'Pause' January school opening, says academies leader

Oasis Academy Trust has called for a delay of one or two weeks to prepare for mass testing and to keep schools open

Claudia Civinini

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The government should "pause" the January reopening of schools to "think things through", the leader of a major multi-academy trust has said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Academy Trust, which runs 52 schools, said a short delay of one or two weeks to the full reopening of schools was necessary to set up testing to ensure continuity of education.

He said: "We would suggest a week or two's delay to think it through to do it well.

"And we think that if you really care about kids you would do this well. To invest now, to give time now, makes sense. If we don’t invest, if we are reckless, we’ll all pay and these children will pay later."

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His comments come as schools are officially still due to open on Monday for primary pupils and exam year secondary students, with a mass testing plan to be put in place for students and staff.

The Ministry of Defence has announced that 1,500 military personnel will be made available to schools to help with the rollout of tests.

The Rev Chalke insisted that keeping schools open was vital as further closures would widen inequality.

But, commenting on comments from Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove's yesterday saying that school reopening should go ahead, he said: "Whilst we applaud the secretary of state, and Michael Gove’s intention, their instinct, what we believe is they should stop, they should think, they should get balance, they should go further rather than being reckless and we think there are a number of really important things to be put in place for that to happen."

He added: "Continuity of education clearly is not the same as cramming all kids into the same building at the same time.

"So we would ask government to pause, to come up with a clear strategy for the continuity of education that gives equality and fairness and safety for all. We think that means a short delay to think things through. It's Tuesday already, and Monday is coming fast."

Rev Chalke also said that his trust would carry out a pilot of the mass testing programme – after a request from the government yesterday. 

He said: "We have been asked by the department if we would pilot the mass testing of students

"In actual fact, not all schools will have to start the mass testing from Monday. They can take their time just to get things in place."

Oasis plans to test teachers next week and set up its mass testing system at the same time. It will roll out the testing system to three of its schools the following week and to all 52 Oasis schools by week three of term. 

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Claudia Civinini

Claudia Civinini

Find me on Twitter @claudiacivinini

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