Oak National Academy

LocatED chief to lead ‘independent’ review of Oak academy

Lara Newman will look at quango's 'efficacy, governance, accountability and efficiency'

Lara Newman will look at quango's 'efficacy, governance, accountability and efficiency'

The boss of the Department for Education’s property arm will conduct an “independent” review of the Oak National Academy to check the online school “remains relevant” and is “performing efficiently”.

Lara Newman, chief executive of LocatED, has been tasked by government with reviewing the quango’s “efficacy, governance, accountability and efficiency”.

In practice, this will mean checking whether Oak “remains relevant”, is “performing effectively” and that there is an “appropriate relationship” between it and ministers that allows “day-to-day operational independence”.

Lara Newman
Lara Newman

Set up during the pandemic by a group of volunteers, Oak was turned into an arms-length public body in September 2022 with £43 million in government funding. It later got another £2 million to expand its AI offer.

At the time, the DfE committed to review the organisation within two years.

Newman will be responsible for “ensuring a proportionate, rigorous and fair review that offers recommendations to facilitate continuous improvement”.

The review will look at issues including:

  • Does Oak have a “clear mandate and remain relevant”, with a “clear rationale” for why it should continue as an arms-length body?
  • Is it “aligned with the strategic priorities” of the department and “wider government objectives”?
  • What are users’ experiences of Oak?
  • Does it have an “effective and appropriate relationship” with the department, including if the “balance of control” allows for “day-to-day operational independence”?
  • How can the quango “improve the productivity of, or reduce spending on, staff”?

The assessment will be “completed by September 2024”. Ministers will “determine the final timing and manner of publication of the review”.

Schools minister to steer review

The terms of reference do not set out how Newman was appointed. But it states the schools minister will get initial findings by July and “provide their view on the direction of the review”.

When the full report is published, the minister can decide whether to accept or reject any recommendations made.

Newman will be supported by civil servants from the department.

The review team will be “encouraged to identify” stakeholders to collect evidence from, however they will be “identified in consultation with Oak” and its sponsorship team in the department.

Since launching as a quango, Oak has been tasked with developing free curriculum packages, including “stretching” materials, and providing a national “contingency” for remote education if required.

LocatED is also a government quango set up in 2016 to secure sites for free schools. In recent years it has also been tasked with identifying surplus school land for sale.

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