We support the Publishers Association in opposing the government’s decision to make the Oak National Academy a public entity, and have grave concerns about the damaging impact this would have on authors, teachers, students, and school libraries in a time of crisis in the education sector.
The Oak National Academy, an online platform providing 40,000 resources and nearly 3,500 hours of video lesson content, was created in April 2020 as an emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic, with access to schools disrupted by restrictions on social mixing. The committees of the Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Group and Educational Writers Group, who represent over 2,000 teachers and authors of educational materials, recognise the invaluable service provided by the scheme in a moment of unprecedented difficulty, in providing a lifeline for students and teachers.
We recognise the need for technologically advanced and well-funded resources, as many classrooms now make use of online resources, interactive screens, tablets and smartboards. In fact, publishers have been meeting this requirement for decades, even before the pandemic. Thanks to the publishing industry’s well-established processes, the accuracy and quality of these resources are moderated to ensure they are targeted at the curriculum, to be beneficial to teachers and pupils alike. Many of these resources are created by authors who are also teachers, and published through mechanisms that ensure they receive due renumeration for their work.
We therefore oppose the government’s recent decision to convert Oak National Academy into an entirely new Arm’s Length Body to the Department of Education. In effect, it would mean attempting, overnight, to replace an industry as old as the printing press, which has grown and adapted to the digital age and which, although not without its flaws, enables individuals to be paid for their work and produces a rich, diverse and high-quality pool of educational resources for learners of all ages. The proposal allows for one set of state approved resources which threaten diversity and choice; by removing financial incentive, it would damage the healthy competition which is at the heart of educational publishing. The result will likely be greater challenges to teachers, harm to student grades and a weaker pool of resources.
Not all learners are the same. What is needed instead is an active commitment to supporting fair remuneration and terms of contract for authors to ensure they can continue their work in creating these resources to the required standard. In the same vein, the government must commit to a direct investment in schools and teachers, including funding well-stocked, diverse collections in physical and virtual school libraries, alongside a direct investment in the authors and creators of these materials.
We call on the government to reconsider this untimely decision, which promises only to distract from – or worse, to contribute to – the very real problems in education.
Dawn Finch, Chair of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group, said:
“The need for curated and professionally prepared resources for both home and in-school learning has never been greater. The decision to make Oak National a public body will lead to a poorer quality pool of educational resources. A lack of any sort of fair remuneration means there will be fewer realistic opportunities for the experienced and knowledgeable people who create such resources, and this inevitably leads to a greatly diminished learning experience for pupils. It is typical of this Government to shirk responsibility and attempt to get something for nothing while passing it off as an improvement.”
Ignaty Dyakov-Richmond, Chair of the Educational Writers’ Group, said:
“The resources provided for Oak National Academy were voluntary contributions at a time when the global health crisis required school closures. It seems that under the Government plans, further contributions from teachers will still be unpaid, thus normalising the practice of working for free. This decision is neither fair nor does it lead to the best possible materials for teachers and students. It prevents many from becoming or continuing to work as professional authors – a very damaging act in the medium and long-term for authors and the provision of education in this country.”
For where we stand on school libraries, see: https://www.societyofauthors.org/Where-We-Stand/Libraries/School-libraries