DfE curriculum body plans risk sector ‘collapse’, warn resource suppliers

New education secretary urged to suspend predecessor's plans for Oak academy amid political uncertainty and competition fears

New education secretary urged to suspend predecessor's plans for Oak academy amid political uncertainty and competition fears

18 Jul 2022, 16:45

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Education publishers, authors and resource suppliers have issued a joint call for the government to suspend plans to launch an arm’s-length curriculum body.

The government is taking Oak National Academy into public hands, recently agreeing to pay £1 million to Oak partners for lesson resources created during the pandemic. It plans to commission new materials from November, prompting competition fears among existing resource providers.

Leaders of six industry organisations have now written to new education secretary James Cleverly and schools minister Will Quince warning the plans risk the “collapse of the commercial education resources sector”.

Senior figures at the Publishers Association, British Educational Suppliers Association, Society of Authors, Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, Publishers’ Licensing Services, and Copyright Licensing Agency urged a rethink “due to a lack of evidence and of due scrutiny, exacerbated by current political uncertainty”.

“All the current evidence indicates that the department is pursuing a major market intervention into the school resources market which teachers neither want nor need,” they write.

Impact on teacher choice

They say the education resources industry creates “world-class materials” and is an “export success story”. But the government’s plans risk “fundamentally undermining this ecosystem”.

The letter claims the Department for Education has not assessed need, or the potential impact on the commercial market or teacher choice.

It calls arm’s-length bodies “an expensive use of already strained public money”, and a move which shifts responsibility from ministers to “unelected officials” with less accountability.

The body’s launch and procurement plans should be suspended to “properly consult with stakeholders” and give Oak’s assets a more “proportionate” future, they write.

It comes after the BESA threatened legal action against government in May, highlighting similar concerns and claiming it was “unfairly and unlawfully excluded” from consultation over the move. It then held fire after the DfE said several final decisions had not yet been made, though could still revive the legal action when they have been, according to BESA.

Meanwhile a document seen by Schools Week shows the government plans to offer the Reach Foundation, which “incubated” Oak, a £10 million indemnity over the plans to transfer Oak into public ownership.

It effectively offers protection if Reach were to face any legal action, and means taxpayers would foot the bill for any “liabilities, claims, costs, and obligations that are made in relation to the transfer of assets, licences and undertakings”.

A DfE spokesperson said its plan followed “careful consideration”, and would “deliver excellent lessons, help manage teachers’ workload, and build on the huge success of Oak”.

“We have met with BESA, PA and other trade organisations on a number of occasions over recent months to share our thinking, including a series of market warming webinars and the Department continues to engage with stakeholders, including BESA and PA, on this policy.”

The letter in full

Dear Secretary of State,

We the undersigned are writing to request the Department for Education reconsiders its radical plans for an arms-length future curriculum body due to a lack of evidence and of due scrutiny, exacerbated by current political uncertainty.

All the current evidence indicates that the department is pursuing a major market intervention into the school resources market which teachers neither want nor need. Teachers repeatedly say their priorities are more funding, initial training and CPD. The creation of a new arm’s length body (ALB) should be a policy of last resort and there has been no assessment of need or projected future impact on either the commercial market or teacher choice.

We wholeheartedly support the department’s desire to stimulate the development of curriculum expertise for teachers and to support them in accelerating education recovery. However, ALBs are an expensive use of already strained public money.

They also remove responsibility from ministers, handing it to unelected officials and thus reducing accountability. We assert that this process has not been thought through and comes with a significant amount of risk politically and to the wider school system.

The UK’s education resources industry creates world-class materials which empower teachers and enable students to get the most out of their education. It supports thousands of creators and authors across the UK, many of whom are teachers. It is also an export success story and an area of genuine competitive advantage for the UK abroad, contributing to our soft power.

The current proposals risk fundamentally undermining this ecosystem and we ask the government to pause these proposals and resultant procurement processes in order to properly consult with stakeholders, to assess need, and to find an end point which achieves a more proportionate and sustainable future for Oak National Academy’s assets, while allowing the flourishing and competitive education resources market to continue to offer choice in quality resources for schools.

We believe this compromise is possible with engagement and dialogue. In light of the above, combined with the ongoing political uncertainty, we call upon you to suspend the creation of this ALB.

We urge you to seek engagement with our sector to find a more proportionate approach that better delivers on the department’s policy aims and avoids the collapse of the commercial education resources sector to the detriment of all those people involved in it and supported by it, including teachers and learners.

Yours sincerely,

Dan Conway, CEO, Publishers Association
Caroline Wright, Director General, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)
Nicola Solomon, chief executive, Society of Authors (SoA)
Barbara Ann Hayes, deputy chief executive, Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS)
Sarah Faulder, chief executive, Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS)
Mat Pfleger, chief executive, Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA)

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