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UK News

'Too many kids are being denied outdoor space and a hot meal': Steve Chalke defends decision to reopen primary schools

by Heather Preston

Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Trust has defended his decision to reopen primary schools following concerns over safety.

Oasis, which is one of the largest academy trusts in England will be reopening all of its 35 primary schools from 1st June, in line with government recommendations.

It comes as the education secretary Gavin Williamson is due to meet with government advisors and teaching unions on Friday, to address worries that the phased return of pupils next month is unsafe.

The National Education Union has condemned the exclusion of teachers' unions from the government's decision and insisted that parents and teachers need to be "absolutely clear" about the risks involved in returning to schools.

Chalke said his schools are taking "every precaution" to reopen safely and families and staff who do not feel comfortable to return "will not be obligated to".

"I really do understand the worry, and there's no obligation of course, for any staff member to work, who is worried or who is vulnerable, and there's no pressure for any child to return. But there are lots of parents who want their children to be able to return school.

"We have dedicated professionals whose skills and expertise is in building management and have done individual risk assessments on every single one of our buildings and looked into ways of making each of our buildings absolutely safe, [in terms of] social distance, social hygiene, splitting the day in different ways so that we can cater for each child in safety," he said.

Chalke explained that although some families may not feel comfortable sending their children back to school yet, the situation is more desperate for those coming from low income homes.

"The coronavirus is easier for the middle classes than it is for others. I'm middle class - I'm sat here in my study at home, looking out on my garden. I've got digital access, and I've got lots of food. 

"But many of our families don't have any of those luxuries in life. And so what a school does for children is it provides them with a hot, nutritious meal each day. We've got too many kids who live in a tower block with no access to any outdoor space and have been denied the free school dinner that they deserve. So we want to do something about that.

"We feel we've got an obligation (and we've been asked by the government), to open our schools for the children who most need it and the parents who are longing for it," he added.
 

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