A penny for your thoughts?

Never one to pass up the opportunity to insert my oar into an on-going discussion I thought I would venture a few words on the subject of teachers buying and selling teaching resources.

The first thing I would say is that many of the issues are tied up with personal values and consequently there are few absolute right or wrong answers here. I believe strongly in the provision of a comprehensive education system for all, free at the point of use. However I also recognise that such a system has to interface with a free market economy. We have to live in the world as it exists, not as we would like it to be. Labour aside, most things in schools are purchased from third-parties who make a profit from the resources they provide, be it books, paper, IT, Electricity etc. In the interests of full-disclosure I’ll point out at the outset that I make a living selling things to schools. I’ve been on both sides of the aisle.

An important thing to do is to take the issues of buying and selling and deal with those separately. The idea of teachers selling to teachers is an emotive suggestion which we shouldn’t allow to overly colour the argument.

I think one of the things that troubles people most is the idea of teachers paying for their own resources. As a general rule I’d say that resources used for teaching in a school should be purchased by the school. There are a number of reasons for this, the main one being that an employee should not be expected to subsidise their employer. But there is also the issue of who is responsible for the content of resources. Generally, a school is held responsible for the resources put in front of students. If this is the case then there should be a process whereby those resources are sourced and the appropriateness of the resource should be part of the process. And then there is the issue of ownership. If a teacher buys a resource and then leaves the school, do they take the resource with them? How does that work if the use of the resource have become embedded in the scheme of work?

Overall, all this works better if the school is the purchaser.

How about selling resources? This is much more complex.

There are few new ideas in education. Usually a resource will have had many influences come to bear on its creation so there is the argument that it is not so easy to attribute its development to one person and consequently that one person shouldn’t be allowed to profit from its sale. Whilst there is merit in this argument the truth is that if we give too much weight to it then few materials (in any field) would ever be published for sale. The reality is that what people are paying for is the added value and not the original idea. So they are paying for the format, or way that a resource has been adapted for a specific purpose. The market usually takes care of this as we can see when we look at the pricing of resources. The more original a resource the more expensive it is. Where value in the resource is in, say its format or in its curation, then the value is lower.

However, the re-formatting or the curation have required work and, in my view, a worker should be rewarded for their work.

Which leads nicely into the following.

The other key argument brought to bear against the idea of teachers being able to sell resources is the one that as a person is employed by a public body then any profit from the resource should go back into the public purse.

I don’t like this argument for a simple reason.

An employee is an employee. They are not a chattel. They do not, by signing a contract of employment, become the property of their employer. We must argue strongly against the idea that all of a teachers time is at the disposal of the school they work for. If a teacher uses their own free time to transfer all their lessons on to PowerPoint instead of watching Monday Night Football, then why shouldn’t that labour be rewarded in some way? If a teacher in their spare time develops an app that helps them to record, say, homework completion why shouldn’t they sell that and gain a reward for their labour? That reward could be by the school purchasing the resource but I see no good reason why it should not be achieved via the market.

In principle, I see this as being no different from a teacher on a 0.8 contract expecting to be paid if they go into work on their non-working day.

In all this there are come tricky intellectual property issues between the employer and the employee. I know some schools have specific clauses around this in their contracts, essentially claiming the IP all resources produced by the teacher. For the reasons I state above I disagree with this approach.Where resources are created as part of a school directed process, in school time, then yes, they can have the IP. Otherwise it belongs to the person who creates the resource.

Generally my view is that the freer this market is then the higher the quality of resources generally available will be.

Of course, a free market is difficult if there is one quasi-monopoly intermediary between teachers and the market. But that’s another issue entirely…


4 thoughts on “A penny for your thoughts?

  1. Thanks for posting this Mike. The field of teacher created resources is complex, involving layers of IP, copyright, value, quality, discovery, publishing and distribution. I completely agree with you that teachers should have agency over anything they produce in their own time, but I would add if resources are produced in the workplace/time then the employer, (either LA, school or Academy etc), should have a stake, (though not necessarily financial). However current IP law is clear, currently such resources belong to the employer. http://www.copyrightsandwrongs.nen.gov.uk/schools-a-copyright/teacher-the-workforce-the-school-and-copyright

    Because most resources are produced at an individual level, e.g. worksheets, lesson plans or the ubiquitous ‘powerpoint’ it begs the question: is owning the IP and managing these resources really the best use of schools administrative time and public money? I maintain that schools and educational administrators priority should be providing their students with the best possible educational opportunities, rather than getting involved in the murky world of IP and Copyright. Lawyers are expensive.

    Something I pick up a lot, on social media; is the claim that ‘someone has stolen my idea. But once more the law is clear, (and rightly so), stating that you cannot copyright or patent an idea http://www.ipwatchdog.com/copyright/ A possible solution might be the Leicestershire model, whereby the local authoprity has granted teachers and their schools the right to create and share Open Educational Resources https://schools.leicester.gov.uk/services/planning-and-property/building-schools-for-the-future-bsf/open-education-for-schools/

    One also has to consider quality and value and sustainability; how many teacher created resources are just reinventing the wheel? What are the best ways to use these resources for the benefit of teachers, schools, and educational practice? At the moment, a growing number of teachers share expertise, resources and good practice through Teachmeets and social media. If resources are produced under open licences then others can modify, improve and adapt physical resources.

    Finally the ‘marketplace’ for teaching resources is changing. Whether it is the TES including Creative Commons Licenced resources into its increasingly complex mixed economy of open and premium content, or Amazon’s move into OER with Inspire will certainly change the landscape. https://marketbrief.edweek.org/marketplace-k-12/amazon-education-to-launch-new-website-for-open-ed-resources/

  2. Great blog, Mike, you bring a lot of clarity to this question here. I think copyright issues are a key factor, though – it would be interesting to see a test case to clarify who owns the copyright in resources. At the moment, I think it’s mostly the employer that does, rather than the employee, if something is made for use in a school. It’ll be interesting to see how the new ‘market’ in schools responds to that, e.g. large academy chains.

    1. I suspect that we will see more schools claiming IP and even requiring signature of non-disclosure agreements. On the plus side this might lead to the issue being properly treated if someone is prepared to take a stand.

  3. Agree with much here.
    Firstly, teachers should be able to make their own resources in their own time – as long as they own the copyright – and sell them.
    The individual purchasing them makes a decision to purchase them. They make the decision whether or not this comes from the school budget or their own. Sadly, schools are not yet in line with teachers looking to develop professionally from online resources, and in their own time. I have subsidised many teachers who have come to me with a small batch of resources and books that they would like to purchase for their development. I have always granted this – within reason – and stipulated that the resources become the property of the school. Hard to manage, but the principle of schools paying for teacher resources – sought by the individual to use in their own time – must be made clear.

    I’ve had countless arguments with TES, dating back to summer 2013 when I overhaul their T&Cs globally. The spat continues and the full story is shared here.

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