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More than £28m of over-payments on student loans in England are being held by the government, researchers have discovered.

It is the result of cases in which repayments continued to be taken even though loans had been paid off in full.

The Student Loans Company says it has tried to contact people who have been over-charged to arrange refunds.

The Department for Education says data sharing has recently been improved to prevent such over-payments.

The scale of over-payments sitting unclaimed has been revealed by Research Professional News, a publication for higher education.

They relate to money borrowed to cover tuition fees and living costs – with repayments deducted from graduates’ salaries each month.

Lost contact

Payments should stop when the debt has been cleared – but the research shows that for more than 510,000 students since 2009-10, there were extra deductions.

Freedom of Information requests showed almost £308m in over-payments, averaging about £600 per person.

Most of this was paid back – but £28.5m remains unclaimed and has stayed in the government’s coffers.

The biggest annual amount not refunded is from 2015-16, with £6.3m of over-payments still outstanding. From 2016-17, £5.9m of over-payments have not been paid back.

The Students Loan Company (SLC) says it has tried to “proactively contact all customers that have over-repaid”.

But it says contact details might be out of date and refunds will depend on these former students getting in touch.

“We want all customers to repay the right amount and not to over-repay,” an SLC spokesman said.

Claim a refund

Such over-payments should become less likely after changes introduced earlier this year, a Department for Education spokeswoman said.

This will allow weekly sharing of data between the SLC and Revenue & Customs, so that loan repayments and the clearing of balances can be updated more accurately.

In the past, such data sharing had been on an annual basis, which could mean a lag before the repayment system recognised the loan had been paid off.

“If a borrower believes there has been an over-repayment, they should contact the SLC to seek a refund,” the Department for Education spokeswoman added.

Legal school meal nutrition standards may need to be amended, or discarded, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to internal local council planning documents seen by the BBC.

The standards are designed to make sure school children are fed healthy food.

Many councils say school meal costs will rise and funding for free school meals increase if there is no-deal.

The government said the food industry was “well versed at dealing with scenarios that can affect food supply.”

“We have a highly-resilient food supply chain and consumers in the UK have access to a range of sources of food. This will continue to be the case when we leave the EU.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted earlier on Monday that no-deal Brexit preparations are on track.

Some councils are anticipating they will not meet nutrition standards because of a rise in food prices and restriction of choice anticipated after a no-deal Brexit, particularly on fresh imports from Europe.

For example, North Ayrshire Council says it “might need to amend school nutrition standards”, in its internal Brexit planning document.

Local councils are legally obliged to provide high standard food to vulnerable users of public services and to manage the food supply challenges of leaving the EU without a deal.

Other councils, such as North Tyneside, report that “special dietary requirements may be difficult to meet” and that “if fresh produce is difficult to come by” schools should “increase use of tins and frozen goods”.

Many councils say that prices for school meals will rise, and central government funding for free school meals will have to increase.

Some also mention the possible use of food banks. Slough has contacted food banks in its area to check contingency plans for food shortages, and some Scottish councils have already increased funding for extra provision from food banks.

The government says that school food standards must continue to be adhered to post Brexit, but that schools have “significant flexibilities, which they can refer to if certain items are in short supply.”

Bedford Council’s planning document from its internal Brexit planning team says care homes are “advised to hold four to six weeks supply of non-perishable foodstuffs”.

Hastings Council’s internal Brexit risk document even goes as far as saying: “There might be the need for rationing. The severity would depend on what was available and particularly the duration of any shortages.”

Insiders suggest this is a reference to the prevention of stockpiling, more than a return to wartime ration books.

The documents seen by the BBC date from the end of last year – up until last month – but predate the appointment of Boris Johnson as prime minister.

Most take at face value the government’s national assessment for March that there will be no impact of a no-deal Brexit on overall food supply, but there could be an impact on price and choice.

An October no-deal Brexit would come, however, at a time when the UK is particularly dependent on European imports for its fresh food, and when there is little to no excess warehousing space, unlike in March.

One catering industry veteran, Andy Jones, the chair of the Public Sector 100 Group of caterers, backed the councils: “Given a no-deal Brexit, they’re being very sensible. They’re being very cautious, and rightly so, we’re going into something that we don’t know about, we’re going to the unknown.

“If a no-deal Brexit happens, I feel that the supply chain long term will absolutely be under pressure. And that will affect the most vulnerable in society.”

Mr Jones said concern about rationing was excessive, unless supply disruptions lasted beyond the current four-to-six week worst case assumption.

But he confirmed that menus would change and that “certain nutritional standards will have to be altered or adapted for a short period of time” for schools and hospitals.

He said public services such as new hospitals, had been built without food storage, and that caterers were now effectively “fighting each other for space” in warehouses.

Bidfood, one of the key suppliers to schools, hospitals, care homes and prisons, said it was now preparing for no-deal again having bought up warehouse space and assessed and identified alternatives for 400 key food imports to store.

“The key areas that we’re looking at in terms of making sure we have surety of supply is around those key things that we import, like pasta, tuna, tinned tomatoes, olive oil, chips, french fries, rice. These are not exotic commodities, these are staples of everyday life, and we want to make sure that all of our customers can get those,” said Andrew Selley, chief executive of Bidfood.

He said there was only limited scope to replace imports with domestic production. “Because of our changing tastes, unless we’re going to go back to a menu based on the 1700s, we are going to look at imported products and imported tastes and imported flavours.”

However, he said his company would be “ready” to take care of key customers and he does not anticipate “calamitous” problems.

“There will be challenges around availability, delays at ports and around currency fluctuations,” he said.

He added that the government would have to increase funding for free school meals, and that it would be “more complicated” but manageable for suppliers to meet more stringent standards in Scotland based on nutritional values.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was meeting regularly with industry and retailers “to make sure we are prepared for all scenarios as we leave the EU.”

“The food industry is well versed at dealing with scenarios that can affect food supply, from adverse weather damaging crops in other countries to transport issues abroad. The UK has robust supply chains across a range of countries to provide our food, in addition to the countless domestic food producers across the UK,” it added.

Bedford, Hastings, Slough, North Ayrshire and North Tyneside councils confirmed that the documents seen by the BBC formed part of their no-deal Brexit planning processes.

Children as young as 12 could face curfews under Home Office plans to tackle knife crime.

Courts in England and Wales will get extra civil powers to tackle concerns about people suspected of carrying bladed weapons and serious violence.

The knife crime prevention orders (KCPOs) can be imposed by magistrate and youth courts on anyone who police believe is carrying a knife.

Critics say the move will “fast track” young people in to the justice system.

The orders were included in draft guidance as part of the Offensive Weapons Act.

Under the proposals, courts will also be able to impose geographical restrictions and prevent subjects aged 12 and over from meeting certain people.

The scheme, which was originally put forward by former Home Secretary Sajid Javid in January this year, was previously criticised by the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Baroness Lawrence said there were better ways to deal with knife crime than “criminalising” children.

Her son Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack in south-east London in 1993, aged 18.

Labour peer Baroness Lawrence, who has campaigned for police reforms, told the Home Affairs Select Committee a better focus would be to concentrate on educating children on what could happen if they carry knives.

Gracie Bradley from human rights group Liberty, suggested the orders will impose “punitive conditions” on young people “often without any proof that they have committed a crime”.

She told the BBC: “They will then be criminalised if they fail to comply with these arbitrary restrictions on their liberty. This approach makes a mockery of the rule that we are all innocent until proven guilty, and will see young people fast-tracked into the criminal justice system.”

The Home Office says before imposing a KCPO courts “must be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities that the suspect has carried a knife on at least two occasions” and it is “necessary to make the order to protect the public generally, or particular persons from risk of physical or psychological harm”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “We are cracking down on violent crime, which has a devastating impact on victims, their families, and our communities.

“Our Offensive Weapons Act will help to stop acids and knives making their way onto our streets and being used to carry out horrifying attacks.”

The court order announcement comes days after another Home Office knife crime prevention campaign was labelled “out of touch” and “racist”.

Chicken shop boxes carrying #knifefree slogans were distributed to more than 210 outlets in England and Wales.

More than 321,000 boxes will replace standard packaging at outlets including Chicken Cottage, Dixy Chicken and Morley’s, the Home Office said.

Real life stories of young people who chose positive activities over carrying a weapon are printed inside the boxes.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the plan was “crude” and “offensive”.

However, Ms Patel defended the campaign, accusing Ms Abbott of “playing politics with knife crime”.

Youth climate strikers are to be given permission to take part in protests for one authorised school day per year.

However, Edinburgh councillors say no punishment will be levelled at pupils or parents if they choose to strike over a longer period.

The city council’s education, children and families committee approved a motion by the SNP-Labour coalition to limit authorised absences to one day.

This was despite a plea from activists to back the pupils’ action.

It follows two emergency motions by Green councillors earlier this year where pupils were allowed to attend climate emergency demonstrations with parental permission on a one-off basis.

However, officials warned that “potential for adverse risk to children who are absent and unsupervised is high and runs counter to child protection and raising attainment.”

A report said “almost all head teachers were not in support of children’s absence being authorised” by councillors as it had “devalued the hard work they had undertaken in working with parents who did not value good attendance at school”.

Sandy Boyd, a youth climate activist from Trinity Academy, said the decision was “morally wrong”.

He added: “The youth climate strike movement has brought change across the world.

“It will stop this progress dead in its tracks. You are trying to suppress young people’s opinions on matters that will affect young people.

“We are imploring this council to allow us authorised absence to pressure governments – finally, we are seeing some action.

“The educational value of taking part in these events is massive. It’s building a society that we want to see. We will keep doing them until we see change.”

However, council officers highlighted the importance of ensuring that pupils attended lessons.

Lorna Sweeney, the council’s schools and lifelong learning senior manager, said: “Fundamentally, we have to make sure the children attend.

“If we give conflicting information to parents it make the whole purpose of education very difficult.

“The principle purpose of schools is to raise attainment. The single biggest factor is attendance.”

Andy Gray, head of schools and lifelong learning, said if pupils took part in strike action with parental permission, there would be no financial penalty.

He added: “We are not going to punish children for this activity but what we are saying is that it’s definitely an unauthorised absence.”

Councillors voted to limit the authorised strike action to one day.

Ian Perry, the council’s education, children and families convener, said: “There’s no doubt if I was at school I would be doing exactly what Sandy [Boyd] is doing.

“I think everybody recognises that movement is increasing and is having a big affect. Having said that, we have to remind people the duty of this education committee to provide the best education for the young people of this city to prepare them for life.

“We would then be saying that attendance at school is not important and we don’t value it.

“I think in order to show solidarity with the climate movement, we should allow one day.”

Callum Laidlaw, Conservative education spokesman backed the limit.

He said: “There are consequences of missing school and we have a duty of care.

“A strike is not a strike because it’s authorised – it becomes a day off.”

However, Green councillors called for the proposals to be halted.

Steve Burgess, whose council ward covers Southside and Newington said: “To place an arbitrary limit on it at this stage does not appear to be responding appropriately to young people.

“Let’s keep an open mind and do it on a case-by-case basis.”

BBC Scotland News is running a season of climate change coverage across radio, TV, online and social media.

Some 364,380 UK students have found places on university degree courses, a day after A-level results came out.

A record 17,420 of these found their places through the clearing service, which matches candidates with places once the results are in, the University and College Admissions Service said.

Some 29.8% of all 18-year-olds have been accepted on to courses – another record for this point in the year.

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland got their grades on Thursday.

Despite record numbers of applicants to UK universities this year, fewer students were placed on courses as the results were released on Thursday.

This reflects the shift towards students seeking university places once they have their grades, with leading universities now offering places in clearing.

Some 2,260 more candidates found their places via clearing this year than last year.

It comes just days after renewed calls were made by Labour for a change in the university application system to one based on results rather than predictions.

On Thursday morning, a total of 408,960 people, from the UK and overseas, had had places confirmed, down 1% on the same point last year, according to Ucas.

While overall acceptances have fallen, a breakdown shows that record numbers of international students are snapping up places.

In total, 34,390 students from outside the EU have found places so far, Ucas said, driven by a rise from China.

There has been a small increase in the number of EU students accepted, with 26,930 confirmed so far.

Ucas has also flagged up higher rates of disadvantaged pupils receiving university places.

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said: “The record proportions of disadvantaged students off to university, combined with the highest number of international students we’ve seen accepted at this point, is testament to students’ hard work and the attraction of our world-class universities and colleges.”

Published 5 December 2018
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Grime star Stormzy has announced he will fund the university costs of two more Cambridge students.

Stormzy will also continue to cover costs for the first two students to be supported by the scheme.

The Stormzy Scholarship is aimed at supporting people from minority backgrounds who have earned a place at the university.

The scheme is intended to help address the low number of black students who attend Oxbridge institutions.

Stormy, who recently headlined Glastonbury, is paying the tuition fees of the four students.

The identities of the students supported by the scheme have been kept secret to ensure they have a normal life during their studies, although the grime star keeps track of their academic progress.

Stars from the arts world have joined industry leaders in urging the UK government to make creative education accessible to all young people.

Sir Lenny Henry and model Adwoa Aboah have co-signed a letter championing the value of creative subjects.

“For the benefit of the whole of the UK, we urge government to incentivise a broad and balanced curriculum within schools,” the letter reads.

Photographer Rankin and director Sam Taylor-Johnson have also signed up.

The letter’s release coincides with this year’s A-level results, which showed further decreases in the number of students taking drama and music.

The letter from the Creative Industries Federation calls on the government to recognise the “critical” role of creative education for young people in the creative industries and the economy as a whole.

It cites evidence saying there has been an 8% drop in the number of students taking GCSEs in creative subjects since 2014/15.

It accuses England’s education system of “sidelining” creative subjects by excluding them from the English Baccalaureate.

Subjects cited in the letter, which has more than 150 signatories, include drama, art, music and dance.

The EBacc requires pupils to gain good GCSEs in two sciences, a language and either history or geography, as well as English and maths.

“We call for either the discontinuation of the EBacc, or its broadening to include creative subjects,” the letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

“It is also crucial that young people and those advising them have better access to high-quality advice about creative careers and how to pursue them.”

‘We need to wake up’

Taylor-Johnson, director of Fifty Shades of Grey and the forthcoming A Million Little Pieces, said that “our creative industries are booming”.

“Yet policy makers seem to be geared towards denying the next generation of creatives the opportunity to contribute to an enormous part of the UK’s economy,” she continued.

The country needs to “wake up to the risks of undervaluing the skills provided by artistic and creative subjects”, she added.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the proportion of young people taking at least one arts GCSE had fluctuated but remained “broadly stable” since 2010.

“We are clear that the EBacc should be studied alongside additional subjects, like the arts, that reflect pupils’ individual interests,” the spokesperson continued.

Entries in drama and music A-levels saw sharp decreases this year, according to figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

There were 5,848 A-level entries for music and 10,207 for drama in 2019 – down from 6,251 and 11,239 on last year.

A decade ago, 10,425 students took music A-level, with 16,925 doing drama.

Michael Dugher, chief executive of lobby group UK Music, said the figures pointed to “a deepening crisis facing music in education”.

The Department for Education spokesperson said the government was “providing nearly £500 million of funding from 2016 to 2020 for a diverse portfolio of music and arts education programmes designed to improve arts provision.”

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The proportion of students achieving the top grades at A-level has fallen to its lowest level for more than a decade, this year’s results show.

This year some 25.5% got an A grade or higher – the lowest level since 2007 when it was 25.3%.

Girls narrowly reclaimed the lead from boys, with 25.5% achieving A* and A grades compared with 25.4% of boys.

The overall pass rate remains the same as last year at 97.6% for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The figures, released by the Joint Council for Qualifications, also show that – for the first time – the number of girls taking the three sciences has overtaken boys at 50.3% compared with 49.6%. There has been a big push to increase the take-up of sciences among girls.

Although far more boys – 30,159 – still took physics A-level, compared with 8,799 girls.

Six weeks after the last A-level exams were taken, more than 300,000 18-year-olds have ended the anxious wait to learn their A-level results.

Politics and Spanish

Entries to Spanish have overtaken French for the first time, making it the most popular language at A-level.

This year 8,625 students took Spanish, compared with 8,355 taking French.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this cohort of young people seem to have an increasing interest in politics, with entries for the A-level up by 1,765 on last year to 19,729.

They would have been making their A-level choices in 2017, after the election of Donald Trump in America and the Brexit referendum in the UK.

The results also show that English has taken a hit in popularity, with entries for English literature down 7.8% from 44,200 last year to 40,824 and English language down 21.8% from 18,049 last year to 14,114.

The Association of School and College Leaders says this is because reformed GCSE courses are “sucking the joy” out of the subject, and putting teenagers off taking it at A-level.

Universities and colleges use the results to confirm and withdraw offers of places to students.

The University and College Admissions Service (Ucas) has already said there is a slight dip in the number of students being accepted on to UK degree courses.

The total dropped 1% to 408,960, initial Ucas figures show, but the number of applicants looking for a place through clearing on Thursday morning rose slightly to 126,170.

Thousands of students who have done better or worse than expected will be seeking places on courses at universities through the clearing system run by Ucas.

It is expected to be very busy again this year with a record 638,000 18-year-olds having already applied in the UK. Ucas anticipates 70,000 students will get a place through clearing this year.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wished candidates good luck, urging them to be proud of their achievements.

“Of course, the minds of thousands of young people getting their results will soon turn to the next chapter in their lives, whether that’s a place at one of our world-class universities, earning on an apprenticeship or entering the world of work,” he said.

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Hopes of success

Students were told not to worry on Wednesday after the marks for each grade boundary for all subjects of the two major exam boards, Pearson/Edexcel and OCR, were leaked online.

The documents revealed that at maths A-level, which is a new, tougher specification this year, candidates had to score only just over 50%.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said he was confident this was appropriate, because grade boundaries depended on the difficulty of the exam.

Overall in maths, the top grades fell by just 1.2% across the UK – which is slightly higher than the decline for all exams.

National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Paul Whiteman said A-level students were coping well with the reforms, and that schools and colleges had worked hard to support them.

As candidates received their results, the exam boards published details of the national picture.

Overall, A-level pass rates and the percentages reaching each grade never change very much, as exam boards and regulators seek to maintain standards over time.

They do this by making minor adjustments to grade boundaries, formulated by marrying the difficulty of papers with the predicted ability of the group of students sitting the qualifications.

In England, over the past few years, A-levels have moved away from coursework and returned to students being graded on final exams.

This was part of efforts to upgrade exams to keep up with the highest performing nations.

A mix of old-style and new exams are still being taken in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The pass rate (grades A* to E) in England was down by 0.1% on last year, at 97.5%.

But it was up 0.2% in Wales, at 97.6%, and 0.1% in Northern Ireland, at 98.3%.

Students in Scotland received their results earlier this month, with the pass rate for Highers falling to 74.8%, compared with 76.8% last year.

The Advanced Higher pass rate also fell slightly, to 79.4% from 80.5%.