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Trust sponsor to trial youth hubs for at-risk pupils

The charity sponsor of one of the country’s biggest academy trusts is trialling new youth hubs to provide therapeutic care and mentoring after-school for pupils at risk of exclusion.

The plans from Oasis Charitable Trust – which runs the Oasis academy trust of 54-schools – come after prime minister Sir Keir Starmer pledged in his first press conference a new network of youth hubs to tackle knife crime.

Steve Chalke, the charity’s founder, said they have been in talks with Labour about the plans, which he said will help tackle the “exclusion to prison pipeline”.

Schools will be asked to nominate pupils and families they think will benefit from “supplementary education”, to take place after school and on weekends, at the ‘Oasis St Martin’s Village’, in Lambeth.

Based on the site of St Martin-In-The Fields High School for Girls, closing due to a shortage of pupils, the hub will cater key stage 1, 2 and 3 children, with an initial cohort of up to 40. 

Writing in Schools Week, Chalke said: “It’s often called the school to prison pipeline – detention, suspension, loss of hope, permanent exclusion, exploitation, criminalisation, and jail.

“Oasis will do everything we can support Labour’s manifesto pledge to ensure that ‘every community has an open-access hub for children and young people’ which will support their mental health and avoid them being drawn into crime.”

Steve Chalke

Oasis said children will be offered mentoring and one-to-one therapeutic care, with youth workers and mental health support teams at hand to try and stop them being drawn into crime and violence.

Chalke has partnered with a range of organisations from local netball to watercolour painting groups to create “opportunity for children who are falling out of the educational system and falling into crime, into exclusion and exploitation.” 

One partner, Crystal Palace Football, will offer “therapeutic” football sessions. Youngsters will also help create a community farm on-site, as part of what Chalke called “farming therapy”. 

Oasis will also deliver a range of services itself, including Encounter, its therapeutic intervention model to supporting parents and children through non-violent communication tools.

Oasis plans to pilot three more hubs

The charity plans three more hubs this Autumn under the Young Futures pilot: one in north London, another in Salford and a third in Birkenhead. The latter, ‘Oasis Kings Mead Village’, on the site of a former independents school, boasts “wonderful facilities” and 15 acres of forest and grassland, Chalke added. 

He said it will cost about £400,000 to run and maintain the south London site for a year and pay staff costs, which the charity will fund.

Chalke also revealed he plans to “meet some of the (local) gang leaders” – because he wants to work with them to stop young people getting sucked into a life of crime.

In April, The Standard revealed Oasis was planning to open a “giant therapeutic centre” on the closing school site. 

Writing in Schools Week today, Chalke said the “only way to achieve a reduction in youth violence is to change the question and to double down on inclusion.” 

Knife crime has nearly doubled in the past decade.

He said the key “aim is that no child is off-rolled from their mainstream school”.

The hub will “give children the opportunity to explore their strengths and skills through creative activities tailored to meet their interests. That way education becomes a pleasure. If the child doesn’t learn the way you teach, start teaching the way they learn.”

Exclusion rates are back to pre-Covid levels after a pandemic lull, but suspensions are at record highs. Absence rates have also not been brought back to pre-pandemic levels.

Chalke added: “The school attendance crisis is a systemic problem, it’s not something that can be seen in isolation and solved with a pull of a policy lever here or there.

“The whole ecosystem of a child’s life matters. At Oasis St Martin’s we will therefore work in partnership with families and local community and grassroots groups, as well as the statutory services.”

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