The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) has warned the Department for Education it is considering legal action over the government’s plans for Oak National Academy.
It has informed the Secretary of State for Education that it is considering seeking a judicial review of his decision to establish Oak as a new arms-length, national curriculum body of the Department for Education.
BESA believes that such a step has been taken without lawful and proper consultation, without conducting the necessary impact assessments on schools or the educational services market, and in contravention of established procurement rules.
Moreover, the association believes that the proposed new body in effect amounts to a public subsidy that breaches UK and EU law.
Caroline Wright, Director General of BESA, said the organisation had been reluctant to take this step but felt it had little choice. “Prior to the announcement the DfE excluded BESA and its members from meaningful consultations over the long-term future of Oak. 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.”
She stressed that the association’s actions are in no way a comment on the valuable work Oak has done to support schools during the pandemic, but that it was clear from the White Paper that the DfE has ambitions far beyond those envisaged when the platform was first established. “The government appears to want to transform Oak into a national curriculum body that would work closely with Ofsted to deliver government-approved content for schools,” she said.
“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.”
Ms Wright said BESA is keen to continue talking with the DfE and has a genuine desire to seek a resolution without court intervention, but that for now the department should put its plans for Oak on hold.
“Besa believes the decision to establish Oak as a national curriculum body is unlawful and we believe the appropriate course of action in the circumstances is for the Secretary of State to pause the process pending a proper consultation,” she said.