IfG case study: Oak National Academy

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Raj Johal; Nick Davies

August 23, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at a positive example of rapid innovation in the delivery of public services.

Oak National Academy stands out as a positive example of rapid innovation in the delivery of public services. This report discusses how the idea for Oak was developed, its launch and first term, and rapid expansion in time for the start of the new school year. It identifies five key factors that contributed to this success. First, government provided funding and quality assurance but trusted experts to innovate and lead. Second, the idea for Oak quickly gained momentum and ministerial backing thanks to the support of a small group of likeminded and influential people, many of whom were Teach First alumni. Third, Oak successfully cut through partisan perspectives by harnessing the enthusiasm of a wide range of people who wanted to do good in a crisis. Fourth, Oak targeted its efforts on the parts of the curriculum that it felt would be of use to the maximum number of students and then improved its offer in response to users and their feedback. Fifth, Oak’s initial costs were low, making it easier to secure government backing. The report assesses the risks with the government’s plan to turn Oak into a non-departmental public body (NDPB) and makes five recommendations for how these can be managed: The purpose of the NDPB and its relationship with government should be clear The NDPB should remain operationally independent from government The NDPB should have robust plans for future school shutdowns The NDPB should continue to seek input from the experts in curriculum development There should be proper evaluation and assurance of the NDPB ’s performance