Published: 06:00, 29 September 2021
| Updated: 14:42, 29 September 2021
The founder of the trust behind the Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey has hit back at criticism of the school, as it was announced it may face competition from another secondary.
Steve Chalke, the founder of the Oasis Learning Trust, said he wanted to set the record straight, while acknowledging others will decide overall education policy for Sheppey.
It comes a week after Kent County Council acknowledged the need for a new secondary school on the Island, as more than 1,200 pupils travel to schools in Sittingbourne for their education.
He said: "The truth is the education now offered through Oasis, as judged by the government's Progress 8 benchmark, is of better quality than it has been and a better quality available from some schools off the Island which some parents are still choosing to send their children to.
"This year we had 345 new students in 14 forms of entry. That's our biggest intake ever which means we are back using both sites. Last year it was 250. We are up almost 100 on last year's entry. That's because everyone has been doing a good job. We are not the bottom of the barrel. We are making huge steps forward
"We also have a very healthy sixth form. We can provide education from Year 7 all the way to university in a caring environment. There are not many schools which can do that."
He said the Island's challenge was to "believe in itself".
It was the Department for Education which asked Oasis to take over the failing academy set under Dulwich College. Mr Chalke said Sheppey's secondary education had been struggling since the 1970s but that Oasis was turning a corner.
He warned that a second school could "destabilise" it.
"Finding quality teachers to work on Sheppey is an uphill task. If a new educational provider came they would struggle with all the same issues," he said. "We've been working very hard. We are committed to the Island."
His Sheppey Community Development Forum helped introduce the free park run to the Island and has just launched the Sheppey Community Support Bus. Pupils also host dementia cafes.
He said: "These things are producing fruit. A short-term knee-jerk decision based on a poor understanding of the real facts would cause damage. I have real concerns about the wisdom of it. We need stability to move forward together."
Mr Chalke's comments came after new executive principal Andy Booth sent a letter to parents with "encouraging news" from Ofsted inspectors who visited the school in July. In their report they said the academy was "taking effective action... to become a good school."
He wrote: "As you know, we are passionate about every student making excellent progress and having the opportunities they deserve to flourish. The inspectors recognised the academy has raised expectations of what students can and will achieve."
He said the academy was introducing a "broader and more ambitious curriculum" and that it was now a "safe, happy and improving school". The inspectors praised its decision to "give priority to promoting students' reading skills and literacy across all subjects."
The school must, however, improve attendance and reduce "persistent absence."
Since its previous full inspection in July 2019 three deputy principals have left.
The Sheerness Times Guardian and KentOnline this week reported that KCC has “announced plans to build a second school on the Island which could be operating within 18 months”.
That statement is untrue.
In a joint statement, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, Shellina Prendergast, Swale Borough Council Leader Roger Truelove, and MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, Gordon Henderson, said: “Any decision to open a new school is taken over a period of time and through a process that is open to public scrutiny. Kent County Council, Swale Borough Council, and Gordon Henderson MP are fully aware of the growing numbers of pupils in the area and have a shared commitment to improve educational standards in Sittingbourne and on the Isle of Sheppey.
“With that in mind we are working with the Oasis Learning Community Trust, the Department for Education, and others to address parental concerns about educational provision on the Island, and we will continue to pursue all options to achieve our aims.
“However, KCC has no immediate plans to build a new school on the Isle of Sheppey and we are very disappointed that the Sheerness Times Guardian and KentOnline have published an inaccurate story without first checking the facts.”