The Oak National Academy online service has now been running for over two weeks, and by last Friday, over 2 million lessons had been accessed by pupils all over the country. Each week, the platform offers 180 sequenced lessons recorded by more than 40 teachers, for pupils from Reception up to Year 10.
The launch of the Academy has been a huge success and a saving grace for teachers, parents/carers and pupils suddenly faced with the prospect of home education during lockdown. The Academy even ran the largest school assembly ever held last week, with contributions from the Archbishop of Canterbury and education secretary Gavin Williamson.
A curriculum plan for each year group has been put together up to May half term and Oak National Academy will continue to produce material until schools reopen. As a former primary school teacher, I decided to trial a lesson to see how it shaped up against the National Curriculum, current pedagogy and to test its accessibility. Below, I have detailed the user experience and included my thoughts on one of Oak’s online lessons.
Testing Out the Lesson
There are two options for pupils to work their way through the lessons; they can either follow a set plan of lessons across a range of subjects or the teacher can select particular lessons from specific subjects for their pupils to access.
With the last year group that I taught being Year 4, I opted for a Year 4 reading comprehension lesson. The lesson started with a recap of yesterday’s learning, which is great to embed knowledge and ensure that previous learning is not forgotten. It was based around vocabulary, most of which was ambitious for Year 4, in line with the high expectations of the classroom.
After the recap, instructions and a video link were given for pupils to click on and work through. This is great for independent learners and children who are strong readers, but some may have difficulty reading through the instructions without adult guidance.
At the start of the video, the team introduced themselves, which makes it a more personal experience. The teacher then tells pupils exactly what they need to complete the lesson, what to do and when to pause for activities. The first activity was guided, much as it would be in the classroom. It involved visual cues appropriate for Year 4 and key skills that fit in with those in the National Curriculum and those necessary for end of KS2 tests. Users are able to go back to any point in the lesson if they need something repeated.
This was then followed by an independent activity to check the pupil’s learning. For this, you could either work through the slides on your own or use the video to guide you. This stage of the lesson provided some level of differentiation as children who are not as able readers may benefit from having the questions read to them by the teacher on screen, whereas confident learners could move at their own pace.
One of the obvious and momentous advantages of Oak National Academy is that it saves masses of time for teachers preparing online lessons and parents attempting to seek out appropriate resources for their children. While it requires some level of digital literacy, it is simple enough for most pupils to figure out themselves and in doing so may even increase their ability to learn independently. There is great depth and breadth to the lessons offered by the platform considering the short space of time in which it was put together. However, these materials are possibly best suited to able learners and those with parental support. Younger children, and those who struggle with attention and independent work, may find them difficult to use alone.
One of the positives over most in-class learning is that you get instant feedback. There is no need for educators to mark the work completed by pupils, and pupils will not have forgotten the context of the work by the time they receive feedback. The learner is then able to revisit these questions to see where they made a mistake, but the answers are not explained as they would be in a classroom setting. While some pupils will have an adult present to help explain where they went wrong, many will not and may struggle to do so independently.
Whilst there are almost enough lessons to fill a typical school day, some teachers have commented that for some subjects such as maths or history, not all sequences of lessons follow their school’s curriculum. Although this is important for continuity and so that children do not have huge gaps in knowledge on the return to school, it is difficult to sequence the lessons in a way which matches up with every school’s curriculum. Schools may have to adapt and accept that they will not be able to deliver the curriculum as normal and focus instead on embedding key skills and recapping prior learning during this time. Oak’s resources should not be seen as a complete package of home learning but can act as a foundation to be supplemented with activities individualised to the child where possible.
One of the good things about these resources is that they are presented in a format that most pupils should be able to access independently through laptops, iPads, mobile phones and even smart TVs. However, it remains that, sadly, not all of these lessons will be accessible to all. As with most home learning resources that have sprung up in the past few weeks, there is a reliance on technology, with lots of video content that may be difficult to retrieve for children who do not have decent technology or internet access. The Government are currently attempting to address this disparity by providing laptops to disadvantaged year 10 pupils and care leavers.
Whilst Oak Academy does not yet offer differentiated or specialist resources for children with additional needs, they have taken on board feedback received so far and will be launching a specialist curriculum from May 4th. These lessons have been developed with teachers specialising in SEND will initially cover:
- Language and communication
- Early cognition and reasoning
- Independent living
- Creative arts
- Speech and language, occupational, and physical therapy
As well as this, accessibility features will be added across the wider Oak National Academy curriculum, starting with BSL and subtitles. To find out more about this, follow this link: https://www.thenational.academy/specialist-provision
While nothing can replicate interaction with a teacher, access to physical school resources, the benefits of peer learning and the buzz of a classroom, Oak National Academy is a fantastic resource to have on hand during school closures and provides a user-friendly and time-saving platform for home learning.