How the Oak National Academy is Supporting Disadvantaged Pupils: Key Takeaways from a Discussion with Ian Bauckham CBE

IG Schools recently spoke with Ian Bauckham CBE, Chair of the Oak National Academy, about the creation of the Academy, the impact of COVID-19 on disadvantaged pupils in the UK and how the resources provided by the Academy are helping schools to support the least advantaged pupils as well as children and young people more broadly.

You can watch or listen to the full discussion on-demand now by clicking here or read on for the key takeaways from the exclusive interview.


Setting up the Oak National Academy

Ian began by discussing how the Oak National Academy was established, when education leaders from across the country came together to discuss solutions for the challenges that would likely arise from school closures due to COVID-19.

When it became clearer this period of closure would likely go on for months rather than weeks, Ian and colleagues recognised that not all education providers had the capacity to provide the “comprehensive remote education service” that would be required. Those schools in particular that serve disadvantaged communities were among education settings least likely to be able to offer this kind of virtual platform at pace. As such, the idea for a national remote school was born, and those involved worked tirelessly over the Easter holidays earlier this year to bring together an array of online lessons.

While the Academy and its provisions are aimed at schools and teachers to be used as part of their remote learning plans, all the video lessons are available for families and pupils to access directly at home.


Successes So Far

Ian shared some impressive statistics around the up-take of the Academy’s lessons to date (the interview was recorded on July 14th 2020), with 19 million lessons taken since the Academy opened on April 20th 2020. Lessons are being offered across 23 subjects, with 2,500 lessons every week reaching about 4.7 million pupils.

In addition, 800,000 families have watched their weekly assemblies, which have attracted some famous names including the Duchess of Cambridge.

These numbers are incredibly impressive for a platform and an academy that is less than a term old.


Measuring Pupil Progress

The online lessons being delivered through the Academy start with baseline quizzes, then include more mini quizzes throughout to gauge progress compared to pupils’ starting points. This is crucial information to know about the least advantaged pupils. So far, around 10 million quizzes have been completed across all subjects, providing the Academy with approximately 50 million answers.

This data that represents pupil responses paints an extremely useful picture for teachers and school leaders needing a better understanding of comprehension of tasks and key points of learning. Not only can this help with improving support in the short term, but will also help inform the Academy’s offer for the next academic year, and catch-up activities more widely.

With research showing that the least advantaged pupils are likely to fall further behind during a period of school closure, being able to measure increments of progress is key. While ensuring access to technology in domestic settings is outside of the Academy’s remit, they are doing important work in ensuring remote lessons are available for all, whenever and wherever they are able to access them.

Currently around 15% of lessons are being accessed and watched via a mobile phone. Though of course, as an academy trust leader outside of his role with the Oak National Academy, Ian, alongside fellow school leaders, has been distributing spare school laptops to pupils who otherwise don’t have access. The government have also been rolling out a scheme for providing access to technology for disadvantaged pupils.


Research Informed Teaching

As Ian highlighted, in terms of what is considered as quality teaching in a real classroom compared to a remote context, there is actually very little difference. Research by the Education Endowment Foundation has demonstrated that the structure of teaching matters more than the medium of transmission.

What’s crucial is that teaching builds on prior learning, breaks down new content into smaller chunks, and offers an opportunity for pupils to process and practice this new information. For the least advantaged pupils in particular, this chance to apply new information is vital for progress in the long term.


Planning for the Future

The lessons currently available through the Oak National Academy will remain accessible through the summer holidays, while Ian and the team work on putting together a full year of video lessons, to be released in their entirety at the start of September. These will cover all year groups from Reception to Year 11. In a moment of light-hearted reflection, Ian suggested the videos coming from September will be of a higher quality and accuracy, especially compared to some of the lessons recorded at the very start of the project, when this was a very new and experimental project for all involved. 

The hope is that this will not only help schools continue with new and catch-up teaching and learning into the new academic year, but also help schools with contingency planning for local or another national lockdown. The recorded lessons may also act as a training or CPD opportunity for teachers, as they can watch how colleagues approach different subjects and topics, and access ideas on how to refresh their own pedagogy.

The lessons will be published against a curriculum map so teachers and leaders can see where lessons are leading, to help schools decide how the videos can best help their remote teaching, as well as in-person teaching. The Academy’s KS1 and KS2 curriculum is completely aligned with the national curriculum, whereas there is more flexibility from KS3. From this point there will be more of a modular offer, where teachers can in effect build their own curriculum based on what they need and what they’d planned to teach. Find more information on the curriculum here

Finally, as many education, and health, leaders have been writing and talking about, Ian touched on the importance of pupil mental health and how school leaders need to really be planning for poor mental wellbeing when schools return, and how they’re going to support pupils. With this being one of many issues on a long list of concerns for schools at the moment, Ian is hopeful that the work of the Oak National Academy at least eases the burden of curriculum planning for next year.

You can watch the full interview on-demand here.

This article was written by Lauren Powell, Portfolio Lead, IG Schools