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Copyright & OER – what governors need to know

Copyright & OER – what governors need to know

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Josie FraserIn this guest post, Josie Fraser outlines some key copyright issues school governing bodies need to consider. Josie is a Social and Educational Technologist, currently leading the technology strand of Leicester City Council’s £340million Building Schools for the Future programme, as ICT Strategy Lead. You can read her blog SocialTech at and follow her on Twitter at @josiefraser.

Copyright Essentials for Governors – Getting OER Smart!

Do staff in your school use, copy, or create digital resources? If staff are creating documents or other learning resources, or looking online for images to enhance their presentations or for great lesson plans or activity ideas, then your school needs to be OER smart!

Schools have a great culture of sharing, adapting and adopting resources to support their learners – most of which is informal. By taking a few simple steps, you can make sure your school and learners are benefiting from understanding and using open education resources, and modelling great copyright practice in the classroom.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are simply educational resources (including documents, worksheets, revision guides, schemes of work and school policies) which have had an open licence attached to them. In practice, this means an open licence icon has been pasted into the document, or a statement in the document (this could be included in the body of the document, or the file name) which stated the type of open licence that has been applied. Open licences do not replace the copyright framework – they build on it, signalling up front how resources can be used. Typically, open licences give permission for resources to be used, copied and shared for free, as long as credit is given to the author. This can save a lot of valuable time for staff, who can reuse effective resources rather than reinventing the wheel. Some open licences give permission to build on and change the original work – meaning that educators can make sure that the resources are personalised to their learners and that resources can be differentiated. Using openly licenced materials means that educators can be certain they aren’t using materials in ways they aren’t supposed to be – which in turn means they can share their materials online without being worried about fines or charges.

Using OER can save schools money, and time can be spent on developing and personalising resources so that they can more effectively support learners.

However – many school staff have never heard of open licensing, OER, or Creative Commons –the most popular kinds of open licence for educators.  Schools aren’t aware of all of the benefits OER can provide – let alone how to go about finding them. To help with this, Leicester City Council has created four easy-to-understand guidance documents which cover all the essentials of understanding, finding, using, creating and sharing OER for school staff. These have themselves been shared under an open license, making them free to use and adapt. They can be downloaded from:

As a member of your school’s governing body, you can play an important role in relation to how copyright issues affect your school. For academy, foundation (trust) and voluntary aided schools, the governing body is typically the legal employer of school staff. The Local Authority will be the legal employer of school staff working in maintained – community and voluntary controlled – schools. By default, an employer is the legal and beneficial owner of copyright of materials produced by staff in the line of their employment – this isn’t restricted to schools or councils – it applies to all employees working under a contract of service – unless there is a special agreement in place.  Sometimes, staff will have a specific statement in their contract which refers to this, for example:


The council shall be the legal and beneficial owner of the copyright in and all other rights to the results of the development of and the application of all work produced by you during the course of your employment and as a consequence of your employment.

However, whether or not this statement is included (and many schools and councils do not include a statement like this), technically staff need to ask permission to share their work publicly (for example, on sites such as TES, which recently introduced open licensing), to sell or make money from their work, or even take their work with them to a new employer.

OER logos

In order to make life easier for school staff, and build on the great culture of sharing that already exist, Leicester City Council recently gave formal blanket permission for all their school employees to openly licence their educational resources. This supports staff in understanding and using OER, as well as encouraging the adaptions and creation of OER – to support schools in promoting and sharing the great work that is being produced across the city.

Putting in place a local OER policies can support organisational development, and discussion of copyright, ownership, and accreditation – all important areas that staff can model in the classroom. It can help schools take a fresh look at how they use, create and share digital resources.

Online and digital resources are routinely made use of and created in all our schools. This increased use and creation of digital and web-based resources means that understanding the copyright rules and permissions that relate to the use of digital and online teaching and learning materials is very important. Digital resources are protected by copyright in the same way as other resources.

Questions for your governing body:

  • Do staff at your school know about open licencing? Find out if they are aware of OER and how to find and use them. If not, the OER Guidance for Schools is a great place to start
  • How can staff be supported to share their work openly? Sharing work under open licence is a great way of promoting your school, and showcasing high quality work. Staff may not want to share work openly – if not, find out why. Your school community should be proud of its work.
  • Find out about the types of open licences available, and the benefits and limitations of these. The Understanding Open Licencing document outlines these. The governing body should play a key role in deciding which type of licence the school recommends for staff.
  • Do you have a school OER Policy in place? If not, you can review and download model policy documents.
  • Is the local authority the legal employer of your school staff (this will be the case for community and voluntary controlled schools)? If so, have they got an OER policy in place? If not, when will they have one in place by?

Image: Open by John Martinez Pavliga. Used under a CC BY 2.0 licence.


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