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Why this year’s A-levels will be different

Welcome to Thursday’s Early Edition from i.

It’s always been a day of frazzled nerves – but this year’s A-level results day has been trailed as being particularly tough. Students have spent crucial years of high school coping with arduous lockdowns and other Covid restrictions, but those in England will also be marked under pre-pandemic grading. On top of that, no allowance will be made for the disruptive teachers’ strikes. The combination of seemingly unfair factors prompted BBC’s Newsnight to ask if the class of 2023 was also “the unluckiest”. And further tough questions face those who do get into university: is the cost worth it? One school leaver, Crown Ashiwaju, told the programme: “University just isn’t as attractive as it used to be anymore. I feel like you’re paying so much and the quality of education sometimes just does not match.” We’ll take a look at the challenges facing this year’s cohort, as well as how students can navigate today. That’s after the headlines.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

Top BBC presenters embroiled in scandal are seen as “too big to fail” by bosses, insiders claimed, as the corporation grapples with a summer of crisis. Just weeks after the Huw Edwards affair, Stephen Nolan, the BBC’s fifth-highest-paid presenter, is the latest big name under scrutiny, after claims that he sent colleagues sexually explicit images of a reality TV star who was later convicted of sexual offences. One news figure said: “Nolan and Edwards are big beasts who have the ear of top management. Younger staff feel that contributes to a sense that these big earners are a law unto themselves.”

The UK Government has been accused of “rolling out the red carpet to dictators” after it emerged Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is set to visit later this year, despite ongoing concerns about his human rights record. Mohammed Bin Salman, known as MBS, is accused of personally ordering the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and is the de facto leader of his nation’s authoritarian regime.

Former Olympic gold medal-winning long jumper Greg Rutherford has just been through a second major health scare during which time he and his partner witnessed for themselves the pressure the NHS is under. It left the 36-year-old delirious, screaming in pain and “trying to claw my own skin off”, as he describes it. “That was absolutely terrifying,” he tells i from his home in his first press interview since the incident.

An asylum seeker who is terrified of water after surviving a deadly migrant boat shipwreck is among those being told he must move to the Bibby Stockholm barge. Nabir*, a Syrian asylum seeker in his twenties, arrived in the UK by plane earlier this year. He is refusing to move to the barge because he is petrified of the sea, after he says he was involved in the deadly shipwreck on his journey across Europe.

Smartphone apps could be used to help tackle binge drinking according to a study involving students with “unhealthy levels of alcohol use”. Researchers found drinkers who used the Smaart app reduced the average number of binge drinking days by around three days every month. They were also able to cut the number of drinks by around 10 per cent.

A member of staff at the British Museum has been dismissed after artefacts including gold jewellery and precious gems, some more than 500 years old, were found to have been stolen from a store room. It is understood the items were taken over a “significant” period of time, prior to the discovery this year.

5 key factors on A-level results:

How exams have been marked differently: It’s already caused all kinds of uproar, but this year it is expected that nearly 100,000 fewer top grades will be achieved in England. Some 45 per cent of all A-level grades were either an A or an A* in 2021, up from 33 per cent in 2019. The return to pre-pandemic grading means that national results will be lower. To do that, around 59,000 fewer A*s and 36,000 fewer As will need to be awarded this year, experts at the University of Buckingham say. Ofqual has also stated that it will make no special allowances for pupils whose teaching was affected by eight days of industrial action in 2023. More moderate arrangements are in place this year in Wales and Northern Ireland. Read the full story on how exams will be marked and how it will affect grades, here.

An increase in clearing spaces at some universities: According to analysis by the Times, hundreds of extra course were put into clearing on Wednesday night, suggesting that many students may have not made their entry grades. The paper said there were 2,921 undergraduate courses available at Russell Group universities for UK candidates last night, compared with 1,519 at the same stage last year.

Disadvantaged students are likely to be affected the most: Several leading education figures and experts told i that they expect this year’s A-level results to provide evidence of a further widening in the attainment gap between students from poorer and better-off households. According to one recent analysis, a pupil on free school meals is 27 per cent less likely to achieve good final exam grades than a higher-income peer. Steve Chalke, a baptist minister and founder of the Oasis network of 52 primary and secondary academies serving deprived communities across England, told i: “What we are seeing feeding through into next week’s results is the effects of the pandemic, in which kids from the poorest families were at a disadvantage because they were less likely to have their own bedroom, their own electronic device and parents able to work from home, and the catastrophe which was the failure to provide adequate catch-up funding after the pandemic.” Read the full story here.

An increase in appeals is likely: The expected drop in grades has made an increase in appeals inevitable, a senior examiner told i. They said: “The changes to grading [after the pandemic] have led to very high expectations from teachers, pupils and parents, and it is always going to be difficult to row that back. People are going to receive grades tomorrow which they will feel don’t match those expectations. Inevitably more than ever will say that’s not fair and look to appeal.” Professor Alan Smithers, head of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said students could seek appeals based not only on the more generous marking boundaries used for the other years in the aftermath of the pandemic but also factors including the loss of learning during Covid-19 and recent strikes by teaching unions. Read the full story here.

How to navigate the system today: For many students, today will be hugely stressful as they deal with clearing and appeals. You can read our guides on grade boundaries and how grades are calculated here. Those hoping for a certain number of Ucas tariff points can read about how the points work, and how to calculate how much your qualifications are worth here. All you need to know on clearing and how it works, is here.

A-Level results day has arrived (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty)

 Around the world

More than 60 people are feared dead after a boat carrying migrants was found off Cape Verde in West Africa. Almost all those on board the boat, which was at sea for over a month, are thought to have been from Senegal.

A 43-year-old Texas woman has been arrested and charged with threatening the federal judge presiding over Donald Trump’s election case in Washington, DC. Abigail Jo Shry is accused of calling US District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s chambers and leaving a “threatening voicemail message” in which she is also alleged to have “made a direct threat to kill” Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and anyone else “who went after former president Trump.”

The pride of Russian military hardware is on show at a defence ministry expo in Moscow this week, as the Kremlin seeks to demonstrate that it can compensate for vast equipment losses in Ukraine. Display models included top-of-the-line tanks the T-90 and T-14 Armata – only recently introduced to the fighting in Ukraine – featuring new accessories such as reactive armour and sophisticated optics, as well as prized Western hardware captured on the battlefield.

Construction has sprung up on a disputed South China Sea island, prompting speculation that Beijing may be building a new airstrip in the Paracel archipelago. According to satellite photos analysed by the Associated Press and reports from military news outlet The Warzone, China appears to be constructing an airstrip on Triton Island, which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

A man who earned himself the name “Toilet Man” through his obsession with setting up public toilets in India has died at the age of 80. Bindeshwar Pathak founded the NGO Sulabh International, which went on to build nearly 1.3 million household toilets and more than 10,000 public toilets.

A British farmhouse owner who made it to France before the 2020 Brexit deadline by “the skin of her teeth” said she got shingles from the stress as things changed “beyond words” after the UK quit the EU. Clare Emblin, 63, originally from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, said she and her husband, Malcolm, 68, “actually arrived in France with five dogs at 7.30 on New Year’s Eve”, after which Britons could no longer move freely in the EU.

 Watch out for…

 an excavation in rural France, which is aiming to unearth the suspected grave of 36 German soldiers and a female French collaborator who were executed by Resistance fighters during the final year of the Nazi occupation. 

 Thoughts for the day

Two new peerages in the House of Lords reveal the doomed state of this Government. A minor detail about the House of Lords reveals an awful lot, writes Ian Dunt.

Being ‘bougie broke’ is tougher than you think – it’s not just ditching manicures and fancy wine. Most of the decisions the squeezed middle are making are tougher than which rosé to buy, says Clare Seal.

From Brandon Flowers to Madonna, why do celebrities think they can bring about world peace? Well-meaning popstars should take note, warns Emily Watkins.

‘Unfortunately for Flowers, the audience of assembled Georgians – whose country was invaded by Russia in 2008 and remains partly under Russian control – didn’t seem to agree that the matter could be settled so simply,’ writes Emily Watkins (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

 Culture Break

Sanditon, ITVX, review: This charming Regency romance is no Bridgerton. The Americans were right to save Andrew Davies’s drama, writes Gerard Gilbert.

Kris Marshall as Tom Parker and Kate Ashfield as Mary Parker in Sanditon (Photo: Red Planet)

 The Big Read

How Sir Keir is learning from Australian Labor on how to stop net zero costing him the election. “Picking a fight on the environment has attractions to the Tories because the game that they are in is trying to make sure they consolidate,” one former strategist says.

Sir Keir Starmer speaking at the launch of the Labour Party’s mission on cheaper green power in June (Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)


England are in the World Cup final – the Lionesses are so close to greatness they can taste it. Sarina Wiegman’s side are on the brink of history against Spain after spoiling Australia’s World Cup party in Sydney, writes Daniel Storey.

England will play Spain in the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday (Photo: Reuters)

 Something to brighten your day

The health rules that really matter (and the five that you shouldn’t worry about). From 100,000 steps to eating five fruit and veg a day, many of these long-held health mantras have had an update.

The five-a-days has been supplanted with the 30-a-week (Photo: Mas Bro/Getty)

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