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Update from MRT: Teaching in the spring term

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The following message was sent to all colleagues from Professor Dominik Zaum and Professor Julian Park, Co-Chairs of the Major Recovery Team (MRT).

Dear colleagues,

The health and safety of students and colleagues remains our top priority throughout the pandemic. Our Major Recovery Team has conducted a review of current Health & Safety measures on campus, to take into consideration the following developments:

  • the risk of increased transmissibility of the new strain of COVID-19;
  • an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, in the UK and in the Reading area;
  • the current national lockdown;
  • the potential increased risk given colder weather at the current time of year.

Last week, we shared information on the Staff Portal about new face covering guidance and the extension of testing in the SportsPark - colleagues and students on campus are strongly encouraged to take a Lateral Flow Test twice a week, ideally 3 days apart, in line with Public Health England (PHE) advice. Please take a moment to read this, if you haven't already.

In this email, we would like to explain a bit more detail about our decisions on face-to-face teaching for the remainder of the spring term. A similar email will shortly be sent to all students.

Teaching for the rest of the spring term

Since December there have been a number of changes to government policy, including the announcement from the government on 27 January that the current lockdown restrictions are extended and that universities cannot expand face-to-face teaching beyond the courses the government had already identified until at least 8 March 2021.

The new more transmissible strain of the virus has also emerged, meaning we have introduced some additional safety measures, such as extending all teaching space to 2 metre distancing for at least the rest of this term. This significantly reduces the capacity of our teaching rooms.

These developments since December mean that we need to make some further changes to how we deliver teaching for the rest of the spring term.

Teaching for: Education (Initial Teacher Training), Physician Associates, Pharmacy and Speech & Language Therapy

We will continue our blended teaching approach, including providing some face-to-face teaching for students taking those courses at Reading that the government has already identified. These are Education - Initial Teacher Training, Physician Associates, Pharmacy, and Speech & Language Therapy. This means that for students on these programmes no changes are being made from their current provision.

Teaching for all other programmes

In line with government direction, until at least 8 March 2021, all other teaching provision will be online only.

In December, we notified some students that they needed to be back on campus at the start of the spring term if their programme is one with placement, practical or studio activities that cannot easily be replicated online. We will prioritise some appropriate face-to-face provision of these activities for students on these programmes, as soon as possible after 8 March 2021, if the government permits it and it is safe for us to do so. Schools will write to students on these programmes by early next week.

For all other students, all remaining scheduled teaching sessions will continue to be delivered online only for the rest of the spring term. This will also help reduce the risk for our community, by minimising the number of people on campus and the number of students needing to return to Reading.

We understand that this will be disappointing to those students and colleagues who were looking forward to a return to face-to-face teaching, but we hope you will agree that the need to maintain safety measures now, and provide certainty for the weeks ahead, has to be our priority.

Assessment support package for 2020/21

We understand that students may be concerned about the impact of continued online learning on their academic performance. As outlined in our email to students last week, we have developed a suite of measures this year to ensure their academic achievements are recognised, taking into consideration any individual circumstances that may affect performance. Students can also use our enhanced Extenuating Circumstances process now if they feel the current circumstances are affecting their performance for a piece of assessed work, or later on in the year if they need to.

Our huge thanks to the many colleagues involved in continuing to adapt our timetable, teaching and assessments to take account of the impact of COVID-19. This is critically important to our students' learning experience, but we understand that this presents very real challenges. Your efforts are very much appreciated.

Social distancing in teaching spaces

Many of our teaching spaces on campus, particularly labs, are already set up to maintain 2 metres distance between people. Other teaching spaces, however, are laid out on the basis of between 1 to 2 metre distancing, with other mitigation measures in place to minimise risk, like increased ventilation, carbon dioxide monitors, and wearing of face coverings.

By keeping on-campus teaching to a minimum, we will have capacity to ensure any teaching taking place on campus will take place at 2 metre distancing, while retaining all existing control measures for extra safety. Given the information we have about the new variant, we feel this is a proportionate step to help keep our teaching spaces as safe as we reasonably can.

Halls licence fee waiver extended

The current licence fee waiver for students who are not staying in their UPP halls accommodation will be extended until Friday 16 April, or until their return to their accommodation if that is sooner. Further information is included in our email to students.

While we must await the government review of lockdown restrictions in mid-February, we hope that the information in this email provides you with a greater sense of certainty about the coming weeks and months. Clearly, getting on top of the virus now will provide us with the best possible chance of restrictions being loosened for the summer term to allow more in-person interaction.

If you have any questions about how this relates to your particular role, please speak to your line manager or, for colleagues in Schools, your School Director for Teaching and Learning as appropriate. And please also remember all of the support resources that are available for you on our Wellbeing pages.

Best wishes,

Julian & Dominik

 

Professor Julian Park & Professor Dominik Zaum

Major Recovery Team Co-Chairs

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