Oasis chosen to run country's first 'secure school'

The Oasis charity has been selected to run the country’s first ‘secure school’.

The Oasis Charitable Trust – sponsor of the 52-school Oasis Community Learning trust – has been awarded the contract to turn the Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent into a school for young offenders. It is due to open late in 2020.

The Ministry of Justice has committed £5 million to the project, which will include a refurbishment of the classrooms and residential areas.

Services provided to young people will include mentoring and working with young people at risk of violence and abuse.

Rev. Steve Chalke, Oasis founder and leader, said the trust “believes in second chances” and that a “challenging and redemptive environment” would be provided for young offenders.

“We believe that every young person is capable of change and of making more positive choices about their life and their future. Therefore, our emphasis will be wholly on rehabilitation and restoration rather than retribution,” Chalke said.

“From the very beginning of their stay with us, we will work with them to begin to prepare for their resettlement back into community to make an ongoing positive contribution to society in the future.”

Edward Argar, justice minister, said: “Secure schools are critical to our vision for youth custody – placing education, healthcare and purposeful activity at the heart of rehabilitation.”

Argar said the government would work closely with the trust, adding he had been “impressed” by Oasis’s track record across education, health and youth work.

The government says that three quarters of Oasis’ academies operate in the UK’s most deprived areas, with most rated by Ofsted as failing at the time they were taken over.

It was revealed in 2017 that twice the number of pupils at an Oasis academy had been home educated since the start of the year compared to other schools in the area, leading to allegations that parents were being encouraged to remove the children if they did not want them to be excluded.

Medway Training Centre was graded ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons last year.

Plans for secure schools have been in the pipeline following scathing criticism of existing young offender services in a 2016 review by behaviour expert Charlie Taylor.

In his report, Taylor warned that children in existing public sector youth offender institutions received an average of only 15 hours of education a week, with an ambition of 30 hours prevented by “staff shortages and rising levels of violence”.

Children in custody are often unable to finish courses or sit exams they have been working towards for years, he warned.

The government said it shared Taylor’s view and was piloting the scheme with two institutions, one in the north of England and one in the south.

But when Schools Week asked for the results of the two pilots, an MoJ spokesperson confirmed they had not taken place.