Oak: Protection of ‘thriving’ phonics market criticised

Minister says phonics resources market will not be replicated by quango Oak National Academy because it is ‘thriving’ – but suppliers say the same is true of other resources
24th January 2023, 2:01pm

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Oak: Protection of ‘thriving’ phonics market criticised

https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/early-years/oak-national-academy-protection-phonics-resources-criticised
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Ministers are facing criticism for deciding to protect certain “thriving” parts of the educational resources market by not providing them through Oak National Academy.

The move is fuelling questions as to how these areas, which include phonics resources, have been identified for protection.

Speaking earlier this month during a short House of Lords debate on the funding for Oak National Academy, academies minister Baroness Barran said the aim of the new national curriculum resources quango was to ”complement and stimulate” the commercial market of educational resources, “not to replace it”.

And she cited phonics resources as a “thriving section of the market into which [Oak] will not enter”.

But Caroline Wright, director general of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), said she was “bemused” by Baroness Barran’s comments.

Speaking to Tes, Ms Wright said: “Given the lack of any expert or effective economic market impact analysis by the Department [for Education] throughout the Oak decision-making process, I am completely bemused by how ministers and officials feel able to pronounce which sectors of the market they believe are more ‘thriving’ than the next.”

Oak National Academy plan under fire

Baroness Barran said that Oak’s activity will be “restricted to key stages 1 to 4 and there are several thriving sections of the market into which it will not enter”.

“That includes the publication of textbooks, certified assessments and CPD. It will also not be pursuing domestic or international sales to schools, teachers, parents or pupils. it will not be producing phonics resources or KS5 resources.”

Former education minister and edtech consultancy director Lord Knight, who was present at the House of Lords debate, told Tes that there was already a “thriving market with a range of offerings”.

“By the minister’s own line of argument, we do not need to waste £43 million on Oak,” he added.

Oak is set to receive £43 million in funding over the next three years, including a planned £8 million for purchasing new lesson resources.

In November last year BESA, the Publishers Association and the Society of Authors launched a joint legal challenge against the government’s decision to establish Oak as a publicly funded arm’s-length body, with the NEU teaching union also participating in the claim as an “interested party”. 

Ms Wright said that the establishment of a new curriculum body posed an “existential risk to the future viability of the sector”.

And in October the long-awaited government business case for Oak was published by the Cabinet Office, with the document claiming that there were two “main curriculum problems” in England’s schools: “Weaknesses in curriculum design and delivery, as reported by Ofsted, and excessive teacher workload associated with curriculum planning.”

Responding to the latest concerns, Jonathan Dando from Oak National Academy said: ”Our research is clear; teachers say they struggle to find affordable, high-quality resources to support their work. This adds to their workload and takes them away from their pupils.

“Oak will put the needs of teachers first, adding to the range of quality, optional resources they can choose from. This will help teachers pick what’s best for their pupils, whilst encouraging all those creating resources to keep innovating and improving what they offer.”

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