Blog: Principal awarded OBE - "I’ve seen teachers going above and beyond"

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Published on 10/10/20

David Thomas, our Principal and Strategy Director, has shared his reaction to being awarded an OBE for his outstanding service to education.

How did you approach remote learning?

At JAC, when we found out schools would have to close, we gave a really clear message to our students. We told them that they were going to be the doctors, scientists, nurses, teachers, parents and leaders of their generation, and it was our job to prepare them to see the world safely through its future decades. That meant securing their education - regardless of what happens in the world around them.

The same is true for all children in the country, but not every school was in a position to set up their own remote learning. We were lucky to be able to, but there were plenty of schools who are smaller and so didn’t have capacity, or who didn’t have the IT infrastructure already in place. I felt there was a duty for those schools who had been able to get a head-start to share their work. This was a time for the profession to come together and help each other out.

Oak National Academy was built in a matter of weeks. How did you get it going in such a short time frame?  

I was supposed to be on honeymoon over the Easter holiday, but as Covid-19 cancelled our wedding I had two weeks with no plans! More seriously though, Oak got going because of the extraordinary generosity of hundreds of other people. In that first week of Easter we pulled together a team of teachers who wanted to volunteer their time to make the lessons, and did our first staff briefing on Good Friday. Production and web design went right down to the wire, but we launched on time.

How has Oak National Academy grown - and what are the plans for the future? 

We started off as a website with some online lessons, but it’s definitely grown beyond that. We began running assemblies, including ones from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Duchess of Cambridge and the Prime Minister. We ran activity clubs so that children had some extra-curricular activities that could be done during lockdown. For older students we even ran a week of virtual work experience. All of these things came about due to the support of fantastic partners who wanted to help children and young people through the crisis.

Right now we’re focused on the immediate future. There are almost 10,000 lessons on Oak that cover much of the school curriculum from Reception through to Year 11. They’re there to support schools with remote learning at a time when we know a large number of children will not be able to attend school on a given day. Already there are around 250,000 people using those lessons every day. We need to keep that support in place throughout the academic year, and keep improving the quality as we get feedback from teachers.

Finally, a massive congratulations on the award. How does it feel receiving an OBE? 

It was a real surprise, and I was deeply flattered that anyone might think I deserve it. If I’m honest, I’m also really rather awkward about it! I didn’t teach a single lesson on Oak, or write a single line of code for the site. I didn’t spend lockdown answering tech queries like our school reception team, or trying to teach 20 hours a week over Google Classroom like our teachers. 

I’ve seen teachers going above and beyond, our students persevering through this challenging year, and our families supporting them every step of the way. I am deeply honoured to be a part of Jane Austen College and Oak National Academy - our families, teachers and students deserve to share this award for their tremendous efforts.