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Cllr Nanda Manley-Browne is Lambeth’s Education and Schools Champion and a councillor in Thornton ward. 

While I wish you all a happy new year, the heartbreaking photos of some families, who are in receipt of free school meals, struggling to live off food parcels provided by the tories, which are estimated to be worth little more than £5, but cost up to £30 per parcel, shows it’s far from a confident glad time for everyone.

This was a huge waste of money which could have been better spent by treating families with dignity and respect and continuing to give them vouchers so they could choose what food to buy themselves. I’m pleased to say that thanks to community pressure from Marcus Rashford, Jack Monroe, charities, community groups, and Labour run councils like Lambeth, this Tory government have been forced to U-turn for the third time in sixth months on the provision for pupils accessing Free School Meals in England.

All 90 schools in Lambeth had already chosen to keep the voucher system that the council adopted over the Christmas holidays, rather than use parcels. Lambeth is used to plugging the gaps left by this Tory government: Providing Free School Meals during the October half-term, and again over Christmas after securing additional funding from government, and before the pandemic running holiday hunger programmes through the summer so that children can have a healthy meal and free and fun activities.

Despite the incompetence of this Tory government, our students, parents, carers, teachers and school staff are all working tirelessly to adapt as best they can during these turbulent times to make sure that learning is still happening.

Locally we’ve had to take some tough decisions to put children first and stop the government’s chaotic and dangerous plans to reopen schools against the overwhelming evidence that was laid before them.

While we wanted to keep Lambeth schools open, the evidence made a nonsense of the governments advice to do so while closing others. Lambeth had higher infections and faster acceleration rates than neighbouring boroughs the government forced to close.

Lambeth Labour and other councils worked together to oppose the DfE’s nonsensical and dangerous policy. The government belatedly performed another U-turn and allowed the other nine boroughs, including Lambeth, to switch to online teaching from the start of the year.

Getting the government to see sense, protect children and keep staff safe has not gone without consequences. However, we have been grateful for the support of teachers, parents and families alike who have worked tirelessly around the clock and through the holidays to meet children’s needs. Last week, for example, there was 2,500 key workers and vulnerable children safely in schools across Lambeth.

But we know in 2021 there is much more to be done. Lambeth Labour is fighting to ensure all children have laptops, access to Wi-Fi, free school meal vouchers and other support resources in the interim.

Our Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s recent calls for better government support, for working parents, that would enable the legal, enforceable, and immediate right to request paid, flexible furlough, and help put families first again, is warmly welcomed.

As a parent, with a child attending a local primary school, I wholeheartedly commend the collective efforts and the nonstop adaptations that have had to be implemented during this time.

But I also know this is only the start of getting our children’s education back on track. The NHS and vaccine programme provide us with hope and a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Let’s hope that a year from now, we look back at 2021 as a year of real action, joy and achievements for our children’s education and all our good health, safety and prosperity.

Thank you all!

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