Published: 06:00, 17 January 2021
An education boss has launched a campaign for teachers to be vaccinated as a priority before the inequalities of home-schooling affect children long-term.
Oasis Academy chief Steve Chalke has called for education workers to be treated the same as nurses when it comes to the Covid-19 jab waiting list, in a bid to keep schools open.
The reverend, a founder of more than 50 academies across the country, including on the Isle of Sheppey, warns if they are closed completely, and the children of key workers have to be turned away, it would risk the collapse of the NHS.
His Oasis Community Learning Academy Trust last week set up the vaccinesforschool.org website to lobby the government into including teachers in the high-priority list.
Mr Chalke said: “We don’t want to take the vaccine away from a vulnerable group but if school staff aren’t vaccinated then schools will eventually start shutting.
“If schools did shut completely key workers’ children couldn’t go to school and half the NHS couldn’t go to work. It would mean the collapse of the NHS and the economy.”
Those signing the petition are asked to donate £2 to the World Health Organisation to help it roll out the vaccine in poorer countries. More than £2,000 has been raised so far.
'It’s like saying we’re all stuck in a storm but we’re not all in the same boat.'
Mr Chalke is concerned about the long-term effects of remote teaching for children and the impact it may have on their life chances.
He said: “Covid-19 is amplifying what already existed in inequality between children.
“It’s like saying we’re all stuck in a storm but we’re not all in the same boat. Some have yachts, others have a life raft or a scrap of wood.
“In education terms that could mean one child sitting at home with a big desk, a laptop and good internet connection with a parent at home who can help or a child who is having to find stuff online through their mum’s phone with a cracked screen, or others who can’t at all because their parents are out working on the frontline.
“If anyone heard someone was living without water you’d be shocked. But the internet is the same, it’s like running water. It brings you access to everything - the NHS, education, news, communication. So when you’re denied the internet you’re denied everything."
The education boss has a team which looks into resolving problems such as this at his Minster academy.
One initiative launched was a £600,000 giveway of 1,950 iPads to students on the Island to keep learning accessible.
Swale has the second highest number of children living in absolute low-income, lone parent families in Kent (2,334) behind only Thanet (2,376).
“We’re working as hard as we possibly can to get every vulnerable young person there is into education and in schools to make sure they’re supported and learning and we want them to have a device they can work on. We have a whole team devoted to this.
“We do have concerns about the deprivation in the area and how it affects children but all young people in Sheppey, as with others in the country, learn better in a classroom than anywhere else.
“Sheppey is like everywhere else, there’s disadvantage and deprivation but we’re working hard to minimise these.”