Oak National Academy

Oak: A liberating solution to workload and quality problems

Oak National Academy can be instrumental in meeting the post-Covid challenges of teacher burnout and weak curricula, writes Hamid Patel

Oak National Academy can be instrumental in meeting the post-Covid challenges of teacher burnout and weak curricula, writes Hamid Patel

28 Nov 2022, 5:00

Oak National Academy recently completed its engagement on its new curriculum resources. Everyone has had their say and been heard. It’s now time to get on with making a difference.

Oak’s success in convening talent and problem-solving is awe-inspiring. Throughout the pandemic, with the unprecedented challenges faced by our young people and their teachers, it made a rapid and game-changing contribution to our country. During troubled months when classrooms were hastily reimagined as cyber-learning spaces that required teachers to master digital pedagogy at lightning speed, Oak marshalled excellent practitioners whose high-quality recorded lessons enabled our children to continue learning.

Given its success over nearly three years, and the purposeful collaboration and creative thinking with which Oak did its work, it is only right that it should now be a key partner in addressing other challenges besetting the sector: teacher burnout and weak curricula.

These serious issues threaten the quality of education, particularly for children whose learning gaps are most severe. Oak will offer well-sequenced curriculum maps, supporting information, lesson plans and associated resources (slides, quizzes, independent tasks, worksheets) for a broad range of subjects across the primary and secondary phases. These will be designed by teachers, quality-assured and tested in classrooms.

Planning a high-quality curriculum is arduous and time-consuming. Schools and trusts revisiting their plans in the light of Ofsted’s research reviews have wrangled with the organisation of component knowledge. For those starting from a low base or struggling to recruit and retain phase or subject specialists, the challenge is doubly daunting. Time lags between intent and implementation compound learning loss.

Seeing a great model is empowering for development

In this space, Oak offers a liberating solution, freely available to the sector for adoption or adaptation. Judicious use of Oak resources reduces the need for teachers to spend hours planning lessons from scratch. At a time of alarming teacher attrition, a solution that addresses workload and safeguards emotional wellbeing without compromising quality is most welcome.

Rightly, Oak is not compulsory and can never be so. Indeed, it has committed to signposting three alternative schemes per subject from other providers. Professionals are free to choose from Oak’s resources to suit their needs through a spectrum of blended approaches.

At Star Academies, teachers will continue to use the trust’s own excellent materials in conjunction with those provided by Oak and by commercial publishers. Their points of entry to Oak’s curriculum repository will depend on their own contexts. Oak provides a toolkit, not a straitjacket.

Oak’s curriculum will continue to be generated by teachers whose skills and creativity can inspire others. Subject advisory groups, including established subject associations, will oversee quality and consistency. Research evidence confirms that seeing a great model is empowering for professional development, particularly during the formative stage of a teacher’s career. This is the core of Oak’s offer.

Oak has taken steps to protect the interests of the commercial sector. The market is poised to capitalise on the possibilities of digitisation and artificial intelligence. Oak will spur creativity and stimulate our national capacity at the forefront of educational thinking.

Our education sector cannot afford to stagnate. Attainment gaps are at their highest levels since 2012, with the poorest pupils falling ever further behind their peers and mental health concerns persisting.

The significant financial investment in Oak is positive recognition of the need for innovation. If we don’t grasp the entwined nettles of workload and quality, we will continue to see young teachers quitting and schools struggling to provide the enticing curricula that every pupil deserves.

I embrace Oak as a positive legacy of the pandemic. We need innovation to help teachers to retain their energy and flair and to make pupils’ learning impactful. Our sector’s response to the Covid crisis showed its resilience, maturity and creativity – essential traits that we must retain in the challenging years ahead.

Ultimately, Oak will help to improve the life chances of young people in some of our most deprived communities, and that is why it has my whole-hearted support.

Editor’s note: Oak National Academy chief executive, Matt Hood is chair of governors at Bay Leadership Academy, one of the Star Academies schools

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One comment

  1. Is it worrying that this author sees curricula as a commercial opportunity ?

    I’m not sure taking the responsibility for planning away from teachers work is the best way to reduce workload