Tuesday briefing: A level of common sense prevails | World news

Tuesday briefing: A level of common sense prevails | World news


Top story: Thousands may still miss out on uni choices

Good morning – Warren Murray with news to tide you over for the next little while.

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has sought to blame the exams fiasco on the regulator Ofqual after a humiliating climbdown by the government, which two days earlier said there would be “no U-turn, no change”. Up to 2.3m downgradings have been overturned and pupils in England will be able to revert to the A-level grades recommended by their teachers if they are higher. A wobbly-sounding Williamson, whom Boris Johnson faces calls to sack, said: “I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson apologises after U-turn on exam grades – video

The government is lifting the cap on English university admissions to let institutions admit more students who missed their offers after 40% of A-level results – about 280,000 – were downgraded. But vice-chancellors warned they would not have space to accommodate everyone, leaving thousands scrambling get into their first-choice university.

Wales had announced a similar change to A-level grades earlier on Monday. The Northern Ireland executive followed suit, having said earlier in the day it would use teacher-assessed grades for GCSEs. Final GCSE results will now be delayed until next week – about 2m of those were set to be downgraded before Monday’s reversal. On Thursday schools will be able to tell pupils the centre-assessed grades they will receive, but official notification has been delayed to include rare cases where the Ofqual-moderated grades were higher than teachers’ grades. Sonia Sodha asks this morning whether we need to get rid of the “extreme levels of academic stratification” that the university entrance system creates.

Coronavirus latest – Dido Harding, the Conservative peer running England’s widely criticised test-and-trace system, will chair the new National Institute for Health Protection, which is to replace the axed Public Health England. Denis Campbell, the Guardian’s health policy editor, profiles the former TalkTalk boss as polished, confident and loyal to the Tory cause but regard by some as “failing upwards” given the inadequacies of test-and-trace. More than 70 staff at the Bakkavor dessert factory in Newark, Nottinghamshire, have tested positive for Covid-19. All 1,600 employees are being tested on-site by the NHS. We are keeping further coronavirus developments covered at our live blog.

‘Wrong president, in over his head’ – Michelle Obama has slammed Donald Trump as Democrats convened online for the first night of their socially distanced national convention. “Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country … He is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.” Bernie Sanders, a former contender for the nomination, said: “We need Joe Biden as our next president. [Trump] is not just a threat to our democracy, but by rejecting science he has put our lives and health in jeopardy. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs.”

Michelle Obama speaking to the Democratic national convention.

Michelle Obama speaking to the Democratic national convention. Photograph: AP

A series of endorsements for Biden from Republicans included Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and head of the EPA under George W Bush: “This isn’t about a Republican or a Democrat, it’s about a person. A person decent enough, stable enough to get our economy back on track. A person who can work with everyone – Democrats and Republicans – to get things done. Donald Trump isn’t that person. Joe Biden is.”

Ellen row – Three top producers have left The Ellen DeGeneres Show, after an internal investigation into complaints of bullying, racism and sexual misconduct. DeGeneres herself has been called mean-spirited amid the turmoil, prompting a social media campaign calling for her replacement but also statements of support from other celebrities. DeGeneres, 62, on Monday spoke to staff of via Zoom in what Variety said was an emotional and apologetic address. Variety said DeGeneres told staff she was “not perfect” and that it was “heartbreaking” to read allegations about the atmosphere on the set.

‘Artists in positions of power’ – Television writers are getting more control over projects thanks to the success of programmes such as Fleabag and I May Destroy You, the playwright Lucy Prebble has said. Prebble is the co-creator with Billie Piper of a new Sky One show called I Hate Suzie, which tells the story of a celebrity who falls victim to phone hacking.

Lucy Prebble, right, with Billie Piper, who stars in I Hate Suzie

Lucy Prebble, right, with Billie Piper, who stars in I Hate Suzie. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images for Sky

In an interview with the Radio Times, Prebble says there has been a discernible change in attitudes towards female artists in television. “There have been shows in the past where, as the writer, I was barely allowed to come to set.” Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You came “from putting artists in positions of power that maybe they wouldn’t have done before. The proof is in the pudding: they are very good.”

Today in Focus podcast: Can Harris make Biden president?

Kamala Harris is the first Indian American and the first black woman to run for US vice-president on a major party ticket. Lauren Gambino discusses why as Joe Biden’s running mate, Harris is in prime position to go one step further.

Today in Focus

Can Harris make Biden president?

Lunchtime read: Loneliness of the deported

The Windrush scandal brought the cruelty of Britain’s deportation policies to light, but the practice continues to this day – and shockingly, it is made possible by UK aid money.

Two men walking along a street in Kingston, Jamaica, pictured from behind

Photograph: Luke de Noronha


Joe Root admitted to frustrations over bad light but defended the umpires following the shortest Test match on English soil for 33 years in terms of balls bowled against Pakistan. Six-times world snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan is happier than he has ever been and perhaps the least we owe him is to accept him on his own terms, writes Jonathan Liew. Lewis Hamilton has described competing in Formula One under coronavirus restrictions as a unique challenge that has been a “lonely journey”.

Barcelona are set to announce Ronald Koeman as their new manager after Quique Setién was sacked on Monday evening, having lasted just six months in the job. Romelu Lukaku’s late double helped Internazionale reach the Europa League final with a 5-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk as the former Manchester United and Everton striker extended his scoring streak in the competition to 10 games. And Simona Halep has joined five other top-10 US Open refuseniks, all of them from outside the United States.


Shares in Asia have been mixed after buying of technology stocks nudged the S&P 500 closer to the record high it set in February, before the pandemic. Benchmarks fell in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul but rose in Sydney and Shanghai. The pound is trading at $1.313 and €1.104 while the FTSE is trending down by 20 points ahead of the open.

The papers

The Briefing warned last Thursday that Gavin Williamson would likely have to eat his Telegraph op-ed of that day staunchly defending the A-levels grading system. The education secretary has now admitted, in effect, that until the weekend just gone he hadn’t really read the manual properly. And the papers don’t hold back.

Guardian front page, Tuesday 18 August 2020

Guardian front page, Tuesday 18 August 2020.

The Mail portrays Boris Johnson and Williamson as a Laurel and Hardy duo headlined: “Another fine mess.” It asks why the minister still has a job and urges the PM to “get a grip”. The Telegraph also focuses on the search for culpability with the headline: “Williamson shifts blame on to exam watchdog after grades climbdown”. William Hague warns of “another poll tax moment for the Tories”. The Guardian shows joyful students outside the Department for Education with the headline “Government forced into humiliating exams U-turn”.

The Mirror blames Johnson: “This is no way to run a country” and blasts “the latest in a list of massive errors during pandemic”. The loyal Express finds a third way, describing the U-turn on the no-U-turn policy as a “victory for common sense” and portraying Johnson as taking control by making Williamson scrap the algorithm. The Times looks ahead: “Scramble for university places after exam U-turn”. Quentin Letts writes of “a day when our political class showed its world-beating ineptitude”. The FT says “A-level and GCSE results restored after latest government U-turn”, noting Williamson’s apology that the rest of the UK is following Scotland.

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