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GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS EXAM PLAN

The education secretary has unveiled the government’s plan for teachers in England to decide this year’s GCSE and A-level grades. With exams cancelled by Covid-19, educators can use mock exam results, coursework and essays to determine pupils’ final grades. To help inform the final grades, schools can also require pupils to sit test papers in each subject. There will also be an option for pupils to sit full exams in the autumn.

In a bid to avert the chaos surrounding last year’s results, Gavin Williamson confirmed there would be no algorithm to calculate grades. Results will also be released earlier to give time for appeals before pupils decide on university places. A-level figures will be announced on 10th August, with GCSEs following two days later.

Last year, thousands of A-level students were handed results by an algorithm that were then downgraded, before the exams watchdog Ofqual allowed teachers to use their own predictions. Responding to this year’s plan, which doesn’t include any fixed shares for grades or any requirement for schools to keep in line with previous years’ results, the Education Policy Institute think tank highlighted the risk of “extremely high grade inflation”. Visiting a school in Lancashire yesterday morning, Boris Johnson described the plan as a “good compromise”.

STURGEON HITS OUT AT CRITICS

Scotland’s first minister has reacted angrily to criticism of the way she and her government handled an investigation into complaints of sexual assault made against her predecessor Alex Salmond. Sturgeon, who succeeded Salmond as leader of the Scottish National party (SNP) in 2014, said Salmond had now adopted a “scorched earth policy” that could see the country’s legal institutions sacrificed at the “altar of the ego of one man”.

In 2019, a judicial review of the Scottish government’s botched investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Salmond found in his favour. He has subsequently accused Sturgeon and her allies within the SNP of trying to imprison him. In evidence submitted to a new inquiry into the botched investigation, Salmond has claimed senior party figures – including Sturgeon’s husband, SNP CEO Peter Murrell – orchestrated a conspiracy to destroy his reputation and have him jailed.

Sturgeon has also been accused of misleading the Scottish parliament about when she first learnt of the allegations against him. If that accusation is found to be true, she will face pressure to resign as first minister. Salmond is due to appear today before the committee leading the inquiry investigating the government’s handling of the allegations. He has previously been awarded more than £500,000 by a civil court that deemed the government to have dealt with the complaints in an unlawful manner.

#QOTD
QuoteOfTheDay
My fear is that, as a populist government, giving money away is always easier than collecting it in.

Former Conservative chancellor Philip Hammond, calling on the government to tell the public “some difficult home truths”. Speaking to the BBC, Lord Hammond of Runnymede said he broadly agreed with Rishi Sunak’s Covid-19 financial support measures but the time had now come for the current chancellor to change tack. Hammond wants the Tories to abandon some “extravagant” policies from their 2019 election manifesto and focus on rebalancing the nation’s finances: “Not all of those commitments can now sensibly be delivered on and that’s going to be a big challenge for a government that regards its short-term popularity as very, very important.”
 
Hammond is not the only former Tory minister offering his successors advice in the runup to next week’s budget. David Cameron told CNN that tax rises next week “wouldn’t make any sense at all”. Former Brexit secretary David Davis, who is still a serving MP, said he will vote against the budget if it contains significant tax increases. Within parliament there appears to be serious opposition to the possibility of Sunak raising corporation tax from 19% to up to 25%. Davis is part of a group of Tory MPs from the front and backbenches who are considering a rebellion, while opposition leader Keir Starmer has also argued against tax rises while the country is still emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Other News...

US APPROVES SINGLE-SHOT VACCINE

Regulators in the US have deemed the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to be safe and effective. Trials showed it prevented serious illness and was 66% effective when including moderate cases of Covid-19.

The vaccine, which can be stored in a fridge rather than a freezer, would be cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines already approved in the States. It could be authorised for use across the country in a matter of days. Johnson & Johnson is ready to supply 100m doses to the US by the end of June; the UK, EU and Canada have also already ordered doses.

TESTS & MASKS NOT COMPULSORY IN SCHOOLS

Schools minister Nick Gibb has said pupils will not be required to take Covid-19 tests twice a week or wear face masks in class. He told the BBC face coverings would be “highly recommended” and pupils who do not take regular tests will not be excluded from school as a result.

Clarifying the government’s position, Gibb advised: “We do expect and we hope that most students, the vast majority of students, will volunteer to have these tests twice a week and then, after the third test, there will be home testing kits for those students.” He also highlighted the other measures that would be in place to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission, including “hand hygiene, the cleaning of surfaces, the ventilation, staggered lunchbreaks and play times”.

4G PHONE OWNERS COULD GET PAYOUT

Which? has accused phone chip producer Qualcomm of overcharging handset manufacturers, who then passed the extra costs onto consumers. The watchdog is suing the American chipmaker for taking unlawful advantage of its dominant position in the patent licensing and chip markets.

Although Qualcomm has described the case as having “no basis”, Which? is seeking damages on behalf of anyone who has bought an Apple or Samsung 4G smartphone since 1st October 2015. Chief executive Anabel Hoult said: “We believe Qualcomm’s practices are anti-competitive and have so far taken around £480m from consumers’ pockets – this needs to stop.” If Which? wins the case, individual consumers could be entitled to up to £30 compensation.

BIDDING WAR FOR ROYAL INTERVIEW

ITV is leading the race to broadcast the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey next month. Channel 4 and Channel 5 are also believed to be interested, but the BBC has ruled itself out of the running. The interview, which will be aired in the US on Sunday 7th March and in the UK a day later, was recorded last week at the couple’s California home, just before the Queen took their royal patronages and military titles away from them.

The 39-year-old duchess, who recently announced she was pregnant with their second child, has said that “nothing is off limits” in the chat with Winfrey. It is understood she will begin the programme speaking about life as a royal before her husband joins her to discuss their move across the Atlantic last year and their future plans.

PRINCESS LATIFA APPEALS FOR UK POLICE HELP

Dubai’s Princess Latifa has asked police to investigate the kidnap of her older sister from Cambridge in 2000. Aged 18, Princess Shamsa was forcibly taken from the English city back to Dubai and has not been seen in public since. Latifa wrote to Cambridgeshire police requesting action in 2019 in a letter that has now been passed to the force by her friends.

The force has told the BBC it will consider the letter as part of the “ongoing review” of the case that began last year after a high court judge found that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum had abducted his two daughters and held them against their will. Latifa’s case made headlines last week when an episode of Panorama aired videos of her describing being held “hostage” by her father since she made her own escape attempt in 2018.

Have You Heard?

Seventeen years after the 263rd and last episode of Frasier aired, the hit 90s show is being rebooted. A spin-off from Cheers starring Kelsey Grammer as a snobbish psychiatrist and radio show host, Frasier ran for 11 seasons and won five straight Emmy awards for outstanding comedy series. A launch date for the new series is yet to be confirmed, but it will initially run on the Paramount+ streaming service in the US. Grammer has revealed the show will no longer be set in Seattle and it is not clear whether he will be rejoined by co-stars David Hyde Pierce or Jane Leeves.

Picture Of The Day
Mount Etna erupts, Sicily
Mount Etna erupts, Sicily (Source: Source: BBC / Photo: Getty)
Europe’s most active volcano has erupted again. On the Italian island of Sicily, Mount Etna has been lighting up the sky with hot lava fountains since earlier this week. Such eruptions have occurred fairly regularly since Etna’s last major outburst in 1992. Local geophysicist and volcanologist Stefano Branco commented: “We’ve seen worse.”