Schools

Ofsted should check Oak lessons are up to scratch, think tank urges

But national curriculum body dismisses the idea - saying it will remain 'by teachers for teachers'

But national curriculum body dismisses the idea - saying it will remain 'by teachers for teachers'

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Ofsted should evaluate Oak National Academy’s lessons, syllabus and resources to make sure they are up to scratch when it becomes an arms-length curriculum body, a think tank has said.

The Institute for Government has recommended “proper evaluation and assurance” of Oak’s performance saying it so far has “limited formal evaluation” since launching during the 2020 lockdown. 

The think tank say while this was understandable due to measuring impact during school closures, the curriculum body’s performance “should be assessed more robustly given its permanence, broader remit and closer alignment to government”. 

In a new report, IfG say this should include probing the quality of curriculum and contingency arrangements for education. They propose “micro-level” evaluations with Ofsted of the ALB’s individual tools, resources, lessons and syllabus and robust quality assurance processes.

Nick Davies, one of the report’s authors, commended Oak’s work, but added now it’s becoming an ALB “it’s right that its work is subject to more robust evaluation and quality assurance, with involvement from Ofsted.”

However the online lesson provider said this was “not a good idea”. 

An Oak spokesperson added: “We won’t be taking forward the suggestion that Ofsted does this work. Ofsted will not pre-approve or evaluate Oak materials in any way.

“We are a ‘by teachers for teachers’ organisation and always will be. That means materials will be completely optional, free and adaptable for schools to use.” 

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has already warned that Oak’s materials must be used “thoughtfully” by schools and not “assembled as a pick and mix”.

Oak highlighted two independent evaluations have taken place since its launch in 2020 by ImpactEd. One was published last year, with the other due to be published next month.

“Extensive” data is now available to “respected” research organisations, they added.

However the spokesperson accepted “there is always more we can do”, which includes annual evaluations and “robust multi-year” independent analysis.

The report comes weeks before Oak is due to launch as a new government curriculum body.

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

The IfG praised government for “trusting” the experts to “innovate and lead” the birth of Oak during lockdown. It said cross-sector collaboration “cut through partisan perspectives” and initial costs were low.

“By bringing together partners and interested groups around a common altruistic purpose, Oak avoided many of the divergences of opinion that are often a feature of traditional policy development and delivery.” 

But they said there are “legitimate questions around the appropriateness of government taking on a more active role in curriculum design”. 

They urge Oak to remain “operationally independent” from government, continue to seek input from curriculum experts and have “robust plans” for future school shutdowns. 

“Continuity of education, be it in response to mass school closures or individual absences, should be a primary objective of the new [ALB],” the report reads. 

An Oak spokesperson repeated its promise to be “operationally independent” from the Department for Education. It would have its own independent board, for instance.

“This means we will be strategically aligned to the DfE, but continue to be teacher- and sector-led with operational independence over our curriculum thinking and development and all the resources we create,” Oak added.

“Oak adopted the ‘agile’ operating model as a start-up and will continue to use it as an ALB. 

“It means a lean core team that listens closely to our users and prioritises what they tell us they need. We build quickly and incrementally using rapid feedback cycles to adapt and adjust our work.”

The DfE was contacted for comment. Ofsted declined to comment.

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