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…