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General Election 2017: Islington South candidates slam Theresa May’s plan to axe free school meals

PUBLISHED: 17:30 19 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:55 25 May 2017

An education hustings was held at St Mary Magdalene Academy in Islington. Speakers were (from left to right) Islington South and Finsbury candidates Jason Charalambous (Conservative), Benali Hamdache (Green) and Alain Desmier (Lib Dem), as well as Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council (Labour).

An education hustings was held at St Mary Magdalene Academy in Islington. Speakers were (from left to right) Islington South and Finsbury candidates Jason Charalambous (Conservative), Benali Hamdache (Green) and Alain Desmier (Lib Dem), as well as Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council (Labour).

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Theresa May’s plan to axe free school meals for infants has been slammed by opposition parties in a heated debate at St Mary Magdalene Academy this morning.

An education hustings was held at St Mary Magdalene Academy in Islington. An education hustings was held at St Mary Magdalene Academy in Islington.

Fielding questions at the Liverpool Road school were Islington South and Finsbury candidates Jason Charalambous (Conservative), Benali Hamdache (Green) and Alain Desmier (Lib Dem), as well as Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, standing in for the absent Emily Thornberry (Labour) who holds the seat.

The Conservative party revealed in their manifesto yesterday (Thursday) that they hope to save £650m by ending the right to a free meal for all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2,

Cllr Watts (Labour) said: “Free schools really work and we have seen the difference they can make – this out of touch Tory government wants to change all that.

“Margaret Thatcher snatched milk and now Theresa May is snatching kids’ lunches.”

"Margaret Thatcher snatched milk and now Theresa May is snatching kids’ lunches."

Cllr Richard Watts

“My mother would not have been able to get by if I did not have free school meals,” added Mr Hamdache (Green). “I can’t believe that the Conservatives would snatch this away.”

Mr Charalambous, who stressed that the Conservatives had pledged to offer all primary school children a free breakfast, said: “We need a strong economy so that schools can get the funding they deserve.

“Only under Theresa May can we negotiate the best deal for our schools.”

With the borough’s schools facing cuts of £14.9 million by 2019/20, the equivalent of £711 less being spent on pupils annually, funding was also a central theme of the morning.

Lib Dem candidate Mr Desmier, who has been chair of governors at Mortem Primary School for more than three years, called for the audience to elect someone with experience of the education system in Islington to represent them in parliament.

He said: “From a personal point of view, I have faced these disastrous cuts first hand for the past two years. I also find it outrageous that the conservatives are flirting with new grammar schools, while cutting funding to schools across the country.”

As well as describing the Conservative party’s funding cuts as “objectionable”, Mr Hamdache (Green) criticised the government’s investment into free schools “despite no clear sense that these institutions are needed”.

In response to Cllr Watts’ attacking the government’s decision in July 2016 to pay £33.5m for Ladbroke House – a former London Metropolitan University building in Highbury – in order to turn it into a free school – Mr Charalambous pointed to the three schools in Islington which had been given an “inadequate” Ofsted rating in the past six months.

“These schools are under the Labour council’s control, while the best performing schools in the borough are our academies.”

All the candidates – including Mrs Thornberry – will be attending another hustings event at 7.30pm on Sunday, which will be held at St Mary’s Church and chaired by Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel.

The Upper Street church has a seated capacity of about 250, with standing room for 200 more. Entry will be first come, first served.

There will also be another public meeting based on funding at Gillespie Primary School on Tuesday, between 7pm and 8pm.

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