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Oasis boss Rev Steve Chalke and MP Gordon Henderson speak in favour of reopening schools

The leader of one of the country's biggest academy trusts says keeping schools closed would put those from poorer backgrounds at risk.

Rev Steve Chalke runs the Oasis Trust, which incorporates 52 academies in England, including the Oasis Academy Skinner Street in Medway and one on the Isle of Sheppey.

The Rev Steve Chalke at the Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy, Minster
The Rev Steve Chalke at the Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy, Minster

And he has now spoken out following the government announcement that schools will reopen from June 1, with primary school and nursery-age children being the first to return.

This has sparked opposition from some parents and teaching unions, who fear it is too soon and will put staff and pupils at risk from Covid-19.

Weighing into the debate, Mr Chalke believes it is important to reopen schools for children from lower income families, who don't have access to fresh air, nutritious food or computers.

Mr Chalke added that 45% of children at Oasis are eligible for free school meals, compared to an average of 15%.

He told the BBC: "If you're living in a tower block without a balcony, you're not going out and there's not a park nearby, if you have no digital access then the mental health issues for you and your parents are considerable.

Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy Sheerness
Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy Sheerness

"Covid-19 has attacked those who are most vulnerable.

"It's caused mental health issues for those who are most crammed in, it's caused nutritional issues for those who don't have access to food and some of those injustices that we are set up to address that is what Oasis does all the time and it's what we want to do now."

The leader added however that members of staff will not be pressured into returning to work, and said measures will be put into place to make sure everyone is safe.

Gordon Henderson, the MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, has also spoken in favour of schools re-opening.

He thinks teachers should "find a way of changing the way they operate in order to teach our children safely" during the outbreak.

He said: "I have received a number of emails from teachers expressing concerns about the partial reopening of our primary schools.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson
Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson

"Despite their opposition I am sure they would agree that we have to reopen our schools as soon as possible.

"The government believes this is the right time. The teaching unions disagree.

"What I would like to know is when do those unions think the time will be right? And what are the criteria on which that time frame is based?

"Personally I have nothing but admiration for Britain's teachers. I believe we have some of the best teachers in Europe, if not the world.

"I am therefore somewhat puzzled as to why they are unable to find a way of changing the way they operate in order to teach our children safely during the crisis that we are facing.

"Currently the following European countries have been able to partly re-open their schools: Denmark, Germany, France, Greece, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

"By using innovative ways to reduce class sizes, in a way that ensures children can maintain social distancing in a disciplined way, they have managed to reopen schools without putting at risk pupils or teachers.

"Why is it that teachers in the UK cannot follow the lead of their European colleagues?

"Why do they feel they are unable to put in place similar measures?

"These are genuine questions which I believe our teaching unions should answer. If they can't, then their opposition will be considered by many parents as little more than party political manoeuvring."

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