United Learning snubs Oak quango and sets up rival website

England's largest trust say it's 'wrong' for government to 'take over' curriculum body

England's largest trust say it's 'wrong' for government to 'take over' curriculum body

England’s largest academy trust United Learning won’t hand over 1,500 lessons to the new Oak quango saying it does not support a “government approved curriculum” – and has set up its own rival website instead.

It comes as a new interim board is appointed to Oak ahead its of launch as an independent government arms-length body (ALB) in the coming weeks.

But it’s been revealed today that United Learning – one of the original partners that created lessons for the online school – turned down government cash to hand over its intellectual property rights.

A spokesperson for the trust said they think it’s “wrong” for government to “take over” the Oak resources and “do not support” the ALB plans, adding: “It was never a government project.

“There should not be a ‘government approved’ curriculum, nor any suggestion of one – whether presented as ‘optional’ or not.  

“As we do not think government should be getting involved in provision of lesson-by-lesson curriculum resources, we have declined the government’s offer of money to hand our resources to the new NDPB.”

United Learning chief executive Jon Coles later accused the government of “using the Oak goodwill and materials to set up a government body with the same name to produce resources to promote its own preferred curriculum model.

“It is wrong for them to do this and wrong for government to develop a preferred lesson-by-lesson curriculum at all.”

Schools Week understands the trust was the only original curriculum partner not to sign its intellectual property over to Oak. Lessons in English, history, science, geography and art will all instead be hosted by United on

Oak say that due to restrictions and the end of licences for some partners, only 85 per cent of existing content will stay on its platform when it launches as arms-length government body in the coming weeks.

The government paid up to £1 million to other partners who created online lessons to allow Oak to continue to use them before new resources are created this year.

United Learning said it was pleased to be one of the original partners, adding: “We believe that the trusts and schools which created Oak and provided the lessons performed a valuable national service at a time of crisis.

“This was an independent, charitable activity led by schools and trusts in the national interest and supported by philanthropic funding. The partners were grateful for some government financial support, which accelerated production of video lessons.”

Matt Hood

Some modern foreign language lessons from other providers will also be taken down, with teachers recommended to review what they’ve downloaded.

Matt Hood, principal of Oak, said “unfortunately” a small number of subjects in certain key stages would be removed but “but we’re pleased the majority of those affected will continue to be available to teachers on other platforms”.

Hood added: “All our partners have made significant contributions, supporting millions of pupils, teachers and schools through the pandemic. When they were initially created none of us ever envisaged they’d be available for so long. We want to thank them all, and especially thank the Reach Foundation for incubating and supporting Oak to date.”

Ian Bauckham, chair of Ofqual and CEO of Tenax academy trust, will be the interim chair for a year until a permanent chair is recruited through an open process.

Other interim board members include Ramender Crompton, head of English at Dixons City Academy, Cassie Buchanan, executive head at Charles Dickens Primary and Sean Harford, former national director of education at Ofsted. More announcements are expected shortly.

Meanwhile, religious education will no longer be in the first tranche of subjects, instead replaced with music.

Oak say RE is not a national curriculum subject and feedback was clear there was considerable demand for an arts subject.

In a letter from Jenny Oldroyd, the DfE’s director for curriculum and general qualifications, to sector stakeholders said the DfE was aiming to formally launch Oak as an arm’s length body inside government “in the coming weeks”.

The controversial move has prompted pushback from education publishers, who warns the sector could “collapse” as a result. 

The DfE is also “committed” to working with devolved administrations to explore how Oak can support their students, Oldroyd said.

But she stressed Oak resources will “always be completely optional”, amid some school concerns about autonomy and commercial provider concerns about competition.

She said that bringing Oak into public hands marked “an opportunity – through a broad and inclusive national process – to reshape curriculum thinking”.

Oak will also offer “balance and choice” through offering more than one full curriculum package – but only where “robust evidence suggests there are valid alternative pedagogical approaches”.

An early procurement notice for new lessons will be published in the coming weeks ahead of formal procurement later this autumn.

Bauckham appears to be the go-to sector official in these situations. He became interim chair of Ofqual after upheaval at the regulator in 2020 before being give then role permanently.

He also led the initial teacher training market review and the review of modern foreign languages.

Bauckham also previously chaired the Oak project board, which Coles also sat on.

Hood added: “In the coming weeks we’ll share more details of our plans. We’ll continue to offer our teacher-made resources and video lessons, but in the years ahead we’ll help teachers and pupils to access brand new, high quality and entirely optional digital curriculum resources and video lessons.

“Oak has always been a community of teachers and educational professionals, and this approach will continue at the heart of our work. We want to work with a wide range of teachers, schools, subject associations, publishers and other experts to co-create these new curriculum packages.”

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *