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Thursday briefing: Teachers make the grades

·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Chloe Parker/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Chloe Parker/Alamy

Top story: Grade inflation fear as schools decide marks

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer bringing you the best stories of the day.

Hundreds of thousands of GCSE and A-level students in England will learn today exactly how their grades will be decided as the government tries to avoid a repeat of last year’s results fiasco. After scrapping this year’s summer exams, the education secretary Gavin Williamson said yesterday that teachers will be given sweeping powers to set grades and has ruled out any use of the controversial algorithmic method that caused chaos and outrage last year. Teachers will be asked to judge more than 1.2 million pupils “on what they have been taught” and will not use previous grades as a guide. Headteachers welcomed the move as a vote of confidence in the profession but some experts fear rampant grade inflation will be the outcome. Williamson will lay out the details of the plan drawn up by his department and the exams regulator later today.

* * *

Holiday hope – European Union leaders will today debate whether it is safe to issue “vaccine passports” to people who have been immunised in order to allow travel across the continent this summer. Greece is already in “technical” talks with the UK over allowing Britons to visit the country provided they have certification of their vaccination. Spain is also keen to allow more movement to boost its tourism industry but the government in France, where anti-vaccine sentiment is high, thinks such a plan is “premature”. One of the UK’s largest care home providers has introduced a “no jab, no job” policy for new staff amid concern about uptake of vaccines.

It comes as a study of 1.2 million people in Israel has found that the Pfizer vaccine is 94% effective, US regulators say a new one-shot vaccine is safe, and trials of jabs against new variants will start in the UK this summer. In less welcome news, a new variant has emerged in New York with some similarities to the more transmissible strain discovered in South Africa. Find out more about this and other developments in the pandemic at our live blog.

* * *

Unequal Britain – Nearly half of Britons believe that people who found themselves out of work during the pandemic did so because they weren’t very good at their jobs. A survey by Kings College London also found that a large minority of people thought the widening post-Covid income gap between white people and BAME groups would not be a problem. People appeared to care more about differences between geographical areas than races, genders and generations, according to the survey entitled Unequal Britain.

* * *

Budget battle – Keir Starmer is under pressure to back an expected rise in corporation tax in next week’s budget after a backlash when the Labour leader said he would oppose any new tax on business. Backbenchers believe Labour should support the “pretty progressive” policy despite Starmer saying he didn’t want any tax hikes. As Rishi Sunak rules out an increase in fuel duty, Guardian analysis shows that business and workers are under severe strain ahead of the budget and that the economy is at a crossroads. The boss of the CBI makes the case for a focus on business investment, while TUC chief Frances O’Grady says the chancellor must deliver for workers.

* * *

Malta charges – Police in Malta say that everyone involved in the 2017 murder of the anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has been apprehended following the arraignment of two men last night. The suspects include the property and energy tycoon Yorgen Fenech, who denies being the mastermind behind the alleged contract killing, and a taxi driver who has already confessed to being the middleman.

* * *

Saved by the buoy – A sailor who fell overboard from his supply ship has survived being adrift in the Pacific for 14 hours by clinging to a fishing buoy. Vidam Perevertilov fell overboard between New Zealand and the British territory of Pitcairn but managed to swim to a speck on the horizon that turned out to be the buoy. He clung on until his ship, which backtracked in search of the chief engineer, spotted him.

Today in Focus podcast

One of the many aspects of life that suddenly became more complicated during lockdown was dating, as rules made it illegal for people not already living as a couple to have sex. Zoe Williams speaks to single people left frustrated by the policy and explains why it didn’t have to be this way.

Lunchtime read: Claudette Colvin, the ‘original Rosa Parks’

Claudette Colvin is the unsung hero of the civil rights movement that you’ve never heard of. She was arrested and charged for refusing to give up her seat on a school bus in Alabama nine months before Rosa Parks became internationally famous for doing the same thing. She tells Oliver Laughland about the “injustice, double standards” that drove her protest and why it took so long for her actions to be recognised.

Sport

England’s frustrations boiled over on the first day of the third Test at the newly named Narendra Modi Stadium after Joe Root and several of his senior teammates questioned the decision-making of the TV umpire. Manchester City’s remarkable run went to 19 consecutive wins courtesy of the excellent João Cancelo, who was key in each goal in a 2-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Champions League. Ferland Mendy’s late goal gave Real Madrid a 1-0 win against Atalanta while in the Europa League, Tottenham beat Wolfsberger 4-0 in the second leg to progress to the last 16.

As the golf world faces the possibility that Tiger Woods will never return in competitive form after the serious car crash that left the 15-time major winner requiring lengthy surgery, Rory McIlroy has said there are “still a lot of other ways that he can affect the game in a great way”. Courtney Lawes has pledged to keep producing his trademark big hits in the Six Nations against Wales on Saturday, insisting the recent flurry of red cards will not hold England back as they seek to address the aggression problems highlighted by Eddie Jones. Tennis world No 1 Ash Barty says public expectation will never stack up with reality as she grapples with a second shock loss in a week and an injury niggle that will see her miss next week’s Qatar Open. And Australia has taken a considerable step towards hosting a third Olympics after Brisbane was named as the IOC’s “preferred partner” to begin talks on hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2032.

Business

Shares in Gamestop surged by more than 100% on Wall Street last night, catching by surprise those who thought the investment frenzy around the struggling American retail chain had abated. Investors were puzzled about what had caused the stock to rise 104% in afternoon trading and then 85% on the after-hours market, but some put it down to a tweet about ice-cream by an activist investor. The FTSE100 is on course to rise 0.4% this morning, while the pound is steady at $1.415 and €1.162.

The papers

The Guardian leads on the decision to hand the fate of exam results over to teachers with the headline “Teachers get sweeping powers to decide exam results in England”. The Times says “Schools told to work out their own exam grades” and the Telegraph has “Summer exams to be voluntary”. The Yorkshire Post says “Minister to ‘trust teachers’ on exam grades”. The Mirror has a different view on the schools issue with “Britain’s back to school shambles”, while the Star likens Williamson to the 70s sitcom character Frank Spencer: “We did a whoopsie”.

The Mail comes out fighting for the chancellor with “Rishi’s spring booster for UK”, while the Express also opts for first-name familiarity: “Tory grandees tell ⁦Rishi⁩ ‘don’t raise taxes’”. The Daily Record is at it as well with its front page on the latest war of words between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond: “Nic goes nuclear”. The FT leads on boardroom machinations: “McKinsey to ditch Sneader as head after string of crises”.

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