Our education correspondent, GENE BRODIE, has found a new website which has discovered the Oasis academy chain, led by a Baptist minister, saying that they really have very little to do with churches or religion
There have been calls for more transparency and openness over the ethos of the Oasis academy chain of schools, with one of the schools’ governors admitting that they are operating “faith schools by stealth”.
The Oasis chain, which has its head offices next to a church in Waterloo, is the country’s third largest, sponsoring 49 schools in England and Wales, with five of them – including one “all-through” primary to secondary – based in Croydon.
An investigation by education journalist Warwick Mansell for his new website, EducationUncovered reports that there have been calls for Oasis “to be much more transparent about its standing as a Christian organisation and to give more information on how this interacts with the education it provides its schools’ pupils”.
The Oasis chain received £172million from the Department for Education to run its schools in 2015-2016. According to DfE official data, 80 per cent of Oasis schools are not classified as “religious”, even though Oasis’s own documents say the organisation is “motivated by the life, message and example of Jesus Christ”.
According to the EducationUncovered report, “Oasis says its academies are not faith schools, arguing that they are ‘entirely non-selective in intake’.” The academy chain says that what it expects and requires of its staff and students “is not in any way religious”. The website also reports one of the leading figures in Oasis saying in an interview that each school is a part of a “Christ-centred gathered community”.
The website quotes an unnamed school governor saying that in some cases Oasis academies were being imposed on communities without it being made clear that they are religious, and where the boundaries between the organisation’s wider Christian charitable work and its schools are not nearly clear enough.
In Croydon, the schools operated by the chain include the Oasis Academy Arena, a six forms of entry school for pupils aged from 11 to 16, which “moved into a beautiful brand new state-of-the-art building in September 2016”.
That “beautiful new state-of-the-art building” cost tax-payers a cool £22million to provide for Oasis.
The school building was strongly opposed by residents from when it was first proposed by the previous Tory council administration. They said that there was an over-provision of school places nearby.
They also objected to the school’s large massing on too small a site, the misuse of Metropolitan Open Land, and the conflicts of interest of the councillors who were supposed to represent their views. This saw the Croydon Council planning committee which granted planning consent for the academy allowed to include four past or present governors of Oasis schools, including local Woodside councillor, Paul Scott, now Labour’s chair of planning.
The Oasis Academy Arena describes itself as “Part of Croydon’s Olympic legacy, the school is situated on the site adjacent to Croydon Arena Athletics track, and benefits from partnerships with local sports organisations”.
Yet Inside Croydon has learned that approaches from local community sports charities to hire the school’s sports hall for use have been refused. “They appear to want to keep their sports facilities solely for school use,” a charity worker said. Which doesn’t seem very, well, Christian.
And meanwhile, this “part of Croydon’s Olympic legacy” is receiving £4.8million of funding from the DfE to run its school for 2017-2018.
Other Oasis secondaries in Croydon are Coulsdon (£3.79million funding in 2017-2018), and Shirley Park, the all-through primary and secondary (£7.8million for 2017-2018).
Oasis operates two other primaries in the borough: Byron (£1.1million) and Ryelands (£1.7million).
The Oasis Charitable Trust had its beginnings in Croydon in the 1990s, originally operating as a refuge for young homeless. It was founded by Steve Chalke, an ordained Baptist minister. Chalke set-up Oasis’s education arm in 2004.
Where the state-funded education operation ends and Oasis’s churches begin appears to be becoming an increasing issue.
The lobby group Humanists UK has raised questions about the relationship between Oasis’s schools and churches; some Oasis churches are on school sites.
“The success of this effort to smuggle religion through customs is evidence of just how permissive our education system has become to religious influence,” Jay Harman, of Humanists UK, told EducationUncovered.
Humanists UK say that Oasis schools with no designated religious character “are nonetheless run and influenced by religious organisations”. They say that this is now widespread, and was made possible by academisation.”
According to EducationUncovered, governors at Oasis academies – or what they pompously title “academy councillors” – are not told clearly about the Oasis organisation’s religious ethos. One governor told EducationUncovered, “This is not what I signed up for. I signed up to be a school governor, not a supporter of a religious movement. These are not supposed to be faith schools.”
In a statement issued to EducationUncovered, presumably directly from Oasis’s HQ offices in a building next to a south London church, they said, “Oasis Community Learning academies are non-religious, and are not faith schools.
“Oasis Community Learning does not have a religious ethos.”
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