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The Labour leader said pupils hit by the downgrades ‘need action in days, not weeks‘. (PA)


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Keir Starmer has called on the UK Government to copy Scotland and rip up a “fatally flawed” new system used for grading A-levels after hundreds of thousands of results were downgraded.

The Labour leader said “no young person should be at a detriment due to Government incompetence” in the wake of exams being called off amid the coronavirus pandemic.

And he is calling for teacher-assessed grades to be used in “days, not weeks” as the opposition demanded a shift ahead of the publication of GCSE results next week.

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.

“Young people and parents right across the country, in every town and city, feel let down and betrayed” – Sir Keir Starmer

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 he has ruled out a further change in the policy, saying on Thursday: “We’re not going to be changing this system again.”

However, Sir Keir said: “Across the last twenty four hours we have heard heartbreaking stories and the scale of the injustice caused by the fatally flawed results system has become clear.

 

“Young people and parents right across the country, in every town and city, feel let down and betrayed.”

The Labour leader also hit out at schools minister Nick Gibb for saying that grade adjustments downwards would be “by just one grade”, with around 24,000 grades shift downwards by more than one mark.

Sir Keir said: “Claims from the Schools Minister this week were grossly misleading.

“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.

“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 action on Thursday morning, 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 Foreign Office Minister Has Resigned From Government Over Plans To Cut International Aid

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Baroness Liz Sugg (right) is a minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (PA)


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The government is facing a brewing backbench rebellion and ministerial resignations over its controversial plans to scrap the UK’s pledge to give 0.7% of GDP in international aid.

Baroness Liz Sugg, minister for overseas territories and sustainable development at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), submitted her resignation following the move.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, she said it was “fundamentally wrong” to abandon the commitment, adding that it should be “kept in the tough times as well as the good”. 

“Given the link between our development spend and the health of our economy, the economic downturn has already led to significant cuts this year and I do not believe we should reduce our support further at a time of unprecedented global crises,” she continued.

“I cannot support or defend this decision, it is therefore right that I tend my resignation.”

The plan has also sparked anger from a number of backbench Tory MPs, with one former minister claiming the cut could lead to 100,000 preventable deaths. 

Rishi Sunak confirmed in his Spending Review on Wednesday that the UK would be reducing the commitment  0.7% of GDP international aid commitment to 0.5% following the crippling effects of the coronavirus crisis on the economy.

He told MPs: “During a domestic fiscal emergency, when we need to prioritise our limited resources on jobs and public services. 

“Sticking rigidly to spending 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid, is difficult to justify to the British people, especially when we’re seeing the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record.”

It is understood that the government would increase the level of aid spending back its original level in the future once the economic situation improved. 

But a Treasury source suggested that MPs were unlikely to get a chance to vote on the aid cut, as the law enshrining the commitment allows for it to be adjusted in challenging circumstances.

Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell told PoliticsHome yesterday he hoped to lead a rebellion against the changes to aid.

Speaking in the Commons following the chancellor’s statement, Mr Mitchell told Mr Sunak the decision “will be the cause of 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children.

“This is a choice I for one am not prepared to make and none of us in this House will be able to look our children in the eye and claim we did not know what we were voting for,” he added. 

Fellow backbenchers Peter Bottomley, Tobias Ellwood and Pauline Latham also spoke out against the move and expressed their intention to oppose it.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined criticised the government, writing on Twitter that cutting aid was “shameful and wrong”.

“It’s contrary to numerous government promises and its manifesto. I join others in urging MPs to reject it for the good of the poorest, and the UK’s own reputation and interest,” he added. 

 

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Diego Maradona dies: Three days of mourning begin in Argentina as tributes pour in

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Diego Maradona (centre) and Ossie Ardiles (right) played together at the 1982 World Cup

Today’s football superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo “could not even dream” of being admired as much as Diego Maradona was, says his former Argentina team-mate Ossie Ardiles.

Three days of national mourning have begun in Argentina after Maradona died on Wednesday at the age of 60.

His body will lie in state at the Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentina government, during that time.

“To be Diego Maradona was incredibly beautiful,” Ardiles told the BBC.

“But on the other hand, it was not easy at all. Right from a really early age, he was subject to the press all the time. He didn’t have a normal childhood, he never had normal teenage years.

“Everybody wanted to be with him, everybody wanted a piece of him, so it was incredibly difficult.”

Maradona, who played for clubs including Barcelona and Napoli, was captain when Argentina won the 1986 World Cup, scoring the famous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the quarter-finals.

Former Tottenham midfielder Ardiles, who played alongside Maradona at the 1982 World Cup, said he was “a god” in Argentina, in Naples and all around the world.

“He will be remembered as a genius in football,” he added. “You can see the extraordinary amount of interest that he generates.

“People like [Juventus and Portugal striker] Ronaldo, or people like [Barcelona and Argentina forward] Messi, they couldn’t even dream of having this kind of admiration.

“That was the Maradona phenomenon – all the time.”

A post-mortem examination was due to take place on Maradona’s body later on Wednesday after he died at about midday local time at his home in Tigre, near Buenos Aires.

The former Argentina attacking midfielder and manager had successful surgery on a brain blood clot earlier in November and was to be treated for alcohol dependency.

A minute’s silence took place before Wednesday’s Champions League matches and the same will happen before all other European fixtures this week.

Messi and Ronaldo were among current players to pay tribute, while Brazilian football great Pele said he hoped one day they would “play ball together in the sky”.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said Maradona “made world football better”.

“There was a banner in Argentina, one year ago, that I read that said: ‘No matter what you have done with your life, Diego, it matters what you do for our lives,'” former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola added.

“It expresses perfectly what this guy gave us. The man of joy and pleasure and his commitment for world football.”

Former Tottenham manager and Argentina defender Mauricio Pochettino said: “Broken with pain. Diego, you were my hero and friend. I was so fortunate to have shared football and life with you.”

The Vatican said Pope Francis, an Argentine and a football fan, would be remembering Maradona in his prayers.

Fans mourn their hero

In Argentina, Wednesday’s match between Sport Club Internacional and Maradona’s former club Boca Juniors was postponed.

Fans flocked to La Bombonera, Boca Juniors’ stadium in Buenos Aires, where many were in tears – despite, in the case of some, being too young to remember Maradona’s playing days.

They also congregated in the San Andres neighbourhood, where Maradona lived, and to La Plata, where he most recently was manager of local club Gimnasia y Esgrima.

In the country’s capital, “gracias Diego” replaced train information on digital metro signs, while fans sang La Mano De Dios (The Hand Of God) in city suburbs.

Boca Juniors women's player Yamila Rodriguez cries in front of graffiti image of Diego Maradona

Thousands of miles away, they also gathered outside Napoli’s San Paolo stadium, which was lit up in tribute to the man who scored 81 goals in 188 appearances for the Italian club.

Fireworks erupted in the sky as those below, clad in Maradona shirts and even Maradona face masks, chanted and wept.

Presentational grey lineAnalysis box by Katy Watson, South America correspondent

Maradona wasn’t just a sportsman for Argentinians, he was an icon, a political player and of course, a loveable rogue. There is deep sadness as people prepare to pay their respects to their superstar footballer.

But his influence goes beyond Argentina – South Americans are proud of their footballing heritage so this news has resonated across the region.

In neighbouring Brazil, where their man Pele vied for the title of world’s best footballer, Maradona’s death was headline news – much of the rivalry between the two countries can be put down to the two players, such is the passion for the beautiful came here.

But rivalry was put aside with Pele paying tribute to Maradona as a dear friend.

“One day, I hope, we will have a kick about together in heaven,” he said.

Presentational grey line

A statement from Napoli said: “Everyone is waiting for our words but what words could we possibly use for a pain such as this that we are going through?

“Now is the moment for tears. Then there will be the moment for words.

“We are in mourning. We feel like a boxer who has been knocked out. We are in shock. A devastating blow for both city and club.”

A day of mourning will take place in Naples on Thursday.

The mayor of the city, Luigi de Magistris, has called for the Stadio San Paolo be renamed in honour of Maradona.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Paul Elliott, who played against Maradona while at Pisa, said: “I have to say it was remarkable. There was a sublime talent that this man had, an aura, a presence, and you know when you feel a sense of energy.

“Napoli is a very poor part of the south of Italy, but their whole world was built around Maradona and Napoli.

“If you look at where the club was when he arrived, the impact of one man unequivocally was the key and the catalyst to the success that they had, and the way he just gave everybody hope.

“That was just by his remarkable, sublime talent.”

Fans gather outside Napoli's stadiumA Napoli fan cries while looking at Maradona tributesA mother and son mourn Maradona outside La BomboneraA fan wearing a Maradona Argentina shirt looks at a tribute in Buenos AiresA woman lights a candle at a tribute in La Plata



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Nearly 100 whales die in mass stranding in New Zealand

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Some 97 whales and three dolphins died in the stranding, which conservation department staff were alerted to around midday local time on Sunday.

A power outage and the remote location of New Zealand’s most eastern islands, around 500 miles east off the country’s South Island, meant Department of Conservation rangers did not arrive at Waitangi West Beach until 3 p.m., officials said.

“Only 26 of the whales were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanized due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this,” biodiversity ranger Jemma Welch said in a statement.

Pilot whales — small, toothed whales with a bulging forehead, a short snout and pointed flippers — are sociable creatures, and live in groups of dozens, hundreds or even thousands.

Two more whales were stranded on Monday and also had to be euthanized, the Department of Conservation said, adding that the whales will be left to decompose naturally.

Sri Lanka rescues 100 beached whales after mass stranding

Representatives from the Indigenous Hokotehi Moriori Trust and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust performed a karakii/karakia — a prayer, or incantation — to honor the spirit of the whales on Sunday, the department added.

Mass strandings are common on the Chatham Islands, according to the department, which said that up to 1,000 animals died in a stranding in 1918.

In September, more than 450 pilot whales beached in Tasmania, Australia, in that state’s largest ever beaching. At least a third died during rescue attempts.

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