As the mother of young children and as Lib Dem Education Spokesperson, education and children’s issues are usually on my mind! Even so, I’ve been thinking about them even more than usual in the last couple of weeks, both locally and at the national level.

As well as my regular school visits, I held my termly call with the Chairs of School Governors from local primary and secondary schools. Together with Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park, I also met with headteachers of primary schools across the borough. I come away from these meetings feeling stunned by the unbelievable array of challenges that schools face. Rising energy costs, pressures on budgets, safeguarding issues, SEND provision, and the growing need for mental health support are just a few.

Despite the challenges, I feel hopeful that this could be a moment of genuine opportunity, if only we make the right policy decisions now and look afresh at what we’re doing in our schools.

I attended the launch of The Times Education Commission report, which provides a roadmap of big ideas developed with input from more than 600 experts from business, the arts, education and other fields. They came up with 45 recommendations to transform education in this country, with wellbeing at the heart of the plan, including a counsellor in every school – something I’ve long been calling for.

Despite the opportunity we have and the many ideas fizzing around, the Schools Bill currently making its way through Parliament is focused on technocratic changes, restructuring and hollow targets. The Government is essentially tinkering around the edges, when I know that parents and schools are crying out for a more diverse curriculum that focuses on wellbeing as well as academic achievement. Our schools also desperately need the catch-up funding that was promised.

I keep thinking of this quote from W.B. Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.” It’s time to think with ambition and imagination, so we can give our children the skills and experiences that will light the fire of learning, and help them succeed in life.

In the media

Earlier this month, I joined a BBC Politics Live panel of politicians and journalists to debate some of the pressing issues of the day – including the cost of living crisis, free school meals and the Government’s immoral policy to offshore refugees to Rwanda. You can watch the clips here.

I also raised the issue of free school meals, and the Government’s terrible record on feeding our children, in an interview with Matt Chorley at Times Radio. Ministers have finally increased funding for infant free school meals – something I’ve long been calling for. Yet, the Government is completely unwilling to extend free school meals to all children on Universal Credit, ignoring their own advisers. You can listen to the interview below and here. My comments on free school meals were also picked up in the i newspaper.

Local meetings, events and news

Paid tribute to Twickenham’s Jenny Haylock and The Purple Elephant Project

For Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, I paid tribute to the inspirational Jenny Haylock and the fantastic work of Twickenham’s The Purple Elephant Project, which provides vital support for children and families affected by attachment, developmental trauma or life experiences. I had the opportunity to talk about Jenny and her team’s work in Parliament. Their work is truly life-changing for so many local families.

Learning about sustainable wetland habitats at Hampton Court Flood Meadows

I enjoyed a very special visit to the Hampton Court Flood Meadows, where Laura and Becky from Thames Landscape Strategy showed me the incredible work they’ve done for the Rewilding Arcadia project, part of a long-term floodplain restoration plan to make wetland habitats more sustainable. In Home Park, they’ve partnered with Historic Royal Palaces to help restore natural habitats so that species like barn owls, sand martins and otters have somewhere to nest and thrive.
The Flood Meadows aren’t usually open to the public, but you can visit on 13 July as part of London Rivers Week. Find out more here.

Opening of second children’s audiology room at Teddington Memorial Hospital

I was delighted to officially open the second children’s hearing screening room at Teddington Memorial Hospital (TMH), which will ensure that 800 more local children will get the care they need as quickly as possible. It was a pleasure to join Jo Farrar of Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Simon Douglas Lane of the TMH League of Friends, and the centre’s dedicated staff to celebrate the opening.

Honouring Simon Douglas Lane for his leadership at Twickenham Rotary Club

I had the pleasure of seeing Simon Douglas Lane twice in one week – including our visit to Teddington Memorial! – when I spoke at Twickenham Rotary Club’s President’s Evening to honour Simon for his dedicated service over the last two years. The Club does such amazing work to improve the lives of men, women and children in our local community. We also welcomed Nan McCreadie as President-elect.

Mayor of London responds to Teddington Police Station petition

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has sent a response to our petition, signed by over 2,100 local residents, to re-purpose Teddington Police Station for community use. Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member, and I submitted the petition back in March. Since then, I’ve been continuing to raise the issue in Parliament and in the media (Evening Standard and My London).

I’m pleased to hear the Mayor confirm in his response that “MOPAC will do everything it can to ensure the site is put to the best possible use.” Teddington residents believe the best possible use is to re-purpose the site as a new home for Park Road Surgery and affordable housing, which are so desperately needed. I’ll continue to hold the Mayor to account on this. You can read all the latest news on our campaign here:

Talking politics with Year 12 pupils at Teddington School

It was great to see the passion for politics from Year 12 politics students on my recent visit to Teddington School. We talked about my key priorities, and they shared what theirs would be if they were in Parliament. We even got into the nitty gritty of the pros and cons of different electoral systems!

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Standing up for you in Parliament

Called on Ministers to expand free school meals to those on Universal Credit

Earlier this month, the Government published its national food strategy. Unfortunately, Ministers rejected their own advisor’s recommendation to give a free school lunch to every child whose parents receive Universal Credit – leaving 1.5 million children without a free meal.
I tabled an amendment to a parliamentary motion to ensure that the Government supports children’s concentration, learning and wellbeing by extending free school meals to all children in primary education and to all those in secondary school whose families receive Universal Credit.

Asked the Prime Minister to help save a former Supreme Court judge in Afghanistan

In Prime Minister’s Questions, I told the Prime Minister about the father-in-law of one of my constituents – a former supreme court judge in Afghanistan. He successfully prosecuted and put behind bars hundreds of terrorists, no doubt saving countless Afghan and British lives. Yet, there has been no progress on his application to come to the UK under the scheme for those who supported the UK mission in Afghanistan. I asked the Prime Minister if he will meet with me and the judge’s family to see how we can save this brave man’s life.

Called for an end to the deportation flights to Rwanda

I signed a letter co-ordinated by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Liberty calling for flights deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda to be grounded permanently. The plan has always been cruel, absurd and unworkable. The Liberal Democrats will continue to call on Government to stop the flights. Read the letter here.

Continued my fight for clean air in the UK and in our constituency

On Clean Air Day, I joined NGOs in Parliament to show my support for clean, healthy air across the UK.

In Twickenham, we face pollution not only from congestion, but also from Heathrow Airport (another reason why I’ll continue to campaign against a Third Runway). Last year I led a debate in Parliament on clean air in London, and presented a petition signed by 300+ local residents demanding that the Government take urgent action.

Ministers have now responded by launching a consultation on the main ask: setting safer limits on air pollution in the UK. The campaign organisation Mums for Lungs have a great tool for people to respond to the consultation here. Make sure to have your say!

Met with WWF to discuss the ecological emergency 

Also on the environmental front, it was great to meet some of the WWF team in Parliament. We discussed stronger measures to restore nature, protect ecosystems and prevent the loss of vibrant species across the globe in the run-up to the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15 conference.
International cooperation is key to solving the climate and ecological crises, and Liberal Democrats want to see the UK taking its seat at the table.

Urged the Government to stop questionable developer practices

In the Second Reading debate on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, I urged the Government to implement measures that would stop developers from buying sites and then sitting on them, letting them fall into disrepair – which is what is happening to Udney Park Playing Fields in Teddington.

I also called on the Government to look at rescinding development rights that enable developers to build up to two new storeys on top of their buildings without full planning permission. This practice is causing misery for many residents in the constituency. Unfortunately, the Minister told me he would not look into this.

Pledged to continue the fight for greater recognition and support for carers

On the final day of Carers Week 2022, I pledged to continue to speak up for carers in Parliament. We need a National Carer’s Strategy that includes a rise in Carer’s Allowance, greater recognition, much-needed respite breaks and support for carers in work.
To this end, my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I wrote to the Prime Minister demanding an urgent recovery and respite plan for unpaid carers. I’ve also been lobbying to expand support for kinship carers in particular (read more here).

Showed my support for better menopause awareness, breast cancer diagnosis and GP services

In Parliament last week, I was pleased to lend my support to the Menopause Mandate, who are calling for better menopause education for healthcare professionals and more access to affordable HRT. An added bonus was meeting a number of Twickenham constituents!
I’m also proud to be a Breast Cancer Now ambassador, supporting calls for ambitious diagnosis targets. Early diagnosis is vital, but in West London just 27% of patients with suspected breast cancer are seen by a specialist within two weeks – that’s HALF the average for England.
Earlier this week I met with Rebuild GP, who represent GPs across the UK and are calling for support to Rebuild General Practice. The latest data shows that South East England has fewest GPs per head, with waiting times spiralling for patients, and staff pushed to breaking point. The Liberal Democrats will hold the Government to account on its promise for 6,000 new GPs by 2024.

Backed ‘Share the Juggle campaign’ for Equal Parental Leave

There are a lot of benefits to Equal Parental Leave, from allowing both parents to bond and support one another, to tackling gendered expectations in the household. I was pleased to meet with John Lewis and other organisations to support the ‘Share The Juggle’ campaign.

Joined the Prince’s Trust to learn about the Marks & Start work placement scheme

Work placements are an important avenue for helping young people develop their skills and explore careers. It was great to meet the Prince’s Trust to learn about Marks and Spencer’s Marks & Start scheme, which has provided 10,000 young people with four-week work placements to improve their confidence and skills.