With the Easter holidays drawing to a close, a new, government-supported online learning platform has opened its doors to students, providing a space where they can continue learning while schools are closed during the coronavirus lockdown.
Announced by education secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday in a statement on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE), the brand-new initiative will be led by 40 teachers who have compiled free video lessons and resources any UK teacher can use.
“On any normal Sunday afternoon, many of you would have been out with your family and friends enjoying the sunshine,” said Williamson. “And tomorrow, many children would be going to school for the first time after a two-week break.
“But these are not normal times and we are asking you to stay home,” he added, “so can I start by thanking you all the sacrifices that you’ve already had to make and that you continue to make.
“I know this has not been easy. But it’s the surest way that we have to protect the NHS and to save lives.”
The education secretary revealed that, as of yesterday, 482,063 coronavirus tests had been carried out as part of the government’s continuing testing and monitoring programme, including 21,626 tests that were conducted yesterday alone.
By Sunday 19 April, 120,067 people had tested positive for COVID-19 – an increase of 5,850 on the previous day. Williamson said that of those who had been hospitalised, 16,060 had died – an increase of 596 fatalities from the previous day.
Responding to the growing crisis, leading state schools have collaborated on the launch of The Oak National Academy, which will provide 180 hours of video lessons a week, covering a diverse range of subjects for every year group from Reception to Year 10.
The DfE-funded virtual school will end each lesson with a corresponding quiz or worksheet. Teachers will provide the equivalent of three hours of lessons per day for primary pupils, and four hours a day for secondary, according to the Ambition Institute.
Staff from the Ambition Institute – a community of graduate school teachers, school and system leaders – will support Oak National Academy teachers, who normally teach face-to-face in the classroom, to build their expertise in delivering quality remote lessons.
Hilary Spencer, chief executive of the Institute, commented: “School closures due to COVID-19 risk setting back pupils’ learning considerably and it will be disadvantaged pupils who are likely to suffer the most.
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“This initiative will help bridge that gap before schools re-open, as will supporting our teachers and school leaders to deal with all the new and different challenges they’re facing. We are really pleased to be supporting this work, in partnership with so many others.”
With the government last week revealing that the lockdown would continue for “at least” another three weeks, the sector has welcomed the remote learning initiative, lauding its ability to help minimise the disruption to students’ education during these unprecedented times.
“I want nothing more than to see schools back, getting them back to normal,” added Williamson, “making sure children are sat around learning, and experiencing the joy of being at school, but I can’t give you a date.”
To access The Oak National Academy’s free resources, visit their official website here and browse the free resources that went live earlier today. From here, you can view lessons by both subject and level, as well as choose to follow the Academy’s weekly lesson schedule.
“I recognise the challenges that families will be facing at the moment and we are determined to support parents who are helping their children learn from home. I think we all know how difficult that can be,” said Williamson.
“The BBC has developed resources for families as part of the most comprehensive education package in their history, available on TV and online from tomorrow morning,” he added in yesterday’s speech.
“And to make sure as many children as possible can access online learning, we are ordering laptops to help disadvantaged young people who sit key exams next year.”
The education secretary continued: “Before I finish, I would like to applaud the remarkable way our education community has responded to this outbreak. I am enormously proud and inspired by the incredible spirit they are showing.
“And to any young people watching, I wanted to say to you how sorry I am that you have had your education disrupted in this way.”