates across the UK is a concern for all of us.
We designed our flexible teaching model to give students a combination of reduced face-to-face, on campus, and augmented online teaching and learning support as long as circumstances allow. In designing it, we considered the activities that matter most to students – and which are the most educationally beneficial and essential – and which were agreed to be so by Heads of School and their leadership teams. Where these essential activities could be conducted safely using social distancing – including retaining a 2m distance between staff and students – we prioritised these for face-to-face, on campus delivery.
We believe the current context and safety measures, including the requirement to wear a face covering indoors, social distancing, traffic flow control measures, and enhanced cleaning in places across campus, if adhered to, allow us to continue to provide teaching and learning support as currently timetabled. We are constantly monitoring the situation. The changes we have made this week, and outlined earlier, reflect our willingness to take swift and decisive action.
Our flexible teaching model allows us, in a managed way, to move some or all of teaching online and return to a blended approach as circumstances dictate. Some 80% of on campus learning activities are with groups of 30 or less. We have already staggered the introduction of on campus teaching for our largest classes at the start of term to give us time to learn the lessons of managing safe, socially distanced teaching with these larger groups.
Conscious that circumstances change, the sector has a four-tier model to move teaching online and we are holding a daily morning review meeting to assess the situation and take action to rapidly move to another tier. For example, if it becomes necessary to move from our current blended teaching model (tier one) to reduce face-to-face, on campus, activity we have contingency plans in place that will first move classes which have more than 30 students online (tier two). Ultimately, if required, we can move teaching to online delivery, with the exception of a few activities in specialist spaces which can be undertaken under much stricter health and safety regimes (tiers three and four). This graduated approach means we can reduce numbers on campus, while continuing to preserve as much of what we agreed is important to students and their learning outcomes.
We understand that some colleagues need to work from home for their own health reasons, or because they care for someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable. There is a formal process to agree this and for such staff we will be fully supportive, providing additional training for online working.
Our flexible teaching model means that for those academic colleagues who are delivering face-to-face teaching, on campus, during term one, the majority, some 88%, only need to come to campus one or two days per week. We have increased car parking capacity on campus by 25% so that colleagues who can drive and wish to avoid public transport may be able to do so more easily.
Finally, to assist the national effort in prevention, test and trace, we are promoting use of the NHS Covid-19 app
, and we would encourage all colleagues and students to download it. We have been approved by Public Health England as the site for a Covid-19 testing centre for at least the next six months. Local Testing Centres are approved and their establishment prioritised at a national level. We are awaiting confirmation on when a centre on our campus can be established by Public Health England, and more information will be shared when available.
None of us have experienced a start of term like this, and as we progress through the year we will need to be prepared to respond quickly and decisively to change. We have done all that we believe is possible to provide a safe working environment for us all. It is likely that, despite all of our efforts, some things won’t go quite to plan. Please be patient, tolerant and respectful of all colleagues and students as we all adjust.
Professor Paul Layzell