DfE says Oak quango needed to break ‘cycle’ of curriculum weakness

Everything you need to know about the government's case for creating a new arms-length curriculum body

Everything you need to know about the government's case for creating a new arms-length curriculum body

Classroom teachers asked to express interest in reviewing and creating Oak content

Government intervention to turn Oak into a quango was needed to break the “cycle” of school curriculum weakness and ensure catch-up and levelling-up were achieved, ministers have claimed.

The Department for Education has published the business case it made to the Cabinet Office and Treasury to turn Oak into an arms-length curriculum body.

Here’s what we learned.

1. School curriculum delivery ‘weak’

In its business case, the DfE claimed that evidence pointed to “weaknesses in curriculum design and delivery” and “excessive teacher workload associated with curriculum planning”.

The 2014 curriculum has been “implemented by teachers with comparatively little practical guidance”, and Ofsted has found “serious weaknesses” in its enactment.

The document warned barriers of access, time and resource to identify and verify the quality of curriculum resources has “likely” resulted in low demand.

The report says: “Without government intervention, this business cases concludes it is unlikely that this cycle will be broken quickly enough, and the standard of curriculum design and implementation may well remain too low to achieve our wider aims for education recovery and levelling up.”

2. Oak must be ‘strategically aligned’ with government

The DfE considered three options for a “system leader” to improve curriculum delivery – establishing an arms-length body (which was chosen), procuring a provider or delivering the programme from the DfE.

The government feared schools were “unlikely to buy into” an organisation run by the DfE. Teachers “guard their autonomy from government intervention carefully and are unlikely to buy into a process or set of resources that feels that feels centrally imposed by government”.

But setting up a private firm would have “likely lead to losing Oak as an asset entirely”.

Setting it up as an arms-length body has “the potential to both be seen as ‘by the sector for the sector’ and independent from government”.

But the documents do state the quango “should be continuously strategic aligned with government policy as it develops over time, both in terms of the national curriculum and wider related DfE policies…while also maintaining sufficient independence from DfE and autonomy for teachers”.

An option to expand the existing arms-length Standards and Testing Agency was deemed not viable.

3. ‘Some evidence’ of disrupting commercial market …

The controversial plans have been strongly challenged by private providers, with legal action on the table.

The report concluded bodies representing commercial curriculum providers had“some evidence of an impact on the market, but not for the level of impact they are suggesting.”

The British Educational Suppliers Association estimated Oak’s impact could be “between 10% and ‘upwards of 30%’” of the commercial market.

But DfE disputed this and said evidence was “unclear”. They added Oak has existed since 2020 and are not aware it has caused any disrupted.

4. …But schools’ own resources will be ‘displaced’ first

The market impact assessment stated it would actually be school-created resources “will first be displaced by this intervention”.

The government estimates schools and teachers create resources worth around £420 million a year to use themselves. This compares to a roughly £300 million commercial market, which includes revenues generated by schools that sell their own resources.

The DfE says the overall picture is “of a market with little natural growth prospects for high value, high quality resources”.

They say this is “largely as a result of embedded teacher planning behaviours, with a perception of tightening school budgets post pandemic as potentially an exacerbating factor going forward”.

“Teachers themselves appear to be dissatisfied with the market offer,” the report adds.

5. Just £16m to buy resources (and a £3.2m funding shortfall)

The DfE’s chosen option for Oak will see it procure providers to develop its resources.

But the business case shows Oak has set aside just £16 million of its £42.5 million budget to go towards “overall procurement activity” (just over a third).

The spending review also only included £39.3 million to continue delivering Oak up to 2024-25. This leaves a £3.2 million shortfall.

The DfE “would need to manage these pressures through business planning, though this is considered achievable in the context of overall departmental spending given the strategic priority of this work”. It is currently forecasting a £4 million underspend this year.

6. Savings on teacher time means Oak ‘can break even’ …

The DfE analysed three scenarios to assess the hours Oak would need to save teachers to “break even”.

It found if 50 per cent of 402,442 teachers used Oak, they would need to save 2.5 minutes per week for the scheme to break even. If just 10 per cent of 329,271 teachers took it up, they would need to save 15.6 minutes per week.

The DfE said Oak’s research estimated that using the platform saves 8.4 minutes per teacher per week on average.

This analysis is “subject to uncertainty due to the sample size and simple methodology”, but “supports that the sort of time saving we would need to see to break even, based on this workload reduction benefit alone, should be achievable”.

7…But Oak’s team will double in size (and be absorbed by DfE)

The DfE said its proposed delivery model would result in an increase in full-time equivalent Oak staff from 39 to 82.6 when fully operational.

But the Cabinet Office and Treasury have told the DfE that Oak’s staff “must be fully absorbed within the Department’s headcount by the end of financial year 2024-25”.

This presents a “complex challenge and pressure for the Department within the overall headcount and equivalent reductions found elsewhere”.

8. Ofsted curriculum focus could drive Oak take-up

The DfE said as a result of Ofsted’s renewed focus on curriculum, “there may be schools who do not have the capacity to develop teaching resources from scratch and therefore turn to the curriculum body as a starting point”.

“This may therefore be influential in shaping and accelerating the uptake of the service.”

9. Improvement to mimic MATs’ process

Oak will be “continuously improving its curriculum packages in response to testing and feedback…on a national scale”.

In doing so, it will “mimic the process undertaken by leading Academy chains (for example, those who have been Oak’s curriculum partners in developing pupil facing resources for remote education) to develop and refine their own curricula within their MATs”, DfE said.

10. Future of subject ‘hubs’ to be reviewed

The DfE already offers support from subject hubs in maths, computing, English and languages.

But these existing arrangements “predominantly function as targeted school improvement interventions that are delivered via individual school-to-school support”. It is “likely there is insufficient curriculum expertise in the school system” to enable the existing model to be scaled up.

Officials are “currently advising ministers about the alignment of this intervention with existing curriculum hubs and related DfE funded provisions”.

Some of these curriculum initiatives “do deliver support to schools that is different to what this body will offer e.g., CPD”, and ministers “therefore want to consider this carefully and we expect this to evolve as the body develops over the next 3 years of the spending review period and beyond that”.

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One comment

  1. This is just another scam! Real teachers don’t have time to look through Oak resources – to decide if its good or not when lesson planning. Most secondary schools have subject specialists. Teachers are the resource !!!! The few things I have seen on OAK for Science are amateurish, a waste of time and certainly not fit for use in a classroom or Lab! They don’t “engage” and as for differentiation ??? forget it – only a teacher – with a good knowledge of their assigned groups and preffered learning styles – and what is “fun” can plan a lesson.
    It looks like another bunch of DfE hangers on who can’t or won’t teach – thinking there is money to be made here, thanks to the stupidity of the Government in handong out Millions to these “carpetbaggers” – Spend the money on the schools !!!!!