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Opinion6th April 2022

Oak National Academy: a look at Ark’s contribution to the lockdown learning platform

With Oak National Academy now set to become an independent, publicly owned, arms-length body, we look back at Ark’s involvement in Oak and revisit the experience of contributing lessons.

Ark provided major support to Oak during the pandemic to support teachers and students around the country while schools were off limits.

Ark Curriculum Plus contributed 1063 primary maths, 432 secondary maths and 10 primary history lessons, with teachers from Ark’s schools presenting the lesson content.

At its peak, Oak had over 2.5 million users a week and the primary maths lessons provided by Ark Curriculum Plus were the second most popular subject selection on the site.

Ark Music’s lessons were also very successful. On Oak, they became the most widely accessed music resource in the UK last year, with one of the music lessons having now accrued more than 5 million views, making it the most popular lesson on the platform.

We caught up with Josh Chapman, who is both Head of Year 7 at King Solomon Academy and one of the Ark Music teachers who contributed music lessons, to ask what being a contributor to Oak was like.

“At first, that whole episode of teaching in a global pandemic for me was incredibly challenging. There were so many things to think about; assessment, feedback, music making without instruments, technologies, access, differentiation, support – all of which changed slightly when moving to online teaching. I felt like an NQT again!

“When I was asked to be a part of the Oak provision, it really felt like we would be leading the way to remove some of the haze, stress and burden for so many teachers, which in turn meant that more pupils could have high quality music lessons during that stressful time. I felt honoured and extremely motivated to produce the best lessons I could.”

What’s the secret to making good online lessons?

“Knowing the curriculum and the lessons inside out really helped get started on the process of adapting them to be accessible online.

“We had to think about how each lesson and unit would fit together; create a universal language and ensure we shared definitions of specialist vocabulary; create solutions to composing online; solutions to performing music without instruments; how best to support low prior attainers and stretch high prior attainers without knowing any of the pupils.

“We worked collaboratively to design a structure and framework for the lessons to be as successful as possible whilst staying consistent across units and even key stages.”

The delivery of music lessons online must have faced some subject specific obstacles. How did you overcome them?

“Our lessons would always start with a musical warm up. This could be a call and response using body percussion or our voice. This would prepare pupils to make sounds / music at home, which is not a natural thing. Warm-ups in music are just as important as they are in something like PE.”

How have you found the responses you’ve received from those who used your online lessons?

“I was blown away by feedback from colleagues, teachers, students, parents from places and schools I’d never heard of. At the end of all of my videos, I would say something like ‘Please share your work with me on twitter, with your parents’ permission’ and to my surprise, lots of people did!

“After the videos had been released, the other music teachers and I attended a seminar to which music teachers who had used Oak music lessons, or were planning on using them, were invited to listen to our experiences and ask questions. The feedback was overwhelming! To hear how impactful our lessons had been for lockdowns, cover, homework… made it feel worth it beyond any of the viewing statistics ever could.”

Speaking in late March 2022, Josh added, “Literally on the weekend just gone, a teacher I had never met before came and said ‘You don’t know me, but I wanted to say thank you on behalf of all music teachers everywhere for your lessons on Oak. They’re fantastic and my department still use them all the time’.”

You can watch Josh in action giving a model music lesson on the Oak Teacher Hub here.