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Gavin Williamson has defended his approach to England’s exam system


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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is facing calls to quit over his “shambolic” handling of A-level results.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran branded the Cabinet minister “out of his depth” as she urged him to step down for causing “untold confusion and distress” to pupils in England.

And Labour are calling on the Government to emulate its Scottish counterpart and rely on teachers’ predicted grades instead of marks moderated centrally in the wake of exams being cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

A-level results released on Thursday show that 35.6% of marks in England were adjusted down by one grade, with a further 3.3% downgraded by two grades and 0.2% reduced by three grades.

An estimated 280,000 grades were impacted by the ‘standardisation’ model which saw examiners apply schools’ historic performance to predictions provided by teachers in an effort to maintain consistency with previous results.

The Scottish Government this week bowed to protests over the way grades have been calculated there, with Scottish results to now be based on teachers’ predicted grades without an additional moderating process.

In a bid to stave off a similar row in England, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said students would now be allowed to appeal their moderated grades to request the use of mock exam results if required.

They can also choose to take exams in the autumn instead if they believe their moderated grades are unfair as part of a “triple lock” policy.

But Ms Moran said ministers should ensure pupils should be allowed to appeal their results or sit new exams at the earliest possible opportunity with no charges.

“The shambolic handling of A-level results has left many young people in crisis,” she said.

“Despite the warning signs from Scotland, the Education Secretary pushed ahead with plans which ignored teachers’ advice and have disproportionately affected pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. With this unfair system, he has created untold confusion and distress.”

And she said:  “Gavin Williamson is an Education Secretary out of his depth and out of excuses. He must take responsibility for his mistakes and step down with immediate effect.

“Our young people and our country cannot afford these blunders to continue into September, ahead of a potential second wave.”

The comments come after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for ministers to tear up the current system and award students with their teacher-predicted grades.

“The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the UK Government’s mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available,” Sir Keir said.

“No young person should be at a detriment due to Government incompetence.”

He added: “Time is running out. We need action in days, not weeks. That also means an urgent technical review of the standardisation model ahead of GCSE results next week. We need to end this fiasco.”

‘ARM AROUND YOUNGSTERS’

Defending the Government’s actions on Thursday, the Education Secretary said the “triple lock” system allowing appeals or resits would “put its arm around those youngsters where there has been a grade that is unfair on them” and help “to put that right”.

He added: “We do have to have checks and balances within the awarding of grades.

“And we can’t be in a situation where there aren’t those checks and balances.

“Because you will see situations where quite simply, if you don’t have those checks and balances in there, there’s going to be even greater unfairness to students, especially to those schools and youngsters who absolutely followed the rules to the absolute letter.

“And they will be the ones who will be disadvantaged if we were to change the system again.”

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A Health Minister Has Admitted People With Coronavirus Symptoms May Be Denied A Test Due To Rationing

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New rules on prioritisation for testing will be unveiled by Matt Hancock focusing on key workers (PA)


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The Health Minister Edward Argar has admitted some people with coronavirus symptoms could be refused an immediate test under plans to ration them to deal with a processing backlog.

He said despite a “ramping up” of testing capacity by the government it would need to prioritise “frontline NHS care workers, teachers and similar”.

As a result, Mr Argar told the BBC: “It is possible there will be people who have symptoms who apply for a test who have to wait longer, because we are prioritising those key frontline workers who we need to keep our NHS and care system working.”

He insisted anyone with symptoms should still apply for a test, but admitted while the prioritisation plans are in place – which are due to be revealed formally by health secretary Matt Hancock later today, they may not be offered one.

“That’s not saying if you don’t fit into those groups and you’ve got symptoms, ‘don’t do it’,” the minister explained. 

“If you’ve got symptoms, apply for a test.”

He said the government was hoping that “Mr and Mrs Smith” would still be able to get a test “in a timely fashion”. 

Mr Argar also rubbished claims the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is pushing for a new national lockdown to deal with the surge in new coronavirus cases.

He echoed the words of the Prime Minister yesterday, who said the financial consequences of such a move would be “disastrous”.

Mr Argar said: “We are guided by the science but we’re not necessarily guided by the speculation in the press.

“It’s not something I’ve heard from Chris. And it’s something the prime minister clearly doesn’t want to see.”

He told Sky News: “I know there’s speculation in the press today. But it’s not something I’ve seen within the department.

“The Prime Minister has been very clear about this, he doesn’t want to see another national lockdown.

“He wants to see people abiding by the regulations and making the local lockdowns work and get that infection rate down.”

The comments follow Mr Johnson’s evidence to the liaison committee in Parliament yesterday, where he said: “I don’t want a second national lockdown, I think it would be completely wrong for this country,” he told a group of senior MPs.

“We are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.

“Can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous.”

Mr Argar also claimed the sharp rise in coronavirus cases can be controlled through local measures, telling the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We saw in Leicester it worked, we saw those rates come right down – it does work and it does control it at a local level.

“I don’t think we are at a place where we would wish to see or need to see a national level of restrictions.”

The shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said “nobody wants to see another national lockdown”, but to avoid it there needs to be a “functioning” test, track and trace system.

He told Sky News the government “is getting this wrong”, adding: “Now that we’ve got more people going out and about as the economy opens, people are being encouraged to go back to work, children are going to school, young people are going to university, the risk of infections spreading is greater.

“But we don’t have the test, track and trace system that could keep everybody safe. So we risk further local or even national lockdowns.

“The fault of this has to be laid squarely at the feet of the government.”

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Tour de France: Tadej Pogacar poised to win after stunning time-trial ride

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Primoz Roglic was disconsolate after losing the yellow jersey on the penultimate stage

Tadej Pogacar is set to win the Tour de France ahead of strong favourite Primoz Roglic in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the race’s history.

Pogacar, 21, will be confirmed as the youngest winner for 111 years at the end of Sunday’s largely processional stage to Paris.

The UAE-Team Emirates rider overhauled a 57-second deficit to Roglic, who was thought to be a far stronger rider on stage 20’s time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles.

It will be a first Grand Tour victory for Slovenian Pogacar, who took the yellow jersey from compatriot Roglic after he had held it for 13 days.

Pogacar is now 59 seconds ahead of Roglic at the end of a day of drama reminiscent of the 1989 Tour, when Greg LeMond unexpectedly overhauled Laurent Fignon in a final-day time trial to win by eight seconds.

Richie Porte of Trek-Segafredo will be on the podium in Paris for the first time, taking third, three minutes and 30 seconds down.

Pogacar won the stage, one minute 21 seconds ahead of Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team-mate Tom Dumoulin. Porte climbed to third overall after finishing in third place on the stage.

Britain’s Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott will finish ninth in the general classification, 9mins 25secs behind the winner.

Primoz Roglic
Roglic looked unbeatable all race long

What happened to Roglic?

Roglic has looked imperious throughout the three-week race thanks to support from his powerful team, featuring some of the sport’s best riders, including Dumoulin, Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss.

The 36km stage from Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles was a challenging course that finished, unusually for time trial, with a category 1 climb. Roglic, 30, was considered a far better time triallist than Pogacar, and began the stage strongly.

But Roglic hit trouble at the changeover from super-fast specialist time-trial bikes to a more conventional road machine before the climb, struggling to clip into his pedals, wobbling when being pushed away and never seeming to find his typical rhythm.

Roglic, who claimed his first Grand Tour victory at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, looked desperate as he crossed the line, his helmet pushed upwards and slightly lop-sided, knowing already he had lost the race.

Desperation turned to confusion and dejection as he sat on the ground in his full yellow skinsuit, trying to comprehend how he had committed one of modern cycling’s biggest chokes.

And as Pogacar sat down for his post-race TV interview, Roglic interrupted it to embrace his countryman.

“I just didn’t push enough,” said Roglic. “It was like that. I was more and more without the power I needed but I gave it all until the end.

“We’ll see what happens next. I can be happy with the racing we showed here so let’s take positive things out of it.”

Tadej Pogacar
Pogacar won three stages on this year’s race

From a distant second, Pogacar takes it all

Roglic had been favourite to win the 107th edition of cycling’s greatest race, alongside defending champion Egan Bernal of Ineos Grenadiers.

However, Bernal abandoned the race before stage 17 following a disastrous climb up the Grand Colombier on stage 15, where he cracked and lost more than seven minutes to Roglic.

It was one of the biggest downturns in form for a defending champion in recent history, and put an end to Ineos’ record of winning every Tour since 2015, four of which were as Team Sky.

Ineos looked set to have something to celebrate as they tried to seal the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey through their second protected rider Richard Carapaz.

But despite 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Carapaz’s attempts to deliberately ride a slow first section before blasting up the mountain, Pogacar’s epic performance eclipsed him and he took the jersey.

It is the second of three jerseys Pogacar will claim at this year’s race – he will also pick up the young riders’ white jersey.

In total Pogacar picks up prize money of 500,000 euros (£458,270) for the yellow jersey, 25,000 euros (£22,900) for the King of the Mountains award, and a further 20,000 euros (£18,300) for being the best placed young rider.

“I’m really proud of the team,” Pogacar said. “They did such a big effort. We were dreaming of the yellow jersey from the start. Amazing.

“It was not just me today, we needed the whole team for the recon. I knew every corner and knew exactly where to accelerate. Congrats to all my team.

“I didn’t hear anything on the radio in the final five kilometres because the fans were too loud so I just went full gas.

“My dream was just to be on the Tour de France and now I’ve won it. It’s unbelievable.”

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Laurent Fignon
Similar scenes: Fignon, like Roglic, is inconsolable on the line after losing the Tour in Paris in 1989

General classification after stage 20

1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 84hrs 26mins 33secs

2. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) +59secs

3. Richie Porte (Aus/Trek-Segafredo) +3mins 30secs

4. Mikel Landa (Spa/Bahrain McLaren) +5mins 58secs

5. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +6mins 07secs

6. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col/Astana) +6mins 47secs

7. Tom Dumoulin (Ned/Jumbo-Visma) +7mins 48secs

8. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Pro Cycling) +8mins 02secs

9. Adam Yates (GB/Mitchelton-Scott) +9mins 25secs

10. Damiano Caruso (Ita/Bahrain McLaren) +14mins 03secs

Stage 20 result

1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 55mins 55secs

2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned/Jumbo-Visma) +1min 21secs

3. Richie Porte (Aus/Trek-Segafredo) Same time

4. Wout van Aert (Bel/Jumbo Visma) +1min 31secs

5. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) +1min 56secs

6. Remi Cavagna (Fra/Deceuninck-Quick-Step) +1min 59secs

7. Damiano Caruso (Ita/Bahrain McLaren) +2mins 29secs

8. David de la Cruz (Spa/UAE Team Emirates) +2mins 40secs

9. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +2mins 45secs

10. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Pro Cycling) +2mins 54secs

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Navalny says he can walk and recognize people as he eyes “clear road” to recovery from poisoning

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Navalny posted a picture of himself walking down a staircase on Saturday, writing that he is regaining his physical and mental capacity.

“Quite recently, I did not recognize people and did not understand how to talk,” Navalny wrote. “Every morning the doctor came to me and said: Alexey, I brought a board, let’s figure out which word we can write on it. This drove me to despair because although I understood in general what the doctor wanted, I did not understand where to get the words from.

“Now I’m a guy whose legs are shaking when he walks up the stairs, but this guy thinks: ‘Oh, this is a staircase! People get up on these. Perhaps we should look for an elevator.’ And before, I would have just stood there and stared at it blankly,” the post added.

In the post, Navalny thanked the doctors of the Charité Hospital in Berlin, where he is undergoing treatment. The German government has said the Kremlin critic was poisoned with a chemical agent from the Novichok group, a conclusion supported by two other labs in France and Sweden.

Earlier this week, his team issued a statement saying that German specialists found traces of the nerve agent on a water bottle taken from Navalny’s hotel room in Tomsk, Russia.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Friday questioned the water bottle as evidence and added that poisoning is one version of what happened to Navalny but it has not been confirmed as traces of poison were not found in Navalny’s blood by Russian labs.

Mary Ilyushina reported from Moscow, Rob Picheta wrote in London.

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