Is it legal for teachers to sell teaching resources?

Who owns your lesson plans, and who can make money off them? Education consultant Simon Foulkes has the answers

You wrote a great lesson plan, but then you find out, by whatever means, that another member of staff has not only used the plan but has actually sold it on to other teachers across the land. Should you have been paid?

Or you wrote a great plan in your PPA time, and the local authority adviser has seen it, and included it in a county resource of model plans, without even asking your permission. You didn’t get credited; it just said “from another school”. Can that be right?

Annoyed, you work in your own time all weekend to complete the term’s plans, believing that by writing them outside directed hours in your contract, they are securely your property. But then a colleague claims the employer is entitled to copyright on anything you produce in connection with your job. Who is right?

The short answer is that … your employer owns the copyright

Meanwhile the local authority adviser who used your material insists that anything produced by a teacher in one of the authority’s schools is freely available across all its schools. But you know that their circulars are received by academies as well, which are not local authority schools and where the staff are employed by the trust, not the LA. Shouldn’t the academies be charged for the material then? And shouldn’t you receive a share of the income?

The short answer is that, if a lesson plan is produced in the course of your employment, your employer owns the copyright in the material subject to any agreement to the contrary. However, not all contracts of employment make this clear – and if this is not explicitly stated in the contract you might have some wriggle-room. In the end it might have to go to court for a decision.

The sixth-form colleges NJC model contract for full-time teaching staff, for instance, obliges staff to work additional hours for the preparation of lessons, teaching material and teaching programmes beyond the stipulated 195 days per annum, but doesn’t expressly refer to copyright or intellectual property. Whether it is economical for either party to litigate depends on how much use has been made of the material and by whom – and hence on its commercial worth.

But if a lesson plan produced over the weekend is not included in the directed hours under your contract, you might have an argument for claiming the copyright. Why not mark the plan as such to make your position clear? Many online lesson plans are clearly marked with a copyright notice in the simple formula “© 2017 *** Learning. All rights reserved”. You can just insert your name rather than that of the company plus the year of publication.

If you then find another teacher or website using material you could identify as originally yours, you can assert your position and at least make a demand for some recompense. Whether or not you receive any is another question, but at least the point would be made.

Unless a local authority explicitly asserts copyright over all your output in your contract of employment, the argument that absolutely anything produced in the county belongs to that county probably won’t wash. Whether some part of the material you create belongs to you will depend on the nature of the material and what your contract says. You may need legal advice.

If your employer is a multi-academy trust, the LA can’t use your material outside the school without its consent. And note that VA and some foundation schools are in the position where the governing body are the employers.

One closing point, about tax: if you do earn additional money you are legally obliged to declare it, and you will need to complete appropriate additional tax returns. If you can’t complete a paper or online tax return yourself and need professional help, the accountant’s fees will be a significant proportion of your net return unless you become a real market leader – in which case you would presumably give up the day job in any case.


Simon Foulkes is an education consultant at Lee Bolton Monier-Williams

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