Broadcast Oak Academy lessons on TV, says education committee chair

Recorded lessons such as those put together by the Oak National Academy should be shown on television, the chair of the Parliamentary education committee has said.

Robert Halfon has written to culture secretary Oliver Dowden to ask what “incentives and funding could be put in place to encourage the creation and transmission of such content so that it is available through the main broadcasters”.

The former education minister has raised repeated concerns that children without access to the internet at home are missing out on online learning.

In his letter, he argued that “content such as that by the Oak National Academy could be provided on a more prominent channel or scheduled across a number of broadcasters during the daytime, at points in their schedules often filled with repeats”.

Halfon praised “creative steps” taken to support children’s home learning, such as the BBC’s bite-sized broadcasts and the “huge volume of filmed online lessons that have been produced” by Oak.

However, he warned that it “remains the case that up to a million children may not have access to a computer or the internet and so have not learnt from these resources”.

“If there was more educational content that is linked to the curriculum on television there could be a near universal reach to all children, as 95 per cent of households have a television set.

“As it stands the BBC only broadcasts educational content for two hours a day via its red button channel, but this does not have a very prominent position on the electronic programme guide.

“We think there is a strong case for much more children’s educational content on TV, especially over the summer.”

However, any attempt to provide more educational content on television is likely to lead to a showdown between broadcasters and commercial curriculum providers.

Schools Week revealed in May that the BBC was under pressure to axe its home-learning lessons – used by millions of children during the coronavirus crisis – over fears it would squeeze commercial firms out of the market.

The British Educational Suppliers Association said it was seeking written assurances that the national broadcaster will wind down its beefed-up education offerings amid claims they may breach competition laws.

One of the demands was for the BBC to remove lessons from its Bitesize website from the first day of the summer holidays.

In his letter to Dowden, Halfon said Ofcom, “given its regulatory role, could be asked to ensure that the public service broadcasters meet this requirement and set quotas for the broadcasting of such content for children”.

He also said it would be “really valuable if the government could negotiate with the main mobile providers whether they would facilitate the whitelisting of certain educational content, for example that provided by the BBC and Oak National Academy, so that data charges were waived for these services, and meaning they were always available to support young people’s remote learning”.

Ty Goddard, co-founder of The Education Foundation and Chair of Edtech UK, said it was an “important” intervention.

“It recognises we need new energy across Whitehall on access, Edtech and digital infrastructure. Let’s do three things right now: all digital and Edtech issues for young people moved to the DfE; bolder plans for access to digital devices, infrastructure and a new Edtech strategy refresh.”