UK coronavirus live: Matt Hancock gives details on new National Institute for Health Protection

By Amy Walker (now) and Archie Bland (earlier)

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The Association of School and College Leaders has demanded that education secretary Gavin Williamson hold an independent review into what it calls the “grading fiasco” to avoid similar errors.

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, said: “This degree of transparency is necessary at a time when public confidence has been badly shaken.

“It seems to be clear that the statistical model for moderating centre-assessed grades was flawed, and that it produced many anomalous results. But how did this happen, why were the problems not foreseen, and why were ministers not on top of this?

“Most importantly, what lessons can we learn for the future? While the government plans for students to sit GCSEs and A-levels next summer, there is currently no Plan B if there is widespread disruption because of coronavirus.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson in his office at the Department of Education in Westminster, London, following the announcement that A-level and GCSE results in England will now be based on teachers’ assessments of their students, unless the grades produced by the controversial algorithm are higher.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson in his office at the Department of Education in Westminster, London, following the announcement that A-level and GCSE results in England will now be based on teachers’ assessments of their students, unless the grades produced by the controversial algorithm are higher. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

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Nicola Sturgeon has stressed the need to balance the harm of coronavirus with the importance of children returning to full-time learning, as she updated the media on further clusters involving school pupils and after Scotland’s largest teaching union called for more effective safety measures in classrooms.

The Scottish first minister said:

It is the case that the longer children are out of school the more damage is done to their education and wellbeing, including potentially their mental wellbeing, and the longer that goes on the more risk we face of that damage being longer term. We have to get to a position where we can have young people back in school and have, within the guidance that’s in place, as normal as possible an educational experience.”

At her daily briefing, Sturgeon said eight cases have now been identified in a cluster in Lanarkshire, including five pupils from three different schools, while one in north-east Glasgow now has 14 cases – including pupils at Bannerman high school, Ballieston, adding that the two clusters are still believed to be linked. Three pupils at separate primary schools in Paisley, Blairgowrie and Perth have also tested positive.

She emphasised that these were “community clusters with an impact on schools” rather than school-based clusters.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, speaking during a government coronavirus briefing.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, speaking during a government coronavirus briefing. Photograph: Scottish Government/AFP/Getty Images

Reiterating her warnings about house parties and gatherings of young people outside school, she said: “The biggest risk to schools are outbreaks that start outside schools and find their way into schools. So far none of what I have reported today is transmission within schools.”

She also asked employers to be “understanding and considerate” to parents whose children were told to isolate as a result of contact tracing.

The general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, Larry Flanagan, took the unusual step of writing directly to the first minister as a number of new pupil infections emerged, asking why pupils were expected to wear masks at shops at lunchtimes but not in classrooms, and calling on the government to fund the hiring of 3,500 new teachers “so that we can reduce class sizes and make possible physical distancing”.

Sturgeon said guidance on face covering was under constant review.

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Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has been highlighting the plight of students taking vocational BTec qualifications, who appear to have been overlooked in the exam debacle.

While A-level students are still reeling from the U-turns on grades and university places, many students taking level 3 BTecs, equivalent to A-levels, are still to receive their results or discover what the impact on their grades has been from the BTec exam board, Pearson.

Khan said:

Yesterday’s U-turn was welcome news for thousands of A-level and GCSE students – but we now also urgently need the government to ensure BTec students are not left behind. A high proportion of BTec students are from BAME communities and low-income families. They have already suffered immeasurably from Covid-19 and the least they deserve is to be given fair results.

“It is truly appalling that the government has tried to lay the blame for the sorry A-level debacle at the door of Ofqual – and by making universities responsible for clearing up the mess, they have only increased confusion and uncertainty as many courses have now been filled.”

Yesterday Ofqual said that for qualifications such as BTecs each awarding organisation “has been responsible for developing its own model for issuing results”, and that “in only a very few cases” have their assessed grades been through the type of statistical treatment used on A-levels.

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European officials have said “proper negotiations” on a post-Brexit treaty between the UK and European Union have barely started, as time runs out to secure a deal.

The EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will meet his British counterpart David Frost in Brussels for a working dinner on Tuesday evening, which will be followed by two days of talks on all the main sticking points, including “fair” competition, fisheries, police and judicial co-operation.

This will be the seventh negotiating round, but EU officials are concerned that the two sides have yet to begin detailed talks on a legal text - the EU has submitted a 440-page draft treaty, while the government has published 723 pages of text over 12 documents.

“On most topics we are not in proper negotiations,” said one EU official, referring to the absence of talks on a legal document. “We are still talking about the framework. On no issue are we discussing text.”

Frost has said an agreement can be reached in September, while insisting the government will not compromise British sovereignty “over our laws, our courts, or our fishing waters”.

The Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020 and the EU says a legal text must be nailed down by October at the latest.

Barnier last month accused the British of not showing “engagement and readiness to find solutions respecting the EU’s fundamental principles and interests”. EU sources say that the absence of UK “engagement” raises doubts about the prospects of an autumn breakthrough. “You need incremental changes to have a big breakthrough,” said the official.

While the EU has floated a compromise on fisheries and the UK has softened its stance on dispute settlement and governance of the agreement, the two sides remain deadlocked on the crucial issue of “fair” competition.

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