Close schools for at least a week says academy chief

Oasis founder Steve Chalke calls for a new national plan to keep education going during the Covid pandemic, with week off for schools followed by rotas

Amy Gibbons and John Roberts

Steve Chalke has called for schools to be moved to a rota as part of a national plan for education

The founder of one of the country's biggest academy chains has called for schools to close for at least a week and then move onto rotas as part of a national plan to keep education going during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis Community Learning, which runs 53 schools, said that a move to rotas would help to keep school staff safe but said this could only be done as part of a national strategy.

Speaking to Tes this afternoon, Rev Chalke said there should be a "new half-half-term holiday" between now and Christmas to give schools time to draw up their rota plans.


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He also said today that his trust had already lost staff to Covid-19 and understood its responsibility to protect them. 

"Perhaps the best thing to do now is to create...we can't wait till Christmas – it's two months away...is to create this new holiday, a new half-half-term holiday," he told Tes. "Come up with a national plan, then give teachers a week off to put it in place, and then let's restart, reset."

"In Oasis terms, we've done all our risk assessments and we could move to rotas without any period of reflection," Rev Chalke added.

"But I wonder whether everyone is in that position, or that might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

"Because I think that teaching staff are overstretched, they're exhausted, they're worried and anxious, and what we've got to do as educationalists is protect them."

During an interview with Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio Two earlier today, Rev Chalke said: "If you are a frontline worker and you drive a taxi or a bus you have a Perspex screen between you and your customers and it creates a level of safety.

"If you are a key worker in a hospital you operate in a Covid secure environment, but school staff across the country are thrown into these vulnerable situations without space.

"So I would really like the idea that there is a two-week break or a week's break to allow schools to work through what to do in the long term, but I think that requires a rota system so that we can continue to protect children and care for them but also protect our staff.”

“No school can close its doors unless it's part of a national strategy...We need a big conversation with the government and out of that we need a national plan for the continuity of education – and education does not have to all be in the same building."

When it was put to him that this plan had not been produced in the last lockdown and was unlikely to happen now, he added: “It wasn’t done before and this was either because of government ministers' inability to grasp the severity of the situation or their unwillingness to engage."

He added: "But if we all work together we can come with a national plan with rotas in it and we need to scrap the exams because they are totally unfair – as we all know at this point because pupils have missed so much education – and allow teachers to concentrate on their extra safeguarding responsibility alongside teaching."

He also said the national plan should involve exams being scrapped in 2021 because they will be unfair to pupils who have already "missed so much education".

Moving schools onto rotas is already part of the government's plan to keep education going "in the worst-case scenario" of having to restrict access to school education because of the coronavirus.

Rotas for secondary schools is the second tier in a four-tier system announced by the Department for Education before the academic year started, which could also see year groups shut down in tier 3 and schools being closed to all but the vulnerable children and those of key workers in tier 4.

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