News & Views article
What's wrong with Oak National Academy?
28 May 20
One of the risks of any launch is hubris. You’re so excited about what you’ve done, and so keen to share it, that you oversell what you’ve done. You then disappoint against expectations, or worse, anger and frustrate people. We launch Oak National Academy tomorrow, and so in the spirit of avoiding hubris I thought I’d tell you what’s wrong with it.
First though, what are we doing and why? Schools are being asked to do more than ever, with fewer resources than ever. We don’t mind stepping up. It’s a national crisis, and we’re important civic institutions. But it’s hard. We are trying to teach online lessons, care for vulnerable children in school, deliver meals whilst vouchers still don’t work, check in with at-risk children at home, etc. This is at a time when many of our colleagues have caring responsibilities at home, are looking after ill relatives, or are unwell themselves. Teachers are stepping up more than ever before.
When Teacher Tapp asked teachers what would most help them help pupils, two thirds of them said two things: an online resource hub, and devices for pupils to be able to access these. At the start of the Easter holiday a group of teachers came together to try and set up that online hub. We talked about the idea on Monday 6th, we knew it needed to launch on Monday 20th, and there was the Easter Bank Holiday in the middle. This was going to be tight.
Tight timing meant we couldn’t do everything we wanted to do. As such, there are a number of things wrong with what we’ve done. Rather than pretend we got it all right and wait for people to stumble upon the problems, I want to be upfront about them. Here’s what’s wrong with the Oak National Academy.
1. Our mainstream curriculum isn’t broad enough
We don’t yet teach Music, DT, PE, Computing, Citizenship or PSHE (and many more). We don’t teach any KS4 options except MFL. Our Year 10 curriculum doesn’t have separate tracks for Foundation and Higher tiers in Maths, Science or MFL. Nobody would ever consider opening a school with these gaps, and I’d never pretend it is right to have these holes in a curriculum. We just couldn’t get all of this done in six working days. The “yet” at the start of this paragraph was intentional – this needs to change, and it will.
2. Our specialist curriculum isn’t up and running yet
There is nothing on Oak yet for children who usually attend specialist settings, and so may need either or both of an alternative curricula offer and a therapeutic offer. These children need education as much as anyone else, and their schools are likely under more pressure than many mainstream schools. We are working on a specialist curriculum, and hope to have this up as soon as possible.
3. We don’t have anything on wellbeing
We knew from the start that there was no way Oak could replace a school. We make and host online lessons. We don’t have relationships with children, and it would make no sense to pretend we are more than what we are. We’re not in children’s communities and don’t know their situations. We’re not the right people to try and support their wellbeing – only their schools can do this. Our hope is that if we can make life a little bit easier for teachers then it will free up time for them to support their pupils’ wellbeing without burning themselves out.
4. This isn’t going to change the world
I think we’ve come to expect that any new thing, especially any new thing that involves technology, believes it’s going to change the world. Every tech unicorn has a mission statement about revolutionising things. Oak won’t change the world. It’s not supposed to revolutionise teaching. We just want to make life a little bit easier during one of the most difficult periods in our lifetimes. If we can do that, then it’s mission accomplished.
This blog first appeared on David Thomas' blog on April 19, 2020.