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Continuing Oak next year

By: Matt Hood

Over the last few weeks, we’ve asked school leaders and teachers how they are planning for the next full academic year.

We all want teachers and pupils to be back in school. We’re proud that Oak has delivered over 13 million lessons so far, but it can never replace the in-school relationship between teacher and pupil.

Whilst we hope pupils will be back in school, school leaders have told us a few things:

  • They’re making back-up plans in case not all of their pupils are in their buildings. Instead they are planning in case of localised lockdowns, significant staff and pupil absences due to new cases or shielding, or if rotas are needed at any point.
  • That means running two schools. One that takes place with pupils in the building and another for those at home.
  • Because social distancing requires the same number of teachers for far fewer pupils, their capacity to run the ‘remote school’ is significantly reduced from what they have now.

They’ve also given us some important feedback about our work too. Whilst it’s been overwhelmingly positive they’ve also said Oak needs to be more flexible in its curriculum and to share plans earlier. Having heard all of that I wanted to set out how we plan to be available to help, should you want or need it.

We’re staying open for another year

Given the uncertainty ahead, we’re keeping Oak National Academy going for the whole of next academic year. We want to be available to support as many schools as might need us, and to help teachers’ planning.

By early July we’ll publish our full curriculum map for the year

It will set out every lesson that will be available across the mainstream curriculum, for every year group from reception to year 11. It will also include an expanded range of content for the specialist sector.

Before September the majority of all of next year’s lessons will be available for you to use, completely free

Across July we will be hosting a series of webinars for school leaders and teachers to learn more about how to use our lessons and resources. Please sign up to our primary, secondary and specialist webinars to learn more about our 2020/21 plans and ask questions to our curriculum experts.

To hear when our resources for next year are released, please sign up for updates.

What should we teach?

The logistics of recording ~10,000 lessons aside, perhaps the most knotty question is ‘what should we teach?’. With such diversity in curricula across the country how do we make our offer as useful for as many schools as possible?

We have a simple aim: to do everything we can so we align with your plans, rather than you align with us.

I’m the chair of governors of a school in Morecambe. We’ve discussed that in an ideal world there would be as little friction as possible between pupils being taught in school and those at home – in school for a week pupils cover lessons one, two and three, at home the following week they cover lessons four, five and six.

The less ‘friction’ there is between the ‘in school’ curriculum and the ‘remote’ curriculum the better. Particularly in a world where if one pupil develops a cough the whole class has to isolate for two weeks at no notice.

But achieving this ‘frictionless curriculum’ is really hard. Oak can’t teach every possible option (one version of the curriculum is already ~10,000 lessons!) yet being specific has its downsides too. If we go ahead and teach Macbeth and you chose to teach Hamlet we’re – to borrow a phrase from my nan – no use nor ornament.

How do we solve this? The answer is of course that we work together and listen to you.

Here’s the plan

  1. We’ve enlisted the support of a broad group of curriculum and sector experts from across the system who will help to steer our work. We’re publishing those groups on our website today.
  2. We will work with these experts to identify the most common content from across the curriculum. Obviously the national curriculum is a good place to start in key stages one, two and three but it doesn’t go far enough. Saying we’re going to ‘teach some wartime poetry’ doesn’t help – we have to actually pick a poem for this to work. So we’re going to try to find the poem that the largest number of people use. We’ll look to exam boards as a starting point in key stage four.
  3. Again, with support from the advisory groups, we’ll then structure that content into a series of ‘building blocks’. We’ll set out clearly which of the blocks within a subject can go in any order and which ones we  think need to follow a sequence. You can teach cells or gravity in any order for KS3 science but you really should teach addition before multiplication in KS1 maths. Where we can give flexibility, we will.
  4. By the start of July we will make this curriculum available to you so that you can use it to help your planning.
  5. The lesson creation will happen in the final weeks of term and first couple of weeks of summer holidays – but no more. Teachers need a break. We aim to have the majority of the year’s recorded lessons ready for you by September.
  6. We know that a significant number of schools are sharing our lessons via Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Satchel, Purple Mash and other platforms. We want to ensure that it is as easy to share our lessons with whichever platform your school uses.
  7. We know teachers want to be able to download our resources to help their planning. We’re actively looking at what we can do, to try and lighten the load for teachers

We want to know what you would like us to do, so we’re asking for further feedback from teachers to help inform how we develop Oak.

In short, again, we’re going to do everything we can to align with you rather than you with us.

We hope this means our and your curricular for next year map closely to one another. Where there is some remaining friction (I can already hear the Hamlet advocates getting nervous about my Macbeth comment) each school can then make the call on what is best for them and their children. As has always been the case, we’re here to help if you need us. The decisions rightly sit with you.

One of the outcomes might be that you are happy with using 80% of our curriculum. We’d be delighted if that meant you adopted that proportion for next year, and then had more time to invest and give extra focus to the 20% that doesn’t align.

Making it happen

We have a diverse range of schools and incredible teachers supporting Oak. This next job is a big ask, so it will be up to the schools and teachers who are currently working with us if they want to be part of it. We’re talking to them now about who wants to be involved and prioritising those who are familiar with Oak and have existing resources and lessons ready to film – to try and lower the workload as far as possible.

In addition we will be reimbursing the schools for time their teachers spend with us (this is currently donated for free totalling not far off ~£0.5m of staff time so far) and the teachers themselves for their time during the first ten days of the summer break.

We will also continue to face other costs – particularly on technology. After our first month alone our video hosting provider Vimeo told us we were in the top 0.1% of their global usage. This isn’t cheap.

We have been fortunate that the Department for Education has agreed to continue to fund us for the year ahead. And this has been further supported by the Mohn Westlake Foundation. We are finalising details but we expect it will cost roughly the amount it costs to run a secondary school for a year. We are mindful that that is a decent chunk of money. But we hope, on the number of pupils and teachers we can support, it is a worthwhile investment in a safety net.

None of us know what is going to happen with Covid-19. Frankly, we hope we’re not needed. But it’s prudent to have a plan B.

I simply wish this makes our shared hopes a little easier to achieve: schools have less to worry about, pupils’ teaching is less disrupted, and teachers’ workload is lightened, freeing them up to do what they do best – support their pupils, wherever they are, whatever the year brings.

To hear when our resources for next year are released, please sign up for updates.

To learn more about our 2020/21 plans and ask questions to our curriculum experts, please follow the links below to register for the webinar most appropriate for you:

Register for Making the most of Oak: Primary curriculum for 2020/21 – 6th July.

Register for Making the most of Oak: Secondary curriculum for 2020/21 – 7th July.

Register for Making the most of Oak: Specialist curriculum for 2020/21 – 8th July.

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