The Department for Education wants to take Oak National Academy into public ownership, according to the group behind the project, and its budget will be halved next term.
The Reach Foundation has announced Oak will “stay open and free to use for at least the next two terms” after the DfE approved another grant worth £2.1 million.
It said its online lessons had reached 300,000 pupils in the final weeks of term as Covid rates have grown, more than twice the average usage since schools fully reopened.
Ed Vainker, CEO of the Reach Foundation, said the DfE cash would ensure Oak could remain part of “resilience planning” in case Covid disruption continues through the autumn and winter.
Oak will remain under Reach until at least next spring, but its annual budget will be cut by around 50 per cent. It will remain a “small” organisation providing “effective insurance…at the equivalent cost of £80 per school”.
But the DfE has also asked Reach to consult with partners and stakeholders on handing it ownership of its brand, platform and intellectual property in future.
“Oak and the Department want to maintain Oak’s principle of curriculum independence, being ‘of the sector, for the sector’, and that its resources remain entirely optional,” said Vainker.
The foundation’s limited pledge about its survival and no fees “for at least the next two terms” raises questions over its long-term future and potential costs, but no further details were provided over the potential impact of DfE control.
The foundation said a survey showed three in four teachers planned to keep using Oak resources beyond the pandemic.
A Schools Week investigation revealed in May how its management team previously proposed turning the taxpayer-funded resource into a private company. The plan would have seen “founding employees” handed a £41 million windfall if successful.
But Oak and Reach said it was just one of dozens of options considered, and was found not to be “workable”.
A document on the proposals also revealed how nationalising Oak was also considered, but the DfE’s response at the time was “lukewarm”.
Oak has become a household name since its launch by a group of teachers at the start of pandemic, providing millions of lessons for pupils at home because of Covid restrictions.
After receiving £500,000 from the government to launch in spring 2020, Oak was handed another £4.3 million to continue providing online lessons into this academic year.
Vainker said Oak was now consulting with “the schools and organisations involved in helping make it a success, to find the right sustainable future.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb called it “one of the great success stories” of the pandemic. “The impact Oak has made and the good it has done for the sector and children is immeasurable, and we will now look for the best way to harness that for the future.”
It comes after month after it emerged the DfE had also asked Ofsted to inspect and run an accreditation scheme for online schools.
The DfE says there are more than 20 full-time online providers, with the government keen to reassure children, parents and councils over quality and safeguarding arrangements in online settings.