Places deadline: Top tips on choosing a school

January 15, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

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The race is on – parents have until midnight to apply for primary school places

Parents of rising-fives in England have until midnight tonight to apply for primary school places for their children.

It can be a tense time, with the most popular schools often massively oversubscribed.

In some areas, high-performing schools can be thin on the ground, with warnings of a postcode lottery when it comes to access.

On top of this, a sharp increase in pupil numbers in recent years has made the primary school admissions process increasingly tense.

Once the application is in, there is an anxious wait before parents are told in mid-April if their applications have been successful, and where their children will go to school.

Data: ‘Treat with caution’

Official performance data is published once a year for every school in England, giving details of how pupils perform in national tests.

The latest league tables on England’s 16,000 primaries were published last month, offering parents the chance to compare the performances of local schools with those of others locally and nationally.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has warned parents against setting too much store by league table data.

“At face value, all the numbers tell you are how a relatively small group of pupils in a school performed in a set of narrow tests, focused on a small segment of the curriculum.

“Tests and exams are only part of the picture.”

Look behind the Ofsted banner

Inspection reports from schools watchdog Ofsted are a useful source for parents hoping to make informed choices.

But education experts stress that it is crucial to look beyond the paperwork.

Some schools are so proud of their good or outstanding Ofsted ratings that they get banners printed up to hang outside.

But this week, a head teachers’ union suggested they should be taken down.

“Inspections are obviously important but they don’t tell the full story,” said Stephen Rollett, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

“Let’s replace those banners with something more inspiring.

“We could instead put up quotes from parents and pupils about the things they love about our schools, the things which really make schools tick.”

Talk to the head

It is crucial to visit a few schools to get a feel of which ones best suit your individual child, advises Anne Lyons, NAHT president and head of St John Fisher Catholic Primary in Harrow, near London.

There are often open days for prospective parents – or sometimes it is possible to organise separate visits.

“Get a feel for the school to see if it offers the environment for your child in terms of the quality of education and the relationships between children and staff.

“Think about your child’s personality and the sort of school you want for them.

“Try and find out whether the school is creating the sort of learning environment that would suit your child,” she says.

“Does your child face any particular health, learning or family issues? Will your child thrive in this school?”

What do other parents think?

There is no substitute for talking to parents who already have children at the school, says Ms Lyons.

“Sending their first child off to school for the first time can be a leap of faith for parents.

“Existing parents are the ones who can tell you how the school communicates with families and how effectively they settle in new pupils.

“Do they feel welcome at the school?

“They can also tell you how well their children are doing in terms of learning and getting on with their classmates, whether they have had any problems and how well they feel the school dealt with those problems.”

Check the school website

Schools are obliged to carry details of their latest Ofsted report on their websites.

But you can also find out a wealth of other information there – from admissions criteria, to behaviour policies, whether there is a uniform and what happened at the latest school play, sports event or jumble sale.

“It can also be a good way of checking out the parent-teacher association and finding out about other ways of getting involved in the school community,” Ms Lyons suggests.

Know the rules

Above all, the NAHT advises parents to get across the admissions process and deadlines.

A simple mistake like missing the deadline can mean your child missing out on a place at the school you would most like them to attend.

The basic details are set out on the Department for Education website – but also check your local authority website for important details on catchment areas and any additional requirements for admission to faith schools.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42662880

Thousands struggle to access childcare on glitchy website

January 15, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

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Thousands of parents in England are struggling to get subsidised childcare as they grapple with a glitchy website eight months after it was set up.

In some cases, money meant for fees has become stuck in tax-free childcare accounts, leaving some parents unable to pay their nursery bills.

Others struggled to apply for or reconfirm their free childcare.

The government says that fewer than 2% of the 320,000 parents who have opened accounts had encountered problems.

It added that earlier teething problems had been put right with extra resources and insists the website is running smoothly for the majority of parents.

‘Disappointment’

But nursery and pre-school organisations say thousands of parents have experienced major problems using the HMRC-run website.

They have had to devote hours to helping parents resolve issues through repeated calls to the telephone helpline, they say.

And many parents have ended up relying on the goodwill of nursery bosses to keep looking after their children while they work, until compensation payments are forthcoming.

It comes after problems in the spring and summer when parents struggled to claim eligibility for either the 30 hours scheme for three and four-year-olds or the tax-free childcare – the government’s two key schemes aimed at making childcare more affordable.

Debbie Raylan, a volunteer administrator at a nursery in Nantwich, said she had been supporting parents who had money locked in tax-free accounts and who were unable to reconfirm their right to claim free childcare.

“One lady I helped, had to make over 100 phone calls, literally, to get the problem sorted.

“This lady was looking at either giving up her job or finding someone else to look after her children. This is real life, it impacts on people.”

One mother of twins, Kathleen Shields, told the BBC her children’s tax-free accounts had been wiped, and that helpline staff could not say when they would be up and running again.

Although, she was able to withdraw the funds she had paid in, she has been left more then £400 out of pocket for only two months’ childcare costs as the government top-up cannot be received in the account.

“I would like to voice my disappointment,” she said, “and highlight how difficult this makes things for hardworking families – mine and the countless others impacted by this.”

She is claiming compensation.

‘Ongoing problems’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said she had heard from too many members for these issues to be confined to “teething troubles”.

“It is causing ongoing problems,” she said.

“Too many nurseries are saying they have parents who are struggling both to register and reconfirm their eligibility, something they must do every three months.”

She said it had taken months for many nurseries themselves to register, with one taking more than a year to have its details approved.

“Here, the parents who had signed up for tax-free childcare were unable to use this towards their child’s place at that nursery.”

One of the key issues causing problems currently seems to be linked to the three-monthly reconfirmation.

In order to secure the government subsidy for the term that has just started, parents were required to reconfirm by 31 December.

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Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that the long-running problems with the government’s Childcare Service still haven’t been resolved.

“This is an IT system meant to support a flagship government policy and yet, more than eight months after its launch, we are still hearing reports of parents who cannot do the simplest things.

“This is understandably causing much anger and frustration, something not helped by the government’s insistence that all is fine with the website despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary.

“The government must get a grip on this problem once and for all, and ensure that the system it is asking parents to use is actually fit for purpose.”

Ms Tanuku added that her organisation had been flagging up these issues on a regular basis with HMRC and attending advisory meetings regularly.

“Despite reassurances from the HMRC, these complaints are too commonplace and we are sure this is the tip of the iceberg.”

Nicky Morgan, chair of the Treasury Committee, said problems seem to persist with the website despite HMRC saying it had resolved things.

“We’ve launched an inquiry into childcare, part of which will focus on the impact of these failures on the take-up of government initiatives that aim to make childcare affordable.”

An HMRC spokesperson said: “More than 250,000 parents have successfully reconfirmed their eligibility. Almost all parents receive a response within five working days, and most get their decision instantly.

“If any parent is having a problem reconfirming or needs to speak to us, they should call us on 0300 123 4097.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42649389

Dreaming big

January 13, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

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The UK needs to produce thousands more engineers

Fewer than one in 10 engineers in the UK are female – the lowest percentage in Europe, according to the Women’s Engineering Society. Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30%. Here, two pioneering female engineers at Oxford University explain what drives them.

Priyanka Dhopade was named as one of the top 50 Women in Engineering Under 35 in 2017, as chosen by the Women’s Engineering Society. She grew up in Canada, where she studied for a degree in aerospace engineering. She completed a PhD at Monash University in Melbourne before moving to Oxford in 2013.

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Priyanke Dhopade at St John’s College, Oxford

As a child I was very interested in aeroplanes, and how things fly in space – I wanted to be an astronaut. My parents suggested engineering, because it’s quite practical. I could use my enthusiasm and my skills to do something that’s real that matters.

Environmental goals

My research looks at the thermodynamics and the fluid dynamics of jet engine internal flows. I do a lot of computational fluid dynamics to look at the transfer of heat inside an engine and use those predictions to help design innovative cooling systems for modern jet engines. What that does is it helps to make the engine more efficient and safer as well, and reduces the environmental impact in terms of emissions and fuel consumption. If we help to make jet engines more efficient, that’s going to have a huge environmental impact.

Not just hard hats

The stereotype of an academic is someone who sits at their desk and doesn’t talk to anybody and just scribbles away in their notebook. But I talk to so many experimentalists and work with them to help design these massive test facilities so that we can look at different aspects of the jet engine. I work with industry sponsors and get their input on the real problems that they are facing. I spend some time on the computer as well. I think that’s also another thing that people don’t realise, that in our modern digital world – engineering, a lot of it, is computer-based. It’s not about wearing a hard hat and being on-site – although those roles are still available for those who are attracted to them.

Rewarding career

I try not to think about it on a daily basis because I’m quite busy and I’m doing interesting things, but, occasionally, I look around and see that I’m the only woman in the room full of 30 or 40 men and I do find it a bit odd. The cultural, historical connotations of engineering, particularly in Britain, seem to be quite different from other countries, certainly in the culture that I grew up in, which is South Asian. The connotation of an engineering career is something quite prestigious, and boys and girls are encouraged to do it, because it’s seen as a stable, rewarding career, financially as well. So I find it a bit odd coming to Britain and seeing that people aren’t as enthusiastic – it’s not as prestigious or as respected a profession. And, not seeing enough women doing it – it breaks my heart.

Encouraging women

I think there’s so many problems that need to be solved and the problems are quite diverse, so the solutions also need to be diverse. We need to be involving as many different members of society as possible, not just women but also different ethnicities and different socioeconomic classes and disabilities – it has to be a combined effort. Making parents and teachers aware that engineering is an interesting, rewarding, successful career choice for girls would go a long way towards increasing the intake of girls. But, at the same time, we have to do things to improve the environment for when they do become engineers.

Role models

My earliest role model was my dad, who was a mechanical engineer. Growing up I didn’t really have any other engineering role models but when I became a graduate student and started to feel more and more that I was a minority in terms of gender, I started to seek out role models. Now I know all of these amazing female engineers who are definitely huge role models to me, like Dame Ann Dowling, Professor Eleanor Stride at Oxford and Professor Alison Nobel at Oxford. I think they don’t get as much visibility as they deserve. For young girls to look up to someone like Dame Ann Dowling and say, ‘I want to be like her’ – that would make such a huge difference.

Gladys Ngetich grew up in Kenya, where she studied engineering. She came to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and is now studying for her PhD.

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Gladys Ngetich outside her lab in Oxford

My father was an engineer in Kenya. During holidays he would come home with spanners and engineering tools trying to fix things here and there. I think I was introduced to that engineering environment when I was very young.

Aerospace dreams

I’m looking at improving or coming up with new efficient advanced cooling technologies for jet engines. We are filing a patent. That’s actually one of my dreams. To work and to come up with something which is significant, that is going to have uses in the world in terms of making intercontinental travel safe and efficient so we use less fuel, we have less emissions, and just generally helping people all over the world.

Filing a patent

Aerospace is male-dominated. Personally, it’s not been a big problem for me because I was born after four boys and so most of my childhood I spent with boys. I’ve had role models all through my levels of education – grammar school, high school, undergrad and now in Oxford. I think my biggest role model is my supervisor. He’s helped me to write a paper and file a patent. I feel I have already achieved more than I was expecting. In five years, I’m not sure where I will be, but it will either be industry, maybe in Oxford, or I will be teaching.

Follow Helen on Twitter.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42655179

Fifty and childless

January 13, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

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Nicci and Andrew Fletcher are now in their 50s

“What people don’t realise is it’s a form of bereavement. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. I just couldn’t face the world.”

Nicci Fletcher, 50, says she and her husband Andrew felt “real grief” at not having children together and wanted to help other people going through the same experience.

So they decided to set up an online subscription magazine aimed solely at other people who wanted children but couldn’t have them.

Nicci and Andrew met in their late 30s. When an unplanned pregnancy ended in miscarriage they were devastated but thought they would be able to conceive again.

But Nicci later discovered she had inherited her mother’s endometriosis – a condition which can lead to infertility.

“My mother was advised not to have any more children after me but I’d never asked why,” she said. “I kick myself now. I had no symptoms at all. My periods were like clockwork, no pain.

“If I’d known then I could have done something about it. I could have had my eggs harvested and frozen. When you’re in your 20s, you think you’ve got all the time in the world.”

Childlessness on the rise

According to government statistics published in November, nearly one in five women in England and Wales born in 1971 have no children at all – compared to one in 10 of their mother’s generation.

Although there are no official statistics on how many childless women wanted children, an academic study from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands suggested it could be as high as 90%.

The situation hit Nicci hard. As well as the pain of not having children, she felt isolated from her friends who were busy with their young families.

“Of my 20 close friends, I was the only one without a child,” she said. “I had such a feeling of being marginalised.

“They were supportive as much as they could be supportive but we were in denial, we didn’t ask for any support.”

Andrew, 52, became despondent at not being able to resolve the situation.

“It’s different for men. We don’t have the biological imperative that women do – we can supposedly have babies at any age,” he said.

“But I felt depressed at not being able to help Nicci. I can say the right words, I can rub her back but I can’t fix it. Most blokes like to fix things.”

He also grieved for the future he had planned.

“We bought our farmhouse in France because it would be a marvellous place to bring up children. As a couple you make decisions based on the assumption of having children. It’s painful realising you’re not going to have the life you expected.”

Slowly, Nicci and Andrew began to withdraw from friends and family.

“I’d always been a sociable person, but we became quite reclusive,” said Andrew.

“Everything felt geared towards children – even adverts on the TV – and so we began to feel completely alone.”

Finding your tribe

For four years, the grief and depression overwhelmed them.

It was only by becoming involved in the annual World Childless Week, a global event to bring childfree people together, that Nicci and Andrew realised there were thousands of other people going through exactly the same feelings.

“It really helped us,” said Nicci. “For the first time in years we’re going around with smiles on her faces. We’re members of a club none of us wanted to be part of, but it’s a very supportive club.”

It was this feeling which made them decide to launch their online subscription magazine for other child-free people.

It’s just one of a number of ways childfree people are coming together to support each other.

Debbie Norman, aged 50, is a member of Gateway Women, an online community of childless women who meet up every month throughout the UK.

Before joining, she found it difficult to talk openly about the pain she felt at being childless.

“People would say: ‘Why don’t you just adopt?’ They’d try and fix the problem or sweep it under the carpet. It just made me feel worse because my feelings weren’t being validated.”

The friendships she’s made through Gateway Women have given her “permission” to work through her feelings and come to terms with her situation.

“It’s not a life sentence,” she said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not the future you planned but it’s still light and beautiful. It can still be lovely.”

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The Institute of Public Policy Research estimates that, by 2030, there will be two million people aged over 65 without adult children, up from 1.2 million in 2012.

Approximately 230,000 of them will be in need of more than 20 hours’ care a week and will have no informal support.

Ageing without Children, a campaign group founded by Kirsty Woodward for people over 50 who don’t have children, is concerned about who will take on the caring responsibilities for childless people as they grow old.

A pilot scheme has been launched in Dorset which aims to challenge how services plan for people facing those circumstances.

Ms Woodward said: “Our care system still relies heavily on the younger generation caring for its parents – 95% of care is picked up by the family.”

As for Nicci and Andrew, helping and connecting with other people means they can now look forward to the future.

“We’ve gone from rock bottom to feeling so optimistic and positive about the future,” said Nicci.

“Helping other people has helped us heal. We’ve got a reason to get out of bed in the morning – which isn’t simply to walk our three dogs.”

Listen to Andrew and Nicci on the Stephen Nolan programme on BBC Radio 5 live on Saturday 13 January or afterwards on iPlayer Radio.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42647471

‘How skipping helps good behaviour in schools’

January 13, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-42669673

Driving away depression

January 12, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

Jarlath McCreanor has had depression for 30 years. He was tired of people talking about the illness in whispers. So he took his little car, made it bright yellow and now drives it around Northern Ireland to get people to open up.

At Like Minds we’ve been asking why it can feel difficult to talk about depression, and how you can make it easier.

Produced by Rob Brown and India Rakusen

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by mental health issues, the following organisations may be able to help.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-42639398

Magician Dynamo surprises Hampshire youth club

January 12, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

World famous magician Dynamo surprised youngsters at a Hampshire youth club.

He kicked off the evening at The King’s Arms in Petersfield with a magic show, before sharing that he was bullied when he was younger.

Dynamo told the group he also attended a youth club in Bradford, which gave him the “confidence and social skills to go out into life”.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-42653567

Jo Johnson: PM’s ex-aide ‘so wrong’ about Justine Greening

January 11, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

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Nick Timothy quit his role as Theresa May’s joint chief of staff after the election

Theresa May’s former adviser has sparked criticism for a newspaper article attacking ex-education secretary Justine Greening.

Nick Timothy said Ms Greening – who quit in the reshuffle after the PM tried to move her to another department – had resisted attempts to reform school and tuition fees policy.

This claim was branded “so wrong” by ex-universities minister Jo Johnson.

Mr Johnson said Ms Greening had been “faultlessly loyal”.

Mr Timothy, who quit Downing Street after playing a key role in the Conservatives’ unsuccessful general election campaign, has since become a newspaper columnist.

In the Daily Telegraph, he wrote that when she was education secretary, Ms Greening had “exasperated” Mrs May, was “unpopular with officials” and “frustrated reformers”.

“Charged with making Britain ‘the world’s great meritocracy’, she put the brakes on policies that work, like free schools, and devised bureaucratic initiatives of little value,” he wrote.

He denied allegations that he had “orchestrated” Ms Greening’s departure from her post, but backed the decision to replace her with Damian Hinds. He also accused her of blocking proposals to cut university tuition fees.

But his claims were dismissed by Mr Johnson, who was universities minister until the reshuffle, when he was moved to the Department for Transport.

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Another Conservative, former minister Anna Soubry, tweeted:

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Mrs May’s official spokesman said: “Nick Timothy left Downing Street more than seven months ago and he doesn’t speak for the prime minister or for the government.”

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said while Downing Street insiders insisted Mr Timothy no longer had contact with Mrs May, any intervention by him wound up many Conservative MPs:

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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-42647887

CES 2018: Willow and Freemie breast pumps offer mums freedom

January 11, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

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Willow

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Willow’s breast pumps are designed to be worn unobtrusively

Two firms have launched portable pumps to help breastfeeding mums collect their milk on the move.

Women who use breast pumps often apply them several times a day and for periods of about 20 minutes or more.

However, generally they have to be plugged into a power socket and the pump mechanism is noisy.

Both Willow and the Freemie Liberty pump are designed to be worn more unobtrusively – placed inside a woman’s bra.

Unlike traditional pumps, they are powered by rechargeable batteries and are very quiet.

They are both on show at the CES tech trade fair in Las Vegas.

Stressed mums

“Mums have a lot of stress, they have to plug into a wall, often they are isolated in a tiny room and they have to step out of life,” said Willow chief executive Naomi Kelman.

“One teacher told us she had to stop and go in a supply closet to pump.”

Willow won an award for its device at CES in 2017, since when the pump has been available to buy as a beta trial, but it is now launching onto the market, retailing in the US for $479 (£354).

It has faced some criticism online from those who have tried it out, including comments that the bags, which hold 4oz (118ml) of milk, are too small.

A spokeswoman said that in future “bag options” of different sizes would be available, and added that the pump can be paused while the smaller bag is changed over.

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The founders of Freemie got their idea for discreet breast pumps when their twins were born prematurely

The Freemie Liberty pump comes with 8oz bags.

It is the first portable product from Dao Health, which launched its first wearable pump in 2013 after 10 years of development. Until now its devices have required a power socket.

It has a “sleep” setting that switches it off after a certain amount of time should the user want to doze off while pumping – although many women find that difficult.

Co-founder Dr Stella Dao, an emergency doctor, and her husband Dan Garbez came up with the idea when their twin babies were born prematurely.

“They were in the neonatal intensive care unit, my wife realised she was having to use her breast pump 10 or 12 times a day which required her to take off her clothes, and do it for 20 to 30 minutes at a time,” said Mr Garbez.

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“The point she impressed upon me is that her job situation is difficult and demanding but lots of women around the world have difficult and demanding jobs and they can’t just drop what they’re doing and use a breast pump.”

Willow comes with an accompanying app – currently only for iPhones – which women can use to track their milk production.

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Willow

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Willows breast pumps (above) cost $479 whereas the Freemie Liberty will retail for $300

The Freemie Liberty, in contrast, does not but is compatible with other apps on the market, said Mr Garbez.

It retails for $300 in the US and is also included in some health insurance plans.

Tech analyst Carolina Milanesi from Creative Strategies said it was encouraging to see products on the market that offered women more flexibility.

“In the busy life we are living and in the attempt for women to better balance career and family I sure welcome better solutions to empower me not to have to prioritise one over the other,” she said.

Follow the BBC team at CES via this Twitter list

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42643971

First-class honours for a quarter of UK graduates

January 11, 2018 Posted by Josef Shomperlen

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More than one in four UK students graduated from university with a first-class degree last year, data shows.

The official figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that the share of graduates with the highest possible result rose 44% in five years.

The statistics may spark fresh debate on whether degrees are getting easier and if the ancient classification system is still fit for purpose.

In 2012-13, the first year of higher fees, 18% got a first.

Overall, 26% of graduates who completed their first undergraduate degree in the 2016-17 academic year achieved a first.

The data, published by HESA, also shows a hike in the proportion gaining an upper second (2:1) or above, with three in four (75%) making the grade.

This was up from just over two-thirds (68%) in 2012-13.

The figures show women were more likely to graduate with a first or upper second than men (77% compared with 72%).

Those who studied full time were also more likely to obtain one of these results, at 76%, compared with 54% of part-time students.

There were also regional differences, with 75% of students at English universities gaining a first or 2:1, 78% in Scotland, 71% in Wales and 76% in Northern Ireland.

University of Buckingham professor of education Alan Smithers said unlike with national exams such as GCSEs and A-levels, universities were “free to award as many firsts as they like” and had “every incentive to do so”.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42649381