Coronavirus: Williamson backs National Online Academy

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The education secretary has thrown his weight behind an online national academy providing a “comprehensive” virtual curriculum for schools to use during the coronavirus crisis.

Oak National Academy, which is supported by nine multi-academy trusts, will provide a “sequenced” plan of hour-long lessons and teaching resources, including videos, worksheets and quizzes, compiled by 40 teachers from some of the “top- performing schools.

Its director, Matt Hood, said he expects some MATs to make “extensive” use of the resources in their academies.


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The ‘online classroom’, which will open its virtual doors on Monday, is being backed by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who called the initiative ‘remarkable’.

The Ministry of Education says the academy is “supported by government grants”. But he didn’t say how many.

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Mr Hood said costs had already been reduced thanks to a “very generous” offer from Google, which gave the academy free access to some of its systems.

When Tes spoke to him late Friday afternoon, the DfE had not yet committed to funding the academy.

“At the moment, the vast majority of this is fueled by goodwill, volunteers and people lending a hand,” Hood said.

“But we are currently having conversations with the department about whether they could cover some of the relatively limited costs that we have, so that they are not incurred by any individual volunteers or partner schools involved.”

The academy will offer “sequenced” lessons that form a “comprehensive curriculum”, covering core subjects at primary and secondary level, according to the user guide for teachers.

Each lesson will last one hour, with elements such as a quiz, video explanation and worksheet.

Mr Hood said students can use quizzes to self-assess their progress, but these should be treated as purely ‘formative’ assessments, meaning they should not be factored into grades calculated.

In total, the academy will provide more than 180 lessons per week, the equivalent of three hours a day for primary students and four hours a day for secondary students.

The topics covered will be:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Sciences (biology, chemistry and physics at secondary level)
  • Story
  • Geography
  • Modern foreign languages
  • Religious education
  • Art

The user’s guide says these lessons can be taken in order, to form “a broad and balanced curriculum”, or that teachers can choose the content they feel is most appropriate for their students.

But the school leaders’ union, the NAHT, warned that online resources “cannot replace human interaction or the power of a teacher in front of a class of students”.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT General Secretary, said: ‘These resources have a shelf life that should not extend beyond the coronavirus lockdown in their current form.

The online academy stressed that its courses are “merely resources” and “in no way replace the crucial teacher-student relationship” in schools.

Hood said: “What we’ve tried to do is identify what we can usefully provide for [teachers]then draw a line.

“There is only so far that the self-questionnaire, for example, could reach you. There is only so far that being able to understand the misconceptions on your own, without the support of another adult – there is only so far that reaches you.”

Mr Hood added that there is “no quid pro quo” for academic trusts supporting the online classroom – meaning they are not required to deploy the resources to their schools.

“Each of these trusts and each of the schools involved … the same rules will apply to them, as to all other schools in the country – that is, they have their own curriculum, their own relationships with their families and they are in control to decide which resources [they use]and what curriculum they want their students to follow,” he said.

“And I think we’ll see, as with the rest of the system, a very mixed picture – some use them a little, some use them in certain subjects, some use them extensively, some deploy them.”

He added: “What I hope is that when everyone sees the resources on Monday and sees the hard work of these teachers, they will at least find something useful that will help their teachers help their students.”

Mr Williamson said: “Oak National Academy will bring the national curriculum to life and play a crucial role… in ensuring that every young person in the country can continue to learn and grow during this difficult time and into the future.

“This extraordinary initiative builds on what many schools already offer and is a testament to the dedication and commitment of all teachers, school leaders and the wider sector.”

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