Wednesday 21 October 2020

All staff and PGR email

COVID-19 update: DfE Tier 2 change

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to confirm that the University Executive Board (UEB) has assessed whether we should move to a higher Department for Education (DfE) Tier for our teaching and learning provision, and we have taken the decision to move to DfE Tier 2.

Why are we moving to DfE Tier 2?

This decision has been made in the context of the City of York’s recent move to local area Level 2 (High) status. Under DfE guidance, this local area Level change means we are required to review our position in the DfE Tiers. We have plans for each DfE Tier, across teaching and learning, research activities and wider campus activities, including students’ social and recreational activity.

In making this decision, UEB has worked closely with our Academic Contingency Group and Student Life Contingency Group, and consulted with our students unions and trade unions. We have also had a number of interactions with the City Council Public Health team since the change in the city of York’s local area status.

What does moving to DfE Tier 2 mean for teaching and learning?

In practice, this means the amount of online learning for most programmes will increase. Crucially, we remain committed that students able physically to attend campus have regular face-to-face learning opportunities within covid-secure teaching spaces. These will vary between academic departments, reflecting different teaching and learning needs and teaching methods.

As part of this decision, we will be moving to a 2m distancing standard for teaching rooms. Teaching laboratories, clinical teaching settings and performance spaces will continue to operate at 1m+ because there are additional risk assessments and mitigating measures already in place.

We have taken this position based on three main criteria: firstly, under public health assessment with City partners; secondly, reviewing our mitigations on campus, both in public health risk management terms but also the levels of confidence of staff and students in those mitigations; and finally, the challenging logistics of managing the teaching timetable for the different scenarios of delivering teaching to students in-person, students unable as yet to join us in York, and students temporarily in self-isolation.

In public health terms, we have no evidence of virus transmission in in-person teaching settings in York or indeed in the wider UK HE sector. Nevertheless, I recognise some staff and some students do feel uncomfortable with 1m+ mitigations, especially in the context of the number of cases in our community. This is why we will move to 2m as part of this DfE Tier 2 decision.

We also know there are major challenges in adapting to an unpredictable pattern of student self-isolation, which has led to different incremental and pragmatic changes to teaching delivery in our academic departments. Establishing a more managed situation under DfE Tier 2 and delivering an effective learning experience for our students is the most compelling reason for this change.

How will we transition to DfE Tier 2, and for how long?

We have identified a ‘transition’ week where most teaching will move online, with the exception of teaching that cannot be delivered online, such as those involving laboratories, performance studios and clinical activities, which will remain face-to-face.

The transition week will allow us to reconfigure teaching rooms to meet 2m distancing standards. It will also allow time for departments to review timetabling and online teaching arrangements.

  • This transition week will run from Monday 26 October to Friday 30 October.

  • We will move to DfE Tier 2 officially from Monday 2 November.

A formal trigger point to review our DfE Tier 2 position (whether back to Tier 1 or up to Tier 3) will be any further changes to the City of York’s local area Level (Medium/High/Very high) status, or any new or developing public health requirements within the University or our local area. We will continue to review this position, working closely with our partners in the City.

Principles for maintaining face-to-face teaching and learning

The results of our first student pulse survey, issued on Monday of this week, demonstrated a significant desire for a continued hybrid learning environment, with a strong preference for the retention of some face-to-face learning. Students value and appreciate the opportunities for face-to-face contact not only in respect of the educational experience, but also because it supports their broader health and wellbeing.

Therefore, we remain committed to offering to those students able physically to attend campus regular face-to-face learning opportunities within covid-secure teaching spaces. We are working with Departments to define exactly what this will look like and how this will work for their portfolio of programmes. Further guidance will be available later this week.

What does moving to DfE Tier 2 mean for research?

Most of the more complex implications of moving to DfE Tier 2 will be for our teaching and learning. Research activity on campus will continue with the necessary safety precautions in place. Many of our research staff have been working on campus for some months, so existing arrangements can continue, and Postgraduate researchers should continue to follow existing arrangements as well, with remote supervision where possible.

Our campus

Our campus and our student accommodation remain open. Staff and students will still be able to access facilities including the Library buildings and other study spaces, the campus supermarkets, and cafes and restaurants. There may be some changes to the services that they offer - details will be available on their websites. And outdoor social spaces including the Forest will continue to operate.

What it means for our students

Students are strongly encouraged to remain on campus and make the most of the opportunity for safe social interactions and any face-to-face teaching and learning benefits. We are writing to students to let them know about the move to DfE Tier 2 and that their Departments will be sharing more details.

Our community

I understand that this continues to be a difficult time for our University community and I very much hope we will be able to return to more face-to-face teaching soon in line with what students have told me about how important this is to them. As we continue to adapt to living with Covid-19, I would once more like to thank you all for the commitment, resilience and flexibility you have shown in working together as a community.

Best wishes,


Professor Charlie Jeffery