BESA has conducted an analysis of Oak’s first year of expenditure as an Arms-length body. A variety of publicly available sources informed this work, including the departmental GPC (government procurement card) transactions. The Government credit card allows Government departments and their subsidiary bodies to make purchases under the value of £25,000 without needing to enter a tendering process.

How are transactions authorised?

GPC transactions must be authorised by two card holders before being processed. Currently Oak National Academy has four card holders, we can therefore expect that most of these purchasing decisions will have been agreed by those at the top of the organisation.

The period of expenditure covers all published records (September 2022 – December 2023) of Oak’s expenditure since its incorporation as an arms-length body of the Department for Education. We’ve used a variety of sources, though we are primarily using the declaration of DfE GPC transaction over £500.

The total amount of expenditure on the Government Procurement Card by the DfE and three of its public bodies totals £1,354,755.08. Oak accounts for around 40% of GPC expenditure totalling around £538,739.87.


One of Oak’s largest areas of expenditure is on marketing operations, accounting for over a quarter (37%) of Oak’s GPC expenditure. Oak’s main marketing expenditure is on staffing costs, which – in addition to GPC transactions – were revealed in a freedom of information request to cost the public body £216,145 per annum for 4.65 members of staff. Oak has confirmed in a FOI request submitted by BESA that it has not enlisted the support of marketing agencies or consultancy since it was incorporated as an arms-length body of the DfE as of September 2023.

The public body’s next largest cost was on advertising space which, at £138,271.52, a significant amount of money to spend on advertising for an organisation which had only existed as a public body for a little more than 12 months. The amount of money Oak spent on advertising space accounted for over a quarter of all GPC transactions by the public body for the period this article covers.

Other marketing related transactions equated to around £62,907 which included expenditure in areas such as SEO training, digital marketing training, licensing, and marketing systems. This, when combined with staffing costs, gives us an expenditure on marketing, of around £417,323.95 for its first year of operation.

So, where did Oak purchase advert space? Its largest expenditure was with Google, which Oak spent around £64,162, the next largest was Facebook which it spent £36,873 with, followed by Microsoft spending £29,602 and then Twitter £7,633. 

One of the key reasons the Department for Education cited when acquiring Oak was that it was already a recognisable brand. Although, during a year when Oak had spent an amount on advertising unmatched by even some of its largest competitors, the total number of teachers using Oak declined by 14% with just 1 in 4 teachers using the platform in the last 12 months. Based off the total marketing costs, this comes to around £3.56 spent on marketing for every teacher that has used the platform on at least one occasion over the period covered.

These costs are not just isolated to the taxpayer. Digital marketing adverts are sold at auctions, where the price per advert has a large influence over whether and advertisers’ advert is seen over another. By spending significant amounts of money on digital marketing, Oak inflates the costs of established providers, and damages the ability for new companies to enter it.

Oak also chose to purchase top-end tech for the organisation (a MacBook Pro £1349 March 2023 and subsequent £1299 Apple order). This seems to contravene the DfE’s own recommendations that schools chose remanufactured or refurbished devices over brand-new ones in order to deliver value for money.

Other notable expenditure included:

  • £13,575 for an ‘organisational offsite’ at the Clayton Hotel Manchester in December 2022
  • £507 on a hire care for three people to travel to an offsite in September 2022
  • £801.50 deposit for an ‘evening meal offsite’ at Manchester’s Banyan Corn Exchange in December 2023
  • £8,351 on celebrity training programme Masterclass.
  • £3,757 with OpenAI.

You can view our full breakdown of our analysis here. If you have any questions regarding our analysis, please do not hesitate to drop me an email: peter@besa.org.uk


Be sure to read our Director General's Comment piece in this week's BESA Blog!