Big changes for the start of 2020

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Major Changes in Russian Legislation for Business in 2020

Major Changes in Russian Legislation for Business in 2020

Russia Is Switching to Electronic Labor Books

From January 1, 2020, any employee can write an application for the conversion of their labor book into electronic form or for preserving the document on paper.

Employees who choose electronic labor books will receive their paper labor books in hand. It is not necessary to transfer all old information from paper to electronic format.

If the employee does not decide, the employer will continue to fill out a paper copy of their labor book.

Also, starting next year, employers are required each month to send a new report on HR-related matters (hiring, transfer, dismissal) to the Pension Fund. Therefore, even if an employee chooses the paper version, all the data will be duplicated in the electronic version of the labor book.

For new employees who will start working for the first time after January 1, 2021, the labor book will be issued only in electronic form.

What organizations need to do:

  • Make changes to local regulations and collective bargaining agreements, if necessary.
  • By June 30, 2020, inform each employee in writing of their right to keep a paper version of the labor book or switch to the electronic version.
  • Prepare technically.

There will be more self-employed workers

From January 1, 2020, the self-employed tax (professional income tax) will be available in 19 more regions:

  • Saint Petersburg
  • Leningrad region
  • Voronezh region
  • Volgograd region
  • Nizhny Novgorod region
  • Novosibirsk region
  • Omsk region
  • Rostov region
  • Samara region
  • Sakhalin region
  • Sverdlovsk region
  • Tyumen region
  • Chelyabinsk region
  • Krasnoyarsk territory
  • Perm region
  • Nenets Autonomous Okrug
  • Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug
  • Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug
  • Republic of Bashkortostan

If the experiment goes well, then beginning July 1, 2020, any resident of Russia will be able to become self-employed.

The list of goods subject to mandatory marking will be expanded

In 2020, certain goods must be marked. They include:

  • tobacco products
  • shoes
  • some drugs
  • some goods of consumer goods industry (knitted blouses, coats and short coats, raincoats and jackets, etc.)
  • tires and treads
  • perfumes and scented water
  • cameras and flash units

From January 1, 2020, marking will affect all drugs. The transition period for the introduction of mandatory drug marking will last until July 1, 2020.

By 2024, virtually all consumer products must be marked.

Personal income tax rate for non-residents will be decreased

By March 12, 2020, a bill should be ready to reduce the personal income tax rate for non-residents to 13% instead of 30. The criterion will also change: residents will be considered those who have been in Russia for 90 days, instead of 183, as now.

Cambridge Exam Changes 2020 – Updates for Preliminary (PET) and Key (KET)

Cambridge Preliminary (PET) and Key (KET) are getting reasonably major overhauls in 2020. The changes to Cambridge exams in 2020 will be significant for both candidates and teachers as Cambridge starts to pull away from a traditional language systems based exam and focus more on skills. So what are the Cambridge Exam changes in 2020? How do KET and PET 2020 changes affect our teaching? And how should we feel about the Cambridge 2020 updates?

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Why are PET and KET changing in 2020?

The Cambridge PET and KET exams last changed in 2004. That’s 16 years of letter writing, transformations and spelling your surname. Officially, Cambridge says the changes are necessary in order to keep the exams in line with the latest research in language learning and teaching. They also want there to be continuity between different levels so that as learners progress through the CEFR levels, they feel familiar and comfortable with Cambridge English qualifications.

You can find out a lot about the details of the Cambridge Exam changes in 2020 on Cambridge’s dedicated 2020 exam changes website. Or keep reading…

Changes to Preliminary (PET) in 2020

There are a whole host of changes to the PET exam in 2020 and, in my opinion, most of them are welcome. They seem to lead the exam towards a more skills based approach and away from language systems. I personally think this reflects the changing position of English as a global language and fits better with the modern communicative style of teaching, which is favoured by a lot of language teachers.

One of the most significant changes is that pre-2020, the Reading and Writing papers of the PET exam were done together with a time limit of 1 hour and 30 minutes. These papers have now been separated and will be completed independently with their own time limits.

Let’s take a closer look at all the papers of the new 2020 PET exam side by side:

Reading

Pre-2020Approximately 45 minutes 202045 minutes
Part 1: Multiple choice short texts
Candidates were asked to answer 3-option multiple choice questions based on texts such as messages, postcards and emails.
Part 1: Multiple choice short texts
No change.
Part 2: Matching
Candidates were asked to connect 5 people to 8 short texts based on specific information.
Part 2: Matching
No change.
Part 3: True/False
Candidates were asked to answer 10 true or false questions based on a long text.
Part 3: Multiple choice long text
Same as old Part 4.
Part 4: Multiple choice long text
Candidates were asked to answer 4-option multiple choice questions based on comprehension of a long text.
Part 4: Gapped text
Candidates are asked to fit 5 of a possible 8 sentences into a long text based on the text’s narrative and grammatical accuracy.
Similar to FCE and CAE Reading and Use of English Part 6/7.
Part 5: Multiple choice cloze
Candidates were asked to answer 10 4-option multiple choice questions based on grammar and vocabulary within a short text.
Part 5: Multiple choice cloze
Same as old Part 5, but now there are only 6 questions instead of 10.
Part 6: Open cloze
Candidates are asked to fill 6 gaps with one word based on grammatical structures. There are no options.
Similar to FCE and CAE Reading and Use of English Part 2.

There are a lot of changes to the Preliminary (PET) Reading in 2020. Most relevant to these changes is the time limit.

In the previous exam, Reading and Writing were combined, which allowed candidates to be flexible with where they spent their time. For example, I found teenage candidates generally spent much less time on writing than their adult counterparts. This left them extra time to tackle challenging readings. This flexibility is now gone. Like it or not, candidates will have to be ready and trained to complete no less than 6 reading tasks in only 45 minutes. While Cambridge claims that this has been considered and the number of questions and amount of text reduced, I think that a lot of candidates are going to have trouble completing everything asked of them in only 45 minutes. This will also challenge teachers to think of new and innovative ways of training and preparing students for the exam.

The only task that has disappeared completely is the old Reading Part 3. This was quite a long text, which was counterbalanced by the 50/50 chance of getting the right answer. The most important factor to consider here is that with the 50/50 chance gone whether Cambridge will adjust their scales downwards a little to account for the potential for lower overall scores. The 50/50 task in the Listening paper is also gone, so this is a very interesting question for whose answer I’m sure we will have to wait.

The gapped text has haunted exam candidates at FCE+ levels for years and now PET candidates get to enjoy it as much as everyone else with the new Part 4. Obviously the challenge at B1 level is much less than at higher levels, but the same concepts apply. Candidates will have to be aware of the overall construction of a text and the referencing and linking that happens between different parts of it. This task will require teachers to train their students well. However, I think it will also build skills that are applicable to writing, which is a very positive thing.

If having a gapped text wasn’t enough, the dreaded open cloze has also arrived to PET level. As we see at other levels, function words and the grammatical connections that they provide are the focus of this task. no longer can B1 level teachers rely on classic grammar points like past simple vs present perfect. Nor can they only focus vocabulary building on categorised topics like travel or technology. This is another area that will definitely affect our teaching of this level and it is yet to be seen how quickly that change will happen.

Writing

Pre-2020Approximately 45 minutes 202045 minutes
Part 1: Transformations
Candidates were asked to transform 5 sentences so that they had a similar meaning to the original sentence with a different grammatical structure.
Part 1: 100-120 word letter
Candidates are asked to write a letter in response to a prompt which includes a short letter and key points for the candidate to include in their answer.
Part 2: 35-45 word short message
Candidates were asked to write a short message in response to a prompt that contained 3 key points that had to be included in their answer.
Part 2: 100 word story or article
Candidates are asked to choose between a story or an article from prompts which include little input, making the writing more flexible.
Part 3: 100 word letter or story
Candidates were asked to choose between a letter or a story from prompts which included little input, making the writing more flexible.

The big surprise here is the disappearance of transformations. Transformations have been a staple in Cambridge exams for as long as I’ve been teaching them, so in a way, it’s the end of an era. However, I think students will be happy to see them go and, from a progressive point of view, transformations were always too easy, too teachable, too predictable and too unnatural. Despite this, it does call into question the validity of Cambridge’s justification for changes to the exams. They claim that all the different exam levels will now feel familiar for ongoing candidates. As it stands, Candidates will now be blindsided by transformations in FCE instead of having seen them previously in PET. Or could this spell the end of transformations in all Cambridge exams as changes progress over the years? Only time can tell…

The loss of the 35-45 word message is no big one as far as I’m concerned. The marking was too lenient and the text was too short to make much of an impact. In fact, I often found students wanted to write more and had to be reigned in. The new Part 1 letter is a much better way of testing candidates’ ability while maintaining the efficient, concise style that Cambridge seeks to emulate.

Personally, I welcome the addition of the article as an additional type of writing in Part 2. It maintains an informal, flexible style that is appropriate for B1 level, while providing more variety of writing styles. I don’t know about you, but my students would almost always choose the letter for the pre-2020 Part 2 writing, so this change will force them to step outside their comfort zones a little bit more and prove themselves as B1 writers.

Listening

Pre-2020Approximately 35 minutes 2020Approximately 35 minutes
Part 1: Multiple choice short audios with pictures
Candidates were asked to answer 7 3-option multiple choice questions with picture answers based on short independent audios.
Part 1: Multiple choice short audios with pictures
No change.
Part 2: Multiple choice long audio
Candidates were asked to answer 6 3-option multiple choice questions based on 1 long audio (an interview).
Part 2: Multiple choice short audios with text
Candidates are asked to answer 6 3-option multiple choice questions with text answers based on short independent audios.
Similar to FCE Listening Part 1.
Part 3: Sentence completion
Candidates were asked to complete 6 gaps with details of missing information from 1 long audio.
Part 3: Sentence completion
No change.
Part 4: Multiple matching
Candidates were asked to answer 6 YES or NO (True/False) questions based on 1 long audio with 2 speakers.
Part 4: Multiple choice long audio
Same as old Part 2.

The changes to the listening are minor. Essentially, Part 4 has been replaced by a multiple choice task which is very similar to Part 1 of FCE. Again, this is in an attempt to create continuity between exams. However, I wonder if Part 1 and Part 2 of PET are now going to be too similar to each other and therefore a bit easier. The old Part 4 had potential for challenging distractors, but it also had an A/B choice, making it a 50/50 chance of getting the right answer.

Regardless of how you may feel about the changes to the PET Listening in 2020, I wouldn’t expect them to significantly affect results or challenge for candidates.

Speaking

Pre-202010-12 minutes 202010-12 minutes
Part 1: Interview2-3 minutes
Candidates were asked to answer a couple of personal questions about their day-to-day lives.
Part 1: Interview2-3 minutes
No change.
Part 2: Collaborative task2-3 minutes
Candidates were asked to discuss a situation in pairs using a visual prompt that includes images of the situation and possible options to discuss.
Part 2: Long turn2-3 minutes
Same as old Part 3.
Part 3: Long turn3 minutes
Candidates were asked to describe a picture for approximately 1 minute.
Part 3: Collaborative task3 minutes
Same as old Part 2.
Part 4: Extended discussion3 minutes
Candidates were asked to discuss a topic based on the same topic seen in Part 3.
Part 4: Extended discussion3 minutes
Candidates are asked a series of discussion questions based on the same topic seen in Part 3.
Similar to FCE and CAE Speaking Part 4.

The changes to PET Speaking in 2020 are more significant than they first appear. While the overall structure has changed only slightly, through the switching of parts 2 and 3, the devil (or angel in this case) is in the details.

In Part 1, candidates no longer have to spell their surnames. This will come as a delight to some and a disappointment to others, but in my opinion it was a superfluous part of the exam anyway.

The switching of Parts 2 and 3 is incredibly relevant. Long turn pictures will no longer be on the same topic and they will no longer dictate what the extended discussion topic is. Instead, this will be linked to the collaborative task. It also provides a more natural progression from less to more interactive over the course of the speaking exam. Of all the changes that Cambridge have made to bring PET in line with higher level exams, this is the one which I think is most obvious and will be best received.

Part 4 has also changed quite dramatically. Candidates will now be asked a series of questions on the given topic and encouraged to develop a conversation based on those questions. This is a stark difference to the single prompt in the old Part 4 which put a lot of pressure on candidates to maintain a conversation for 3 minutes with relatively little support. The new format should be more accessible for B1 level candidates and more supportive of less interactive pairs.

Take a look at a Cambridge Preliminary (PET) 2020 Speaking exam video and see what you think of the changes. Here you can see the Preliminary adults version, but a Preliminary for Schools version is also available on the Cambridge Assessment English YouTube page.

Changes to Key (KET) in 2020

The Cambridge Key (KET) exam is slightly less popular than its higher level counterparts. Therefore the changes in 2020 are not quite as far-reaching. However, Cambridge have done a lot to bring the exam in line with the higher levels and provide continuity between exams. This way, A2 candidates, who often do KET in school at a very young age, will be prepared for other Cambridge exams as they grow up with each corresponding level’s examination.

Reading and Writing

Pre-20201 hour 10 minutes 202060 minutes
Part 1: Matching
Candidates were asked to match 5 sentences with the correct text with 8 options.
Part 1: Multiple choice short texts
Candidates were asked to answer 3-option multiple choice questions based on texts such as messages, postcards and emails.
Similar to PET Reading Part 1.
Part 2: Multiple choice sentences
Candidates were asked to complete 3-option grammar and vocabulary multiple choice questions based on separate sentences on the same topic.
Part 2: Matching
Candidates read 3 short texts on the same topic and match questions to the texts.
Part 3: Multiple choice and matching conversations
Candidates were asked to complete conversation exchanges over two different tasks.
Part 3: Multiple choice long text
Same as multiple choice from old Part 4.
Part 4: Multiple choice or right/wrong/doesn’t say
Candidates were asked to read a longer text and had to answer either 3-option multiple choice questions or right/wrong/doesn’t say questions.
Part 4: Multiple choice cloze
Same as old Part 5, but now there are only 6 questions instead of 8.
Part 5: Multiple choice cloze
Candidates were asked to answer 8 4-option multiple choice questions based on grammar and vocabulary within a short text.
Part 5: Open cloze
Same as old Part 7, but now there are only 6 questions instead of 10.
Part 6: Spelling
Candidates were asked to produce 5 items of vocabulary and spell them correctly based on definitions.
Part 6: 25+ word message
Same as old Part 9, but with a more flexible word count.
Part 7: Open Cloze
Candidates were asked to fill 10 gaps with one word based on grammatical structures. There were no options.
Part 7: 35+ word story
Candidates are asked to write a short story based on 3 picture prompts.
Part 8: Information transfer
Candidates were asked to complete an information sheet based on content from 2 short texts.
Part 9: 25-35 word message
Candidates were asked to write a short message in response to a prompt that contained 3 key points that had to be included in their answer.

The most significant change is the overall simplification of the Key (KET) Reading and Writing and the addition of a few new task types. The KET exam was always a bit convoluted with the amount of questions and different task types. The new 2020 KET exam has done a lot to get rid of all the extra fluff, while still maintaining enough content to efficiently evaluate a candidate at A2 level.

I think these changes will be welcomed by students and teachers alike. The exam is now much more concise and therefore trainable. Its new format should also help to simplify preparation materials and coursebooks. It also feels like it’s more in line with the following Preliminary (PET) exam.

There is also an increased focus on writing produced by the candidate themselves. This means they are less reliant on filling gaps and more responsible for constructing complete, albeit short, texts. I consider this a huge improvement to both the challenge and reliability of the exam.

Listening

Pre-2020Approximately 30 minutes 2020Approximately 30 minutes
Part 1: Multiple choice short audios with pictures
Candidates were asked to answer 5 3-option multiple choice questions with picture answers based on short independent audios.
Part 1: Multiple choice short audios with pictures
No change.
Part 2: Multiple matching
Candidates were asked to match two lists of items based on specific information in a conversation.
Part 2: Sentence completion
Same as old Part 5.
Part 3: Multiple choice long audio
Candidates were asked to answer 5 3-option multiple choice questions based on 1 long audio (a conversation).
Part 3: Multiple choice long audio
No change.
Part 4: Sentence completion (Dialogue)
Candidates were asked to complete 5 gaps with details of missing information from 1 long audio with 2 speakers interacting.
Part 4: Multiple choice short audios with text
Candidates are asked to answer 5 3-option multiple choice questions with text answers based on short independent audios.
Similar to new PET Listening Part 2 and FCE Listening Part 1.
Part 5: Sentence completion (Monologue)
Candidates were asked to complete 5 gaps with details of missing details from 1 long audio with 1 speaker giving information.
Part 5: Multiple matching
Same as old Part 2.

Although the changes to the KET Listening exam in 2020 are relatively minor, they are positive. The redundancy of two sentence completion activities is now gone and the new multiple choice task is similar to higher level exams.

Speaking

Pre-20208-10 minutes 20208-10 minutes
Part 1: Interview5-6 minutes
Candidates were asked to answer personal questions about their day-to-day lives.
Part 1: Interview3-4 minutes
No change, but it is now shorter, so less questions are asked.
Part 2: Collaborative task3-4 minutes
Candidates were asked to ask and answer questions in pairs using prompt cards and information sheets.
Part 2: Collaborative task5-6 minutes
Candidates are asked to discuss a situation in pairs using visual prompts and a question to discuss. The examiner then asks 2 follow-up questions on the same topic to each candidate.

The changes to KET speaking in 2020 are reasonably radical. Anyone who is familiar with the old Speaking Part 2 will attest to the fact that it was awkward to set up and potentially confusing for struggling candidates who were not familiar with the exam format.

The new format is much more in line with other Cambridge exam levels and doesn’t require quite as much management from either the examiner or the candidates. In my opinion, it’s also a more natural and more challenging task, which will provide a clearer view of a candidate’s ability at A2 level.

Take a look at a Cambridge Key (KET) 2020 Speaking exam video and see what you think of the changes. Here you can see the Key for Schools version, but an adults version is also available on the Cambridge Assessment English YouTube page.

What are the most important changes?

Obviously all of the Cambridge Exam changes in 2020 are important to one degree or another, but a few of them may radically change the way we think of the exams, preparing for them and the results candidates receive. Here are my thoughts on what’s going to be most significant going forward.

The most important changes to Preliminary (PET) in 2020

  1. The loss of the 2 A/B tasks which guaranteed a 50% result. A lot of teachers have spent years telling students that they need approximately 70% in the PET exam to pass. I can’t see this staying the same now that these tasks have changed. Cambridge uses the Cambridge scale to calculate its results, so the way that this will affect them is still up in the air. Will it come down to the 60% pass which we often consider standard at higher levels?
  2. The addition of gapped text and open cloze activities to the Reading paper. These have been a staple of higher level exams for a long time and are often challenging for candidates. Although the tasks at B1 level are much more simple than their B2, C1 and C2 counterparts, I think we might find students struggling with these tasks when they start taking the new PET exam in 2020.
  3. The loss of transformations! I’ve gone back and forth as to whether this is a good thing or not. Transformations at B1 level were so easy to prepare for and practise. However, perhaps it is for this very reason that they should go. Will we see this trend continue in higher level exams in the future?
  4. The addition of the article as a writing type. Articles are not only a part of everyday life, we see them plastered all over coursebooks. The choice between an article and a story will also be a more balanced one than the previous letter/story option.
  5. The new speaking exam format. The switching of Parts 2 and 3 and changes to Part 4 to make it more examiner driven will be better for students, teachers and examiners. It’s more natural and more supportive while providing more opportunity for strong B1 speakers to show off their level.

The most important changes to Key (KET) in 2020

  1. The overhaul of the Reading and Writing paper. The old KET exam was overwhelming and over-the-top as far as number of tasks and number of questions was concerned. I think everyone will be happy with the new format and agree that it will test candidates either as well or better than the old format.
  2. The increased emphasis on Writing. With 2 tasks instead of 1, writing has increased in importance for the 2020 KET exam. There’s no reason why A2 level candidates shouldn’t be able to produce simple texts, so I say this is a big positive.
  3. The changes to Speaking Part 2. The new speaking exam is much less fiddly and more natural. The challenge for candidates has transitioned from one of organisation to one of production, which will go a long way towards testing their speaking skills.

How will the Cambridge exam changes in 2020 affect our teaching?

The first thing that teachers of exam preparation classes will have to do is familiarise themselves with the new format. Cambridge has already released handbooks for the 2020 version of the exams (see materials below) and there are also numerous coursebooks that are already available which include examples of 2020 exam activities.

The changes to task types leads the new 2020 Cambridge exams further towards language skills and loses some focus on language systems. For example, we see in both the new PET and new KET exams that writing has become a bigger factor and more challenging. We’ve also lost tasks like transformations in PET and spelling in KET which were purely based on grammar and vocabulary.

For teachers, this switch in focus means that we will need to concentrate on skills more in the classroom by taking advantage of texts and audios so that students are aware of their structure on both a macro and micro level. While I’m sure the grammar based syllabus won’t go anywhere for awhile, we will have to make sure that controlled, traditional grammar and vocabulary tasks are not the only thing we do in class.

Despite all this, I don’t think the Cambridge Exam changes in 2020 will alter our classes too much. Once exam preparation materials are updated and the new exams become standard, all those golden ideas that you had for pre-2020 will come back around and find their place with the new format.

Where can I find materials for the 2020 Cambridge exams?

Cambridge themselves have already published quite a lot of materials for the new exams on their teacher support website. Here are a few useful links.

Other publishers either have materials ready or are getting their new materials into the marketplace. Most, if not all, will be available by the start of the 2020 academic year in September. If not they would miss out on a huge market for schools.

Websites, like this one, will start publishing materials as soon as possible. Keep your eyes open for materials which deal with article writing, gapped texts and extended speaking discussion.

From Iran to #Sussexit: 2020’s biggest stories explained

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Less than two weeks into the new year, you’d be forgiven for already falling behind on the news. The start of 2020 has seen a flurry of significant events around the world.

From a deadly plane crash to the British Royals – here is a catch-up of some of the biggest news stories so far this year.

US and Iran go close to war

What happened?

Tension between the US and Iran reached its most strained point in decades.

Relations have gradually soured under the Trump administration, but reached a new low over recent events in Iraq.

In late December, Washington blamed an Iranian-backed militia for the death of an American contractor and bombed bases associated with the group in response.

The deadly raids sparked a backlash and the US embassy in Baghdad was attacked by protesters.

Then on 3 January Qasem Soleimani – one of Iran’s most senior military figures – was killed in a US drone strike.

Why does it matter?

Soleimani was widely viewed as the second most powerful person in Iran. Millions came out to mourn him and leaders vowed “severe revenge” for his death.

His assassination sparked fears of escalation or even imminent war between the two nations.

What comes next?

After a period of mourning, Iran launched missiles at bases in Iraq housing the US military on 8 January, but no-one was killed in the strikes.

It is unclear if retaliatory actions will continue between the two but President Donald Trump said Iran “appears to be standing down”.

Hours later came news of another major event.

Read more:

Iran plane crash

What happened?

Shortly after Iran launched strikes on US targets in Iraq, it emerged a passenger plane had crashed in Tehran.

It soon became clear that all 176 people on board Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 had been killed.

Iranian officials were quick to blame technical problems, but the timing raised suspicion.

A day later it emerged western intelligence sources had evidence the plane might have been shot down.

Early on Saturday, Iran’s military said the plane had been shot down due to human error, saying it had flown close to a sensitive site belonging to the country’s Revolutionary Guards.

Why does it matter?

There were dozens of Iranians on the flight but also citizens of six other countries – including 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, as well as people from Sweden, the UK, Afghanistan and Germany.

If a commercial flight is brought down, even “unintentionally” as Iran’s military is now saying, it is an extremely serious matter.

Read more:

Harry and Meghan ‘step back’

What happened?

The 8th of January had already been highly eventful.

But later in the day, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their decision to “step back” as senior members of the Royal Family.

Prince Harry and Meghan said they intended to become financially independent and split their time between the UK and North America.

Why does it matter?

The news sent shockwaves through the international media, with headlines like “Megxit” splashed across newspaper front pages.

Buckingham Palace was said to be “disappointed” and “hurt” at the announcement.

Such an action is almost unprecedented in modern royal history, with many comparing the move to Edward VIII’s decision to abdicate the throne in 1936.

What comes next?

Much about the practicalities of their plan remains unclear, though the couple have maintained they will continue to “honour” their duty to the Queen.

People have joked about potential career options for the pair, with Meghan already having an “open invite” to join a US reality show.

A palace spokeswoman said discussions for the plan were at an “early stage” and said there were “complicated issues that will take time to work through”.

Read more:

Bushfire crisis

What happened?

Australia is continuing to struggle with massive and destructive bushfires.

Millions of hectares of land have burned, thousands of homes have been destroyed and at least 27 people have died – including volunteer firefighters.

The situation has been fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought.

Why does it matter?

Aside from the dangers to property and the public, there is great concern about the ecological impact of the fires.

People are worried in particular about the nation’s animals with estimates saying hundreds of millions may have died and many habitats been destroyed.

Social media has been filled with campaigns to save animals and the fires even took centre stage in speeches at the Golden Globes on 6 January.

The crisis has piled pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been snubbed by fire victims and forced to apologise for taking a holiday during the crisis.

What comes next?

The scale of the fires has provoked sharp criticism of the government’s climate policies from parts of the Australian public, and of Mr Morrison’s handling of the crisis.

Tens of thousands demonstrated across major cities on Friday calling for the country to transition away from fossil fuels.

Read more:

UK’s most prolific rapist revealed

What happened?

He was found guilty of 159 sex offences against 48 men, who he lured to his Manchester flat before drugging and raping them.

The 36-year-old has been jailed for life with a minimum 30-year sentence.

Why does it matter?

Sinaga has been described as the “most prolific rapist in British legal history”.

The shocking case has provoked discussion in the media about male rape, including stigma, as well as around the dangers of drink spiking.

What comes next?

Sinaga recorded his crimes on his phone and is suspected of raping dozens of more men, who police have been unable to identify.

After his crimes were made public, police said they had a “significant number” of calls from new potential victims.

Read more:

Other major stories

These are just a handful of recent events. In other news:

  • The stand-off over the next stages of Donald Trump’s impeachment has continued to rumble on
  • Jury selection started in the New York trial of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who on 6 January got hit with new charges in Los Angeles
  • MPs gave their final backing to a bill to implement the UK government’s Brexit deal with the country due to leave the EU on 31 January
  • There has been intense speculation about how the businessman Carlos Ghosn managed to leave Japan while awaiting trial
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