Schools

Ministers set aside £43m for Oak National Academy

Government draws on contingency cash for new quango, as former Gove adviser joins board

Government draws on contingency cash for new quango, as former Gove adviser joins board

Ministers have set aside up to £43 million to fund the Oak National Academy quango over the next three years – and have had to dip into their contingency pot to get it up and running.

It comes as investor and former Michael Gove adviser Henry de Zoete is appointed a temporary board member for the new arms-length body, which officially launches today.

Oak’s transfer into a government quango has been mired in controversy recently, with the country’s largest academy trust – United Learning – quitting.

The trust pulled its 1,500 lesson from the platform, which chief executive Jon Coles hitting out at government for using the “goodwill” from the sector in setting up Oak to now “promote its own preferred curriculum model”.

Oak said today government has “set aside” up to £43 million for three years to “support” the quango, with a “significant proportion” expected to go directly to schools, publishers and other organisations for the “creation of resources”.

The first cycle of procurement for new curriculum materials for six subjects is valued at £8 million. A second procurement for further subjects will take place next year.

Government is also seeking £6.6 million from its contingency fund for “resources and capital”, such as hosting costs, as it’s been set up in the middle of a financial year. Once the formal budget is set up, this fund is paid back.

Platform hosting and technical support to meet government digital standards will account for a large amount of the funding.

Dragon’s Den star joins board

Oak said it will be a “lean organisation” with a public appointment process taking place shortly for a permanent chief executive and board positions.

An interim board will be lead by Ian Bauckham, chair of Ofqual and CEO of Tenax trust. de Zoete will join the board because of “his expertise on product development and technology”.

He was a former special adviser to then education secretary Gove and later scored the biggest deal in history on Dragon’s Den with his business Look After My Bills.

It is understood that de Zoete advised the Oak team on their original proposal to privatise the body. As revealed by Schools Week, the proposal detailed how Oak bosses would have made millions under a future sale.

Louise Thompson, a partner at KMPG, has also been appointed for her “expertise in finance, risk and audit”.

Oak’s purpose and aims have also been confirmed in its framework agreement with government. Its purpose is to “improve pupil outcomes and close the disadvantage gap by support teachers to teach, and pupils to access a high-quality curriculum”.

The framework states Oak will be “operationally independent” from DfE in creating curriculum packages and education resources. But it will ensure it is aligned with the national curriculum and have due regard for DfE’s non-statutory curriculum guidance.

Oak
Hood

Matt Hood, Oak’s interim chief executive and founder, said the materials will be created “independently of government, with Oak remaining a trusted resource for teachers”.

“No matter who you are, if you have a brilliant curriculum or set of high-quality resources, we’d love you to put it forward to be shared with teachers through our upcoming procurement. We’ll also be creating many more opportunities to get involved – from joining our subject expert groups, to road-testing and improving our new resources.”

But Dan Conway, CEO of the Publishers Association, claimed last week that government “is stripping teachers of their autonomy and creativity in the classroom”.

“Oak played an important role at a time of national crisis, but this rushed plan is a massive over extension of their remit that will harm everyone in the sector. There’s no evidence teachers or parents want this, and it’s being hurried through without proper consultation or scrutiny by a caretaker government.”

A procurement notice due to be published today for new resources will suggest that they are shared on a Creative Commons licence.

Oak say this would allow any school the ability to “freely use and adapt the content in non-commercial platforms and products”. Oak’s platform will also be open-source, allowing any school or other organisation to access and use its underlying code.

Primary school Oak use drops

A new report by ImpactEd found on average 32,000 teachers and 170,000 pupils used Oak each week in the 2021-22 school year – similar to the summer term of the 2020-21.

But the reach to primary schools has decreased from 48.8 per cent to 37 per cent, compared to secondary schools staying at 74 per cent. ImpactEd say the shift “reflected the split of content usage by key stage”.

The way in which Oak is used by teachers has changed too, according to the report. Whereas in 2020-21 it was frequently used to set cover lessons and work for absent pupils due to Covid, in the 2021-22 academic year it was increasingly used for curriculum planning.

Responding to ImpactEd’s survey, 43 per cent of Oak users said they used it for curriculum planning, while 37 per cent used it for setting cover lessons.

Just over two in five uses said Oak helped reduce their workload, saving an average of three hours a week.

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