Gavin Williamson lifts university places cap amid calls to ‘step up’ help for higher education
3 min read
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is lifting the cap on university places in a bid to help students who may have lost out on their first choice amid the A-Levels grading fiasco.
The Cabinet minister said higher education institutions “won’t be fined” for going above the number of places they can normally offer.
But university groups said they were still seeking “urgent clarification and advice” from the Government over a host of issues.
The move came after a major U-turn on the grading system used to determine this year’s A-Level and GCSE results after exams were cancelled because the coronavirus pandemic.
Students had been given their marks based on an algorithm which saw almost 40% of predicted grades in England downgraded, and led to some missing out on university offers.
But Ofqual announced on Monday afternoon it would allow teacher-assessed grades to be used instead of those moderated by the controversial system.
In a statement on Monday afternoon the exam regulator said “after reflection” it had decided the best way forward is “to award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted”.
And Mr Williamson said of universities: “They won’t be fined and we’re removing those caps on every single university in the United Kingdom, so that they have the ability to expand the number of places, welcoming more students into those universities, as many as possible.”
But Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, which represents higher education institutions, said: “Today’s policy change will mean that more students will have the grades that match the offer of their first choice university.
“This will cause challenges at this late stage in the admissions process – capacity, staffing, placements and facilities – particularly with the social distance measures in place.”
He added: “Universities will do everything they can to work through these issues in the days ahead.
“The Government will need to step up and support universities through the challenges created by this late policy change. We are seeking urgent clarification and advice from Government on a number of crucial issues.
“Almost 70% of students are already placed with their first-choice institution, but those who are not should think carefully about their next steps, speak to their parents, guardians and teachers and get into contact with their preferred university to advise on their options.”
That view was echoed by Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, who warned: “Students and universities now need clarity and support to ensure that the past week of Tory chaos doesn’t rob anyone of the opportunities they deserve.”
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said the Government’s U-turn on results “may already be too late for some A-level students who have already missed out on their first choice of university and course”.
He added: “Every day of delay is going to have loaded more and more difficulty onto universities and their capacity to meet all of the demand for places that will now inevitably come their way.
“For them, the problem is far from over.”
China document leak shows flawed pandemic response
An unprecedented leak of internal Chinese documents reveals how the country mishandled the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. The documents – from Hubei province, the site of the world’s first known outbreak – show China announced misleading numbers of new cases and deaths, was hampered by an average three-week delay in diagnosing new cases, and experienced a huge spike in influenza in the epicenter province in early December.
Lawmakers to Biden: ‘Step it up’ on Cabinet diversity
“We’re very, very concerned as a community, as a Latino community,” said Texas Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who called last week for at least five Latinos to be appointed to Cabinet-level positions.
Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates and officials are warning the Biden administration, in writing, it will be “deeply disappointing if several AAPIs are not nominated” to Cabinet positions. They’re growing increasingly convinced the president-elect will not match President Barack Obama’s total of three Asian Americans in his first Cabinet.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus is urging Biden to choose a Black Defense secretary and up the number of African Americans leading departments overall.
Together, the criticism highlights the challenges the Biden transition faces in satisfying expectations for a historically diverse Cabinet. And it underscores the growing demands for equal representation after a presidential election in which Asian Americans were difference-makers in Georgia, Latinos boosted Biden in Arizona, and Black voters propelled him to the nomination and ultimate victory.
But appeasing everyone may be a nearly impossible task, especially given the zero-sum reality of Cabinet jockeying and the limited slate of top-tier positions.
Latino lawmakers and outside groups, for example, are pushing New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for Health and Human Services secretary — but tapping her over former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is Indian American, could anger Asian American advocacy groups.
“It’s no secret that as you look at the number of people that have been appointed … we don’t see too many Asian Americans there, do we?” said Bel Leong-Hong, chair of the Democratic National Committee’s AAPI caucus.
Those lobbying the transition team say there is still time for Biden to meet his lofty diversity goals. But some Democrats are pessimistic after seeing the first rounds of personnel picks.
Biden’s core White House team will be mostly white, including his chief of staff, communications director, press secretary, legislative affairs director and one of his top economic advisers. And two of the so-called “Big Four” Cabinet positions — atop the State, Treasury, Justice and Defense Departments — have already been filled by white candidates.
“A true way for Biden to make history would be to nominate a person of color for one or more of those ‘Big Four’ positions, and now they’re down to just two,” said Janet Murguía, the president of UnidosUS and a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. “So there will be enormous scrutiny from both the Black and Latino community for the remaining two jobs — DoD and Justice — and rightfully so.”
A Black House lawmaker, who requested anonymity to speak more freely as Biden fills positions, put it more bluntly. “He’s got to step it up,” the lawmaker said, noting that Kamala Harris’ selection as vice president doesn’t give Biden an excuse to appoint fewer African Americans to head key departments.
The Biden transition team says the president-elect will have a diverse administration when all is said and done. “His success in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges will be clear when our full slate of appointees and nominees is complete,” a Biden-Harris transition official said in a statement.
It’s true that, as the transition official pointed out, Biden has “announced several historic and diverse White House appointments and Cabinet nominees.” He appointed an all-female senior communications team, for example, as well as the first woman of color to lead the Office of Management and Budget and the first female nominee for Treasury secretary.
But in 2020, the bar for diversity has been raised well beyond the seven women and 10 nonwhite officials in President Barack Obama’s first Cabinet.
Senior AAPI officials highlight huge increases in voter turnout among Asian American voters in the 2020 election — including in crucial battleground states he won, such as Georgia and Arizona — as one reason they should be well-represented throughout the administration. Early and absentee voting among AAPI voters rose nearly 300 percent in battleground states this year, according to the Democratic data firm Catalist.
The Biden transition announced Monday that Neera Tanden, an Indian American woman, will be nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget. But some AAPI officials said they still fear Biden is unlikely to meet the benchmark set by Obama, who appointed three AAPI candidates to Cabinet positions at the start of his term.
“We just want to make sure that the Biden administration — and we’ve conveyed this from Day One — has a diverse representation, and that diversity includes AAPIs,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), vice chair of the DNC. “That’s not always fully understood.”
The influential Congressional Hispanic Caucus has also mounted an active pressure campaign.
In phone calls and letters, the lawmakers pointed out the transition’s agency review teams are roughly 11 percent Latino and their COVID-19 Advisory Board is about 15 percent Latino — each less than the roughly 20 percent share of the U.S. population Latinos represent.
And though they cheered the nomination of Cuban American Alejandro Mayorkas to run Homeland Security — the first immigrant and first Latino to hold the position, if confirmed — it does not come close to representing the breadth of Latinos across the country, they say.
“When we talk about diversity, we also need to talk about diversity within the Hispanic community,” said California Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz. “The vast majority of Hispanics in the U.S. are Mexican Americans, so it would be important and helpful to have them represented in nominations. The Puerto Rican and Cuban American and Dominican American experiences are also important and should also be reflected.”
Gonzalez, the Texas Democrat, said he’s warned Democrats about the surge in support for Republicans among Mexican American communities in South Texas and other battleground states.
“When Republicans are coming into our districts saying, ‘what have the Democrats done for you?’ And we have a Democratic president with a low showing or low representation of Latinos in his Cabinet and government, it is a tough response,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t want to have to defend that.”
In addition to Lujan Grisham, Latino lawmakers support either DNC Chair Tom Perez or California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Justice Department. Ruiz’s name has also been floated by some members of the Hispanic Caucus as a potential addition to a Biden administration, given his health care background as a physician.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been pressuring Biden’s transition team on an individual level, according to multiple members. Many take their cues from Clyburn, who is pushing for Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge to be selected as the first Black female Agriculture secretary.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said he’s keeping a close eye on who Biden names to lead Housing and Urban Development, pointing out that Democrats have not nominated a Black man to lead HUD since 1965, when the department was created by President Lyndon Johnson. And he echoed other CBC members who are saying former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s “name needs to be in the mix” for Defense Secretary.
“I’m not ready to panic,” Cleaver said of representation within the administration, adding that members see Biden as someone who understands their demands and the “delicacy” of keeping a diverse party happy.
“The philosophy of those of us who’ve been in the civil rights movement is that even if it’s friends, you know, you don’t let up in your expressions of anticipation,” said Cleaver. “We’re anticipating that he does the right thing.”
Everything You Need To Know About #ScotchEggGate And “Substantial Meals”
8 min read
As the second lockdown ends and England enters the new tier system of coronavirus restrictions, the government has found itself embroiled in a bizarre row about scotch eggs and whether they constitute a “substantial meal”.
That is not a sentence anyone would have expected to have read this time last year, but for pub landlords and bar owners struggling to stay afloat amid the pandemic it is serious business.
The rules, which are due to come into force on Thursday, say that any hospitality venue placed into Tier 2, which will cover 57.3% of the country, can only serve alcohol if it is alongside “substantial meals”.
But just what that entails has become a massive source of contention, which despite Number 10’s repeated assertions that it has made it clear, continues to cause confusion.
The Question Of Cornish Pasties
If all this sounds familiar, then that is because it was first raised as an issue when the previous tier system was introduced earlier this autumn.
The communities secretary Robert Jenrick suggested a Cornish pasty would not count as a substantial meal unless it was served with chips and a side salad.
“If you would expect to go into that restaurant normally, or pub, and order a plated meal at the table of a Cornish pasty with chips or side salad or whatever it comes with, then that’s a normal meal,” the minister said.
That did not clarify things entirely, but as the country soon went back into lockdown and hospitality was closed altogether the matter drifted out of the discourse.
The reason it matters though is that many pubs in tier 2, of which there are more than 20,000, cannot simply re-tool as full restaurants, and unless they can serve full meals they will have to remain closed in the crucial pre-Christmas period and potentially much beyond that.
They therefore need to know with a great deal more clarity than there has been so far on what they can serve to customers and fulfil the requirements in the regulations and remain in operation.
Can’t stop thinking about will from the inbetweeners ordering a substantial meal to get his pint in the pub with his mates😂 now it’s becoming a reality
— Dani Dyer (@Dani_MasDyer) December 1, 2020
And crucially without that clarity it puts the onus on local councils and the police in each area to decide what constitutes a full meal, meaning a pub on one street in one borough might get away with serving a scotch egg, while one street over into a different borough another pub might face a fine for doing the same.
This exact issue played out in Manchester back in October, when pubs were forced to serve a substantial meal with alcohol when the city was placed in the old tier 3.
Staff at Common bar say police told them serving single slices from a 22-inch pizza didn’t count, only to later backtrack and deem that it was sufficient to be a full meal.
It’s co-owner Jonny Heyes said at the time: “It’s just a bit of a joke. I don’t want to say anything bad about the officers because they had obviously been sent round to check everyone was serving food and adhering to the guidelines.
“But they don’t have any information about what actually constitutes a substantial meal. They’re just winging it.
“As far as I can tell there is no proper guidance. The government policy is just so woolly, there’s no clarity.”
So with less than 48 hours until pubs and bars can re-open their doors it has roared back into the news, kicked off by a question to environment secretary George Eustice on Monday morning about the now infamous scotch egg.
“I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service,” he said.
“And often that may be as a starter. But yes, I think it would.”
The Thin Line Between Snack And Dinner
Asked to clarify if that was the case, Downing Street only served to blur the issue by failing to set out the where the line is between a snack and a dinner.
“It’s a principle that’s well established in the hospitality industry and it’s something they’ve been applying for some time,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said.
“We introduced the rule that you can only provide alcohol along with a substantial meal along with the first set of tiering. That remains the case under this set of tiering.”
But so far nobody in government can point to anything in the Licensing Act or any other legislation, either during Covid or pre-pandemic, which defines what exactly is substantial or not.
The Licensing Act 2003 contains a clause which permits 16- or 17-year-olds to consume beer, wine or cider with a table meal if they are accompanied by an adult, infamously depicted in an episode of the TV show The Inbetweeners.
It goes on to define a “table meal” as a “meal eaten by a person seated at a table, or at a counter or other structure which serves the purpose of a table and is not used for the service of refreshments for consumption by persons not seated at a table or structure serving the purpose of a table.”
This is the same definition adopted by Parliamentary Counsel which drafted the tier system, but while the regulations say pubs “remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant – which means serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal”, there is nothing to say what size “a main lunchtime or evening meal” is.
Pork Pies and Ploughman’s
It led to the PM’s spokesman being pressed on whether the new rules extended to sausage rolls, pork pies, or a ploughman’s lunch counting as a substantial meal, to which he said: “I’m obviously not going to get into the detail of every possible meal.
“But we’ve been clear: bar snacks do not count as a substantial meal but it’s well established practice in the hospitality industry what does.”
That sounded rather like Number 10 was coming down on the snack side of the debate, which appeared to be backed up my Michael Gove this morning, who told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “As far as I’m concerned it’s probably a starter.”
Later on LBC he appeared to harden his stance on scotch eggs, the Cabinet Office minister saying: “A couple of scotch eggs is a starter as far as I’m concerned.”
But by the time he spoke to ITV News shortly afterwards Mr Gove appeared to have performed a volte face, he said: “A scotch egg is a substantial meal.”
Pressed on whether it was actually a bar snack, he replied: “I myself would definitely scoff a couple of scotch eggs if I had the chance, but I do recognise that it is a substantial meal.”
But the issue of whether under law it really is a meal, and crucially, whether a pub can serve it with a pint and not be in breach of the legislation and face racking up thousands of pounds-worth of fines, remains undefined.
And the issue over lots of other things a pub may be able to serve without having to upgrade or instal a kitchen, and all the regulations that entails, is also unclear and seems to be placed in the hands of publicans to make the call themselves and risk falling foul of the law.
Perhaps even more bizarrely, this is far from the first time this particular issue has been raised, with the previously obscure 1965 legal case of Timmis v Millman thrust into the public eye.
That involved the defendant and a friend caught in a hotel bar at 11.30pm consuming light ale and stout outside of permitted drinking hours.
But the-then Lord Chief Justice decided their meal of a “substantial sandwich” served with pickles and beetroot constituted a “table meal”, and not just a “bar snack”, which allowed them to stay within rules which allowed for an extra hour after the end of the ordinary permitted drinking time as long as it was for finishing their supper meal.
And that built on the court ruling in Solomon v Green a decade earlier, where sandwiches and sausages on sticks were found to constitute a meal.
Whether any enterprising landlord will attempt to use such case law to justify serving cocktail sausages on toothpicks to thirsty drinkers remains to be seen, but if they do then the obliqueness of the current rules may work in their favour.
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