Oak updates

25 May 2023

Open innovation: Licensing and access to our new resources

Jonathan Dando

School Support Director


  • To deliver maximum public benefit from the public investment in Oak, we will embrace an open licensing approach - sharing our intellectual property and encouraging innovation.
  • The majority of Oak’s new curricula and teaching resources will be available on a standard Open Government Licence (OGL). This ensures teachers and schools have complete freedom to adapt them to their context, and allows education organisations to innovate from and with them.
  • OGL is the default and expected licence in publicly funded activity. It’s widely used in educational resources, such as those from the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, National Centre for Computing Education and Music Hubs.
  • Free and open access to Oak’s high-quality resources will support the current creation of a new generation of reliable AI products within education, as developers can train their programmes on accurate, quality and up-to-date content.
  • Any third party copyrighted content within Oak’s resources will remain protected in line with all terms and conditions specified in licensing agreements we make with rights-holders and will not be available under OGL.
  • To further support innovation in the education sector, Oak has published its platform code on an open-sourced MIT licence.
  • To protect one of Oak’s founding principles, that no one can directly profit from Oak, the board decided that Oak’s platform should not be geo-restricted. Oak will continue to focus on UK activity and conduct no international promotion.
  • Oak will be free at the point of use in perpetuity and will always be optional.

Background to our licensing review

Following feedback from education organisations, last year we worked with a range of external experts to review the terms of licensing Oak’s new curricula and teaching resources. We wanted to explore the best means to deliver maximum public benefit, recognising the public investment that was going into the creation of Oak’s new resources.

The review spoke to a wide range of schools, curriculum organisations, publishers and edtech organisations. Oak’s board subsequently decided to make the majority of Oak’s forthcoming new curricula and resources available on an OGL licence.

Why an open approach?

As a publicly funded body, Oak’s Board felt an open approach delivered maximum public benefit and was necessary to fulfil our aims and purpose. An Open Government Licence gives teachers total freedom to build and adapt content to suit their pupils’ needs. It also gives them the freedom to share this modified content in their school or trust, and outside it. OGL is directly compatible with the Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC-BY).

The approach will also create opportunities for innovation in the wider market. Other organisations, from tutoring and edtech providers to subject associations and teacher training organisations, will have maximum freedom to use and innovate with Oak’s content, building great offers to support teachers. This could see, for example, publishers using parts of Oak to create high quality textbooks, or edtech providers utilising some of Oak’s content in their own platforms. We have already seen some ITT providers using examples of Oak lessons in their training, and this will allow such integration without copyright concern.

All organisations will be able to equally benefit from the public investment in Oak.

For these reasons, an OGL is the standard licence used in public services and the default licence for any publicly-funded activity, such as Oak. It is used widely in education e.g. for content produced by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) and Music Hubs. It is also the internationally encouraged form of licensing for educational resources and the UK is a signatory to the 2019 UNESCO Recommendation on Open Educational Resources.

In our procurement, launched in autumn 2022, prospective partners bid on the basis that they would share their resources on a licence up to and including OGL, so there will be no change for our new partners.

Any providers which want to use Oak’s OGL content will be required to attribute it to Oak and our partners as the creators in line with the OGL licence requirements.

Third party copyright will continue to be protected

Any third party copyrighted content included within Oak’s materials will be exempt from the OGL licence by default. OGL excludes “third party rights the Information Provider is not authorised to licence”. Those rights will continue to be protected under the terms of those rights agreements, with robust arrangements in place. This is to support those artists, publishers and other rights holders and content owners licensing materials to us for use in Oak’s curriculum. Where required this might include additional technical measures as agreed with the rights holders, such as geo-restrictions.

Enabling quality in AI

We are just starting to see the potential that AI and Large Language Models could have on education. But this will be limited unless new technology can be trained on, and be context- aware of, accurate, high quality and up-to-date content. Making Oak’s new content, including slides, quizzes and other teaching resources from 14,000 lessons, available on an open license will give all AI innovations equal access to reliable curriculum content, giving the UK the opportunity of a headstart in its use in education. Any third-party copyrighted content will continue to be protected and outside OGL.

A UK focus without geo-restriction, to protect from profiteering

Oak’s resources are based on the English national curriculum and our remit is to support UK teachers and pupils. We have, at times of international conflict or disruption, seen very limited overseas use but we have no interest or plans to grow the number of users outside the UK. Due to this, we’ve been looking to restrict access to Oak’s content to only those in the UK (known as ‘geo-restriction’).

We have, however, needed to take a different approach to geo-restriction. Oak’s founding documents prevent it from being used (by Oak or others) for direct commercial benefit. Oak’s resources continuing to be freely available to all removes the ability for others to make direct profit from Oak’s content. A significant number of users would not pay for content that is free elsewhere. Any innovations using Oak would need to add significant new features and value to be viable. This is further supported by the requirement in the OGL to attribute any re-used Oak content, clearly making teachers and other users aware of where the content comes from.

During our licensing review, the scenario became apparent that if Oak’s content is geo-restricted another provider could easily extract Oak resources and/or open-sourced code, rebuild Oak’s platform in another country and charge for access, without any adaptations. As this would put the board in breach of its duties, it has decided not to geo-restrict. Oak, however, continues to focus on the UK and will not promote or market our resources abroad now or in the future.

This approach is also in line with that taken by other open and government-funded resources such as NCETM, NCCE and NCELP, where we have not seen any evidence of negative impact on international markets.

Open-source code

In line with the open approach, Oak’s platform code is now freely available on an open-source MIT licence, allowing others to use part or all of it to build or improve their own products. Like any digital project we depend on the free and open work created by many other people and we are delighted to be able to give back to the community to maximise Oak's public benefit. We will similarly share our anonymised data on an open data licence to support insights and learning.

Free and optional

Oak will always be optional and free to use.
Teachers and schools will always be able to use as much or as little of our resources as they wish, or none at all. Only they are the experts that can decide what is right for their curriculum and their context. We will not be part of any school accountability measures and Ofsted does not endorse or pre-approve our content.

If you would like any further information on our plans, please contact Jonathan Dando or Rosie Bennett.