As Scotland comes to the end of the first full week of schooling, Nicola Sturgeon was asked about significant concerns raised by teachers and unions about safety in classrooms, as well as the inconsistent advice that young people are getting on distancing and face covering in and out of schools.
Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie raised a letter written by Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, calling for clarity: Sturgeon emphasised how important it was for children’s education and emotional well-being to have a return to full-time education. It’s a point she made earlier when explaining why adults are still being advised to work from home in order to keep community transmissions down, and allow schools to remain open.
But she did add that guidance that face coverings are not needed in classrooms “may well be guidance we look to change in the near future”, saying that Scottish SAGE is constantly reviewing new evidence.
The question of deaths in Scottish care homes, and how the virus got into those settings, was raised again at first minister’s questions, where Ruth Davidson – newly re-installed for the Scottish Tories – pressed the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on the Sunday Post’s exclusive that patients who had tested positive for coronavirus were transferred from hospital to care homes during the weeks around the initial lockdown.
Sturgeon would not answer when her ministers knew this had happened, but insisted that Scottish government ministers could not know about individual clinical decisions and that issues like this would be covered in the promised government inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.
She said the Scottish government had charged Public Health Scotland with producing validated statistics on the number of patients tested prior to discharge, the outcome of those tests and the rationale for discharge decisions. This data should be available next month.
Sturgeon added she would set out for discussion in the chamber the remit and timescale of an inquiry, but made her frustration plain as she told Davidson that her officials were “in the teeth of a pandemic that may be accelerating again” and that it would be irresponsible to divert their efforts to a public inquiry right now.
at 1.05pm BST
The overall NHS sickness and absence rate for England was the highest in more than a decade during the peak period of coronavirus, figures reveal.
Data from NHS Digital published on Thursday show the rate was 6.2% in April, the highest level in the data which goes back to April 2009.
The figures showed that about 2.3m full-time equivalent (FTE) days of work across all staff groups in the NHS were lost out of a total of nearly 36.6m in April 2020.
During the same month last year, there were more than 1.4m FTE days lost out of a total of nearly 35m, a rate of 4.06%.
The figures show that every region of England except the south-west reported their highest sickness absence rates since April 2009.
London reported the highest sickness absence rate at 7.2%, while the south-west reported the lowest at 4.5%.
Ambulance trusts had the highest sickness absence rate at 7.3% followed by acute trusts, which provide services such as A&E departments, at nearly 6.5%.
NHS Providers said the variation in sickness absence by region and trusts correlated with the areas facing the biggest peaks of the coronavirus outbreak.
The most reported reason for sickness absence was anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses, at 20.9%.
But compared with previous data, there have been year-on-year increases in sickness absence due to chest and respiratory problems; cold, cough and flu; and infectious diseases.
There is no specific sickness absence reason for Covid-19 in the data.
at 1.09pm BST
Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland is not moving to the next stage of a route out of lockdown, as she announced that there have been 77 new cases of coronavirus since yesterday, the highest number of new cases in three months.
There were 27 new cases in Tayside overnight, and the outbreak there at the 2 Sisters chicken factory, Coupar Angus, has now reached 43 in total. The army’s mobile testing unit is still in place there and all 900 factory workers are urged to get tested.
Working from home remains the advice for most Scottish officer workers: Sturgeon says advising a return to non-essential offices presents “too great a risk at this time”. She adds that the impact that a full return to work could have on community transmission would make it more difficult to keep schools open.
at 1.02pm BST
Nicola Sturgeon confirmed Scotland would remain in phase three of her four-part plan for easing lockdown restrictions.
The first minister told MSPs: “I am not able to indicate, today, a move from phase three of our route map out of lockdown to phase four. We will remain, for now, in phase three and I must give notice today that this may well be the case beyond the next review point too.”
For Scotland to move into phase four she said ministers would have to be satisfied that “the virus is no longer considered a significant threat to public health”.
And she said the latest figures showed that “this is definitely not the case”.
at 12.46pm BST
Scotland has recorded the highest number of daily coronavirus cases in almost three months
Speaking during the Scottish government’s daily briefing, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said 19,534 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in Scotland, up by 77 from 19,457 the day before. That is the highest number of cases in almost three months.
No new coronavirus deaths had been reported in the last 24 hours, she said. A total of 2,492 patients have died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus.
There are 249 people in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, an increase of one in 24 hours. Of these patients, two were in intensive care – no change from the previous day.
at 12.48pm BST
The residents of Oldham in Greater Manchester are on tenterhooks today as they wait to hear whether they will be put in a stricter lockdown.
Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council and deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, is on Radio Manchester’s phone-in show this lunch time arguing against further measures in Oldham. He said:
Yes Oldham and indeed Manchester now have a higher rate of infection than we would like, but unlike back in April when we had a very, very high death rate from Covid-19, by and large there are less people dying of Covid-19 than summer flu, for example.
If you look at Oldham, the number of recorded [coronavirus-related] deaths over the last month was a total of four, whereas in one week in April it got as high as 67. People aren’t going into hospital, they aren’t calling their doctors, not calling 111. It is largely younger people and it is having minimal impact.
Restrictions that reduce people’s ability to be economically active are now likely to be causing more premature deaths by quite a long way than Covid-19 is.
The infection rate in Oldham has slowed, week on week, but is still the highest in the UK, with 83.1 cases per 100,000 people in the week to 15 August, down from 107.5 a week earlier. There were 197 new infections in that time period, compared with 255 the week before.
In Manchester there were 47.6 infections per 100,000 people in the week to 15 August, up from 37.3 the week before.
at 12.33pm BST
More than 75,000 households in England were considered homeless or at risk of becoming so at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, government figures show.
Between January and March, 36,690 households were assessed as homeless, according to statistics from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
A further 38,450 households were assessed as being threatened with homelessness within 56 days over the same period.
The total number of households considered homeless or at risk (75,140) was 2.4% higher than the equivalent period last year. There was a greater annual rise in the number of households considered homeless – 7.6% up from the 34,110 households in the same quarter in 2019. Single households accounted for 88.4% of the increase.
Charities believe the real number may be much higher. In July, research from Shelter estimated that 227,000 adult private renters had fallen into arrears since the start of the pandemic.
Responding to the government’s latest figures, Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate, said: “With daily news of new job cuts and the eviction ban set to lift on Monday, the coming months are likely to see a devastating homelessness crisis unfold unless the government steps in to safeguard people’s homes. Some may even face sleeping on the streets as councils struggle to cope with the intense pressure on oversubscribed services.”
at 12.23pm BST
Yesterday, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, told the BBC that the government was not considering making mask-wearing compulsory in offices as Covid-19 transmission in offfices is thought to be low.
The Science Media Centre generally does a decent job getting experts to refute/confirm contentious claims made in the media, and there are many interesting responses to Hancock here.
This is a particularly helpful one, believes Greg Fell, the director of public health in Sheffield.
Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said: “Office working has an inherent basis of social distancing built in. Most workplace outbreaks have been in factories producing food where temperatures are usually kept low.
“There has been little published work from the UK identifying where people have caught infections. We do know that transmission occurs in hospitals, in care homes, households and families mixing in households along with overcrowded pubs as in Aberdeen. The risk in offices must exist but so far not been measured and can reasonably thought to be low.
“There are other risks travelling to work. Although masks are required on public transport, I have seen reports it is not being rigorously enforced. For those many more areas of the country where public transport is not an option, this will require car use. Car sharing has been suggested as a risk factor, but this would not generate many cases and these reports have also involved a shared place of work.
“Unnecessary car journeys (even if only to the station) lead to increased CO2 emissions and localised air pollution. Working from home minimises your and your family’s risk from Covid-19 and flu. Working from home will keep down the overall number of transmissions in the whole country.
“If you can work from home without any detriment then it is reasonable to carry on doing this, but if you have to go to the office the risk is minimal and can be managed to be even lower.”
at 12.14pm BST
The Guardian’s Community desk has been collating responses from GCSE students today who wanted to share their joy/despair (delete as appropriate).
Waseem, a 19-year-old from Oldham, said he was disappointed, having failed his English and maths for the third time.
In maths, he received a one, rather than the four (C equivalent) he was predicted, and a three in English rather than his predicted five. He was resitting after narrowly failing last year.
“Last year I was a few marks off passing, and this year I tried so hard,” he said, saying he was particularly disappointed with his maths result. “I did all the work from home on google classrooms, and my teacher said he predicted me a four.”
Waseem said he was unsure why his marks were lower than expected, but would be sitting down with his teacher to talk about his options, including another possible resit.
“I’m just confused right now,” he said.
at 12.02pm BST
My colleagues Pamela Duncan and Tobi Thomas from the Guardian’s data unit report discrepancies in today’s GCSE results:
A rising tide lifts all boats and this year’s U-turn from algorithm to teacher-graded marks has resulted in an increase in top grades across every subject. Some subjects, however, benefited more than others.
Of those subjects with 50,000 or more candidates, science students fared best this year. More than half of biology students (54%) enjoyed one of the top three grades in 2020, up from 43.3% in 2019, with similar changes in chemistry (up from 44.1 to 53.5%) and physics (up from 44% to 53.2%).
Three quarters of classics candidates achieved the top grade of 7 and above, compared with 64.5% of candidates in 2019.
As mentioned earlier, engineering students enjoyed the biggest bump in grades between 2019 and 2020: 2.3 times as many engineering students got a grade of 7 and above this year (11.4% in 2019 versus 26.5% in 2020).
There were also significant lifts in physical education, computing, drama and business studies.
Citizenship studies had the lowest share of the top grades awarded this year, with just over a fifth (22.3%) of students achieving the top grade of 7 and above. Nonetheless, this was still an increase in comparison with 2019 results, in which just 16.6% of candidates received one of the three top grades.
at 11.48am BST
After all the uncertainty of the exams fiasco, headteachers across the country are celebrating their pupils’ GCSE success, but they say recent experiences have damaged relations with the Department for Education (DfE).
Jules White, headteacher of Tanbridge House secondary school in Horsham, West Sussex and leader of the WorthLess? education funding campaign, was with pupils this morning, watching with delight as they found out their grades.
“We had a wonderful year group,” he said. “They didn’t want to go into lockdown back in March. We should be celebrating their success today, and if they’ve had a little bit of a boost, then great. Just looking at them now, they’re really pleased. That’s what we are in it for.It’s not just about exams, it’s about young people taking the next step.”
White was highly critical of DfE leadership. “A shambolic few days has cruelly exposed the absence of effective leadership at the DfE,” he said. “Long held concerns about the department’s inability to listen meaningfully to head teachers and then act decisively and with flexibility is the main learning point from this disaster.”
He said schools faced huge future issues, including full reopening of schools in two weeks’ time, the threat of localised lockdowns and grappling with vast amounts of curriculum content before next year’s exams with so much time already lost. “Confidence amongst heads regarding the DfE’s ability to lead us with credibility is extremely low.”
at 11.54am BST
It may well be GCSE day today but the fallout from the A-level grading fiasco continues.
The Welsh exams regulator says its “best estimate” is that 41.3% students will now get A* to A, compared with 29.9% when results were released on 13 August and 27% in 2019.
Qualifications Wales also said that in the estimated revised AS-level results in Wales, 29.9% of students received an A-grade – compared with 22.2% last week and 20.3% in 2019.
But grades could get higher still, said a spokesperson for Qualification Wales:
These figures do not account for cases where the AS grade will be awarded to learners at A-level where it is higher than the Centre Assessment Grade or the calculated grade. Final revised results in Wales will therefore be higher than the figures in this analysis.
The announcement follows the decision of the Welsh government to scrap moderation and rely on teacher assessments.
at 11.29am BST
That’s all from me for today. Thanks for reading and commenting this morning. You’ll be in the hands of my colleague Helen Pidd, who’ll be joining you for much of the rest of the day.