June 2020 edition: Lockdown Learning: Oak’s Lessons for the Future

By Matt Hood

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Lockdown Learning: Oak’s Lessons for the Future

We often stretch metaphors at our peril. When telling the story of Oak National Academy, I think it’s worth the risk. Often in education we talk about ‘building the plane whilst flying it.’ For the past half term if Oak had even some of our metaphorical plane bolted together, we’d have been delighted!

We’re more ‘army of teachers, developers, communications and operations professionals in full sprint down a runway with bits of the wing, fuselage and engine tucked under our arms’. We’re a plane if you squint really hard and, goodness, can we run fast.

If our earlier COVID-19 challenge was switching from a face to face school to a home school then our new, (arguably even more difficult challenge) is running both models at the same time. It’s meeting this challenge where we think Oak can make the most difference.

Matt Hood

As we start our second half term, we’ve had some 2.3m pupils take part in some 8.8m lessons. We’ve covered the majority of the curriculum for four to 15 year-olds; we have content for pupils from specialist settings; we’ve made our mainstream content more inclusive; we had assemblies with everyone from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the West End cast of The Lion King; and we have an activity club with content from The Scouts, The Brilliant Club, the Church of England and other faiths, Jamie’s Farm, VotesforSchools and Bite Back.

For an ‘organisation’ (reconjure that image of those folks running down the tarmac and you’ll see why I use the shudder quotes) that was born in the Easter holiday, that’s a list that the sector – because we’re nothing if not a collaborative, sector-led effort – should be proud of.

It’s been a privilege to coordinate this effort and amplify the excellent work that was already taking place across the system.

But the nature of the challenge is changing – as you all know far better than we do. Like you, we’re thinking hard about what the next academic year looks like. I wanted to share some of our early thinking. Three themes – planning for the worst, sharing early and big tents.

Plan for the Worst

I often think about what would have happened if we’d started the creation of Oak a month earlier. If the early, organic, ‘is this possible’ conversations had anticipated the worst a bit sooner.

We might have been included in more schools’ curriculum planning meetings. We might have been able to bring in more partners, subjects, teachers. Our teachers and other volunteers would have had more of an Easter break. The list is long.

We are where we are, of course, and there’s little point in dwelling on it. But we don’t plan to be caught out again. So whilst hoping for a return to normal, we’re assuming September doesn’t see much change in where schools are now. We’re also assuming that this model of teaching continues for a year.

These assumptions present a significant challenge for schools. If our earlier COVID-19 challenge was switching from a face to face school to a home school then our new, (arguably even more difficult challenge) is running both models at the same time. It’s meeting this challenge where we think Oak can make the most difference.

Share Early

We’ve heard loud and clear from teachers about the benefits of sharing early. Most importantly, the benefits of sharing our curriculum plans as far ahead as possible. We know this makes the biggest difference to whether teachers can make best use of the resources.

We’re currently half a term ahead in our curriculum creation, and we’re challenging ourselves to think about what more it’s going to do. The same applies to our lessons. At the moment our lessons are available week by week, and we’re challenging ourselves to think about what it would take to get further ahead.

Teachers and school leaders are telling us loud and clear that this flexibility will allow our resources to be used more flexibly to support a wider range of curricula across a wider range of schools.

Big Tents

Whilst our tent is big (we have around 350 teachers now contributing to lessons), we need to bring more individuals and organisations inside to help really make the most of Oak.

We’ve made progress from where we started but there is much more to do. Genuine collaboration, particularly at the speed we need to work, isn’t easy. But working together is critical if we’re going to support the largest number of teachers and school leaders.

If we plan for the worst, share early and build a bigger tent we’re hoping to help as many teachers and school leaders to tackle the significant challenges they face whilst continuing to share and amplify the great work that’s already going on.