Education publishers warn government body will hurt businesses

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Britain’s educational publishing industry has warned of ‘shrinking the mass sector’ following the government takeover and expansion of an online learning platform that has been launched during the pandemic.

Oak National Academy, a digital learning resource, was relaunched this week with up to £43million in government funding to provide free teaching materials, after being converted into an independent body from the Department for Education.

The platform was set up by a coalition of education officials in April 2020 to provide free learning for children when schools closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, this spring the government presented plans to convert the Oak National Academy into a new independent body, to improve standards across the education system.

The publishing industry and some of Oak’s founders resisted the move, which warned it would destroy the market for paid educational resources and create a state monopoly on educational materials.

Through Oak, Ministers aim to provide teaching materials in all subjects for all ages in England and overseas, with the first packages launching in 2024. Around 32,000 teachers and 170,000 pupils use the resource each week.

The Department for Education said the body would give teachers and students “access to high-quality, free, optional and adaptable digital learning resources”.

Dan Conway, chief executive of the Publishers Association, an industry body, said the changes represented a “major market intervention by government” that would “undoubtedly . . . have a major impact on operations commercial”.

He added that educational publishers would find it difficult to compete with the free resources offered on a permanent basis by Oak, which would take a toll on sales of digital learning materials, a market worth £40 million.

It could bankrupt businesses, the Publishers Association said, threatening the domestic market for print resources, which was worth £158m last year.

“You can see a snowball effect [where] it is becoming more and more integrated across the country and you effectively get a unique curriculum. . . and other resources are being pushed out of the market,” Conway added. “We are talking about shrinking the mass sector.”

The British Educational Suppliers Association warned in May that it would consider a judicial review of the government’s decision to take over Oak.

Caroline Wright, chief executive of Besa, said Oak would “unfairly replicate the resources produced by hundreds of UK companies, stifle innovation and threaten the commercial viability of one of the most dynamic and renowned sectors in the world. country “.

United Learning, an academy trust and one of Oak’s founding members, pulled its resources from the platform, warning that the government risked creating a monopoly on what schools taught.

Writing in a sector publication School weekUnited Learning chief executive Jon Coles said resource providers, such as Pearson and HarperCollins, could be forced to scale back if they were undermined by free resources.

This move could lead to Oak’s dominance in the market and “a large proportion of schools. . . following a government-approved lesson-by-lesson curriculum.

“Only a totalitarian government would want to control what schools teach,” he added.

But Matt Hood, founder and chief executive of Oak National Academy, said Wednesday that Oak provides the materials teachers need but struggles to find them, and complements rather than replaces other resources.

He wrote on Twitter last week that the “biggest chunk” of Oak’s budget would “go directly to schools, publishers, or other organizations that create our resources.”

The DfE said: ‘Oak’s conversion to an independent body’ was an ‘important step towards better supporting student learning’ by giving schools free, high-quality resources.

“We recognize the importance of a competitive commercial market and therefore it will always be the teachers who decide whether or not to use equipment from Oak or any other vendor,” he said.

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