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Update from MRT: Planning for the short and longer term

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

Dear colleagues,

In our last email we explained our plans for the rest of the spring term, following the UK government's announcement of the roadmap out of lockdown in England. We have now had time to consider what may be possible in the summer term and we wanted to share this with you, along with an overview of our current planned approach for the autumn.

Summer term

The summer term starts from 19 April and we expect further guidance from the government by mid-April about whether we can offer any further face-to-face activities and welcome more students back to campus. While the vast majority of exams will be take-home online exams as previously confirmed, we hope to be able to offer more of our usual scheduled teaching/revision sessions on campus in the summer term (and over the summer months, where appropriate), if it is safe and we are permitted to do so. Any teaching activity on campus will, of course, need to be complemented by online sessions for those students who are studying at a distance.

In January, we took the decision to increase distancing in teaching spaces to 2 metres due to the uncertainty over the new variants of COVID-19, the high number of cases in the UK (triggering the national lockdown), and the colder weather. Prior to this, sessions had been timetabled based on the ‘1m+' principle - spacing students 1 metre apart with other control measures in place to minimise the risk, including wearing face coverings, maintaining good ventilation, and cleaning surfaces between uses.

The Major Recovery Team (MRT) has agreed to revert to 1m+ distancing for summer term teaching activities, given case numbers in the UK are continuing to decline, the progress with the vaccine roll-out, the weather is warming, and the impact of the new variants is now better understood and is being monitored through the national roadmap. This is with the exception of specialist spaces where alternative arrangements have been made as part of the relevant Risk Assessment.

Our control measures in the autumn term proved to be very effective, with no confirmed cases occurring in a teaching setting, and we will ensure these remain in place. Protecting the health of our community is, of course, our priority. It is also worth noting that the return to ‘1m+' has the positive benefit of reducing the need for repeat teaching. The commensurate reduction in workload should have a positive impact on staff wellbeing. As always, we will keep all our control measures under close review and will be prepared to adapt our approach as necessary.

For the rest of the current spring term, sessions will continue to be taught with 2 metre distancing in place. Distancing for all other activities (for example, in the Library and within offices) will also remain at 2 metres, until further notice.

If you have any queries or concerns about these arrangements, or other Health & Safety control measures in place, please do speak to your line manager or Health & Safety Co-Ordinator for further advice and support.

Autumn 2021 and the next academic year

While we are hopeful that the government's roadmap out of lockdown will be a success, this is dependent on a number of factors and it is important that we plan for a range of scenarios. It is possible that international travel will still be restricted in the autumn and we also need to be prepared in case the situation in the UK worsens with the onset of winter.

The University Executive Board (UEB) has confirmed that the autumn term will start as planned on Monday 27 September, with Welcome Week from Monday 20 September. This is with the exception of those programmes that usually start teaching earlier.

The Teaching & Learning Delivery Group is reviewing the 2020/21 Teaching & Learning Framework to create an adapted Framework for 2021/22 and identify changes that will reflect the changing national and local circumstances (with reduced infection levels and increasing numbers of people vaccinated), although recognising the considerations above around international travel and the ability to respond at short notice to any external changes. The aim is that the modified framework will provide a better experience for both students and colleagues, be informed by best practice, and with the intention to reduce the burden on colleagues' time. We will keep you updated when we can share more, including with our student community.

Health & Safety on campus

The current advice to work from home wherever possible is likely to stay in place until at least mid-June, when the government has indicated it hopes legal restrictions will be lifted. We will continue to share updates as and when the situation changes - particularly when we hear from the government about the summer term.

If you are currently working on campus, please remember to take a free lateral flow test twice a week, to give extra reassurance that you are not unknowingly carrying the virus. Our students are strongly encouraged to do the same and we would be grateful if you could remind students of this in any relevant communications.

Regular hand-washing, maintaining a distance from other people and wearing face coverings have all proved effective in reducing COVID-19 transmission, and continue to apply. Further guidance is available on our staff COVID-19 FAQs.

We hope this update has been helpful. If you have any queries about how these plans affect your work, please speak to your line manager in the first instance. Our COVID-19 Hotline is now running an email service and you can contact covid-hotline@reading.ac.uk.

Best wishes,

Julian & Dominik

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