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Educational suppliers threaten legal challenge over DfE plans to establish Oak National Academy as national curriculum body

The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) has warned the Department for Education (DfE) that it is considering legal action over plans to establish Oak National Academy as a new arm’s length, national curriculum body.

The association believes that the DfE took the decision without lawful and proper consultation, without conducting the necessary impact assessment on schools or the educational services market, and in contravention of established procurement rules.

Announcing the move in March, the DfE said it planned on establishing an independent body to support teachers in delivering "excellent curriculum content as part of world class lessons".

The plan includes the conversion of Oak National Academy into an entirely new arm's length body for the DfE.

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Oak is a charity that began providing resources to teachers and delivering online lessons in April 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The DfE's planned expansions will see the organisation work on creating curriculum maps and new, downloadable and digital resources that will be freely available to teachers.

However, BESA said it believes the proposal will impact businesses that offer educational resources and argues that it amounts to a public subsidy that breaches UK and EU law.

Caroline Wright, Director General of BESA, claimed that, prior to the announcement, the DfE excluded BESA and its members from meaningful consultations over the long-term future of Oak.

Wright added: "It has consistently failed to explain why turning it into a government-approved curriculum body is appropriate, or indeed commissioned up-to-date research evidence that this is what schools want or need.

"We are extremely disappointed to have to take such a step but the government's failure to engage with and address our members' concerns meant that we had no other option."

Wright claimed that such a state-backed, centralised approach has the "potential not only to curtail teacher autonomy and undermine schools' ability to use the resources and content that they judge most appropriate, but it also has enormous implications for our members.

"It would unfairly replicate the resources produced by hundreds of UK businesses, stifle innovation and threaten the commercial viability of one of the country's fastest growing and most internationally renowned sectors," she added. "Hundreds of millions of pounds of investment and hundreds of jobs have been put at risk unnecessarily by the anti-competitive actions of the DfE."

The Department for Education has been approached for a statement.

Adam Carey

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