Oak National Academy will finally move into public hands this autumn – on condition it remains “fully independent” and is never privatised.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi today confirmed Oak would become an arm’s length body, saying the online school is “one of our greatest achievements”.
But Ed Vainker, chief executive of the Reach Foundation which established Oak, said it agreed to transfer “on the basis it will be fully independent and will always remain free and in public ownership”.
Oak bosses had earlier proposed privatising the organisation and selling it four years later – putting them in line for a £41 million payday. This was swiftly ditched, with plans for it to become a charity also dropped in favour of being nationalised.
In a speech to school leaders at ASCL’s conference in Birmingham today, Zahawi will say he is “committed to building on the ‘by teachers, for teachers’ approach behind its launch”.
Scores of teachers gave their time free to record lessons for Oak at the height of the pandemic. It now has more than 10,000 lessons and 40,000 resources, with pupils taking part in 130 million lessons as of September last year.
Zahawi will say: “We want to share the very best practice so teachers can draw inspiration from evidence-based, carefully sequenced examples.”
Oak partner raises concerns
However, there are some concerns. Tony Staneff, head of external initiatives at the Trinity Multi-Academy Trust, one of Oak’s dozens of partner organisations, said it was “not clear of the rationale for this”.
“It feels a bit hurried. We hope more clarity will be brought. We’ve been told there’ll be meetings with trusts and other partners.”
Caroline Wright, director general of the British Educational Suppliers Association, said she was glad schools would still have Oak for “back-up support and reference”.
But she is “extremely concerned by the lack of proper consultation on the department’s plans”, and a “lack of clear evidence base” for proposals as they stand.
She claimed the DfE was relying on a survey and Ofsted reports for only a small number of schools to inform its decision. Officials said a wide range of evidence had been used, however.
Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association,said members understood the value of a national academy. But he said it should focus on activity “not already well provided for by the UK’s world leading education publishing sector”.
He urged the government to work with the sector. “Any proposal for a state-sponsored publisher creating curriculum plans and resources across key stages and subjects will not work and will only deter private investment in UK educational resources.”
Government rules say new arm’s length bodies must be a “last resort” and created only when “consideration of all other delivery mechanisms have been exhausted”.
Many trusts and private providers offer lesson resources. Trinity provides lesson materials via linked organisation White Rose Maths. Ark academy trust’s Mathematics Mastery is used by 500 schools.
Zahawi promises ‘partnership’
Zahawi will say collaboration and partnership are “at the heart” of the new body, which will work with a “diverse range of teachers and experts from across the sector”.
But there are also concerns about the influence of government. A top-level agreement and articles of association are expected to outline the body’s relationship with government and long-term strategy.
Both the chief executive and board roles will be subject to public appointment rules.
The DfE says the body will be “fully operational” from autumn, and the first new products available from September 2023.
Around 30 staff are expected to be transferred over from Oak. A final name has not been decided. Oak cost £6.5 million to run last year.
The government has also said it will fund the Education Endowment Foundation beyond 2026, but no further details were provided.