Selling educational support tools to parents instead of schools

Beware the requirements of consumer law

School is shut for the majority of our children for what could be several months, meaning parents and carers need support in the role they are assuming as their child's in-house tutor. Therefore, any help in sustaining the educational outcomes a child looks to achieve will be welcome. The support will still, of course, come first and foremost from the child's teachers, but demand for additional support is strong. Providers of the vast range of education resources used in the classroom are now turning their attention to how they can continue to support our education system as it now works.If your business is refocusing and looking at parents and carers as a market for your products what do you need to know about the trading environment you are moving into - perhaps for the very first time?  Consumer laws are relevant to the dealings you plan to have with parents and carers (consumers).The vast majority of businesses involved in this initiative will be making their products and services available online. If you provide a mix of online and hard copy resources sold together, that scenario is more complex and you should seek further advice.

Where should I start in understanding my responsibilities?

The starting point is two pieces of legislation derived from the European Union which we will continue to follow until the end of the year. The legislation covers two aspects of dealings with consumers:-

  • Information you must provide to the consumer before the sale takes place, and also after it takes place
  • Rights the consumer has regarding quality, fitness for purpose, and meeting descriptions in your marketing material e.g. meeting the requirements of a particular curriculum.

If you give away teaching materials, broadly speaking, the legislation does not apply, but if you do both, you will want to be careful in the way you provide information so as not to mislead.

What does the legislation cover?

New laws which came into effect in 2015 brought consumer rights legislation up to date with the digital world in which we now live. There are specific rules covering the sale of digital content that is provided on line. Each of the following will count as digital content:-

  • On line tutorials and other videos
  • Work sheets which are printable when downloaded
  • Apps which provide access to education resources
  • Websites which provide learning experiences including mock assessments online.

What are the information requirements?

You must make clear who you are by including full business details (including a company number if relevant). While not relevant, and something of a quirk in our legislation, your online sales information must include your VAT number.The process of ordering, and the particular point at which the consumer is placing the order, needs to be clearly set out on the web page and the consumer rights which come into effect after the order is placed, need to be addressed. You should refer to the existence of a 14 day cancellation period that will apply from purchase, and, importantly, should the consumer expressly request to begin to receive the digital content during the cancellation period, that the cancellation right will be lost.The loss of cancellation rights wording is important and best placed at the point when you draw attention to your terms and conditions and ask the consumer to agree to them.  Finally, within your order acknowledgement there needs to be a reminder that cancellation rights are lost when the digital content is downloaded or accessed.

What expectations do I have to meet in terms of quality, fitness for purpose and meeting descriptions provided?

If you have set about developing home schooling products using your tried and tested teaching materials there will be little to be concerned about. The legislation is now technology friendly and there is recognition that working with technology can have its issues. You are entitled to say that you may provide updates to software and that you are not responsible for difficulties in accessing digital content where the problem is beyond your control. You should however, apply the same standards in your marketing to consumers that you apply in sales to school - being clear, for example, about relevance of particular resources to particular exam boards. If you offer products which include online experiences of a virtual or augmented reality nature that may not be suitable for certain children, think about the health and safety considerations surrounding that  in the same way as you would do in your sales to schools - with appropriate warnings given to the consumer before purchase.

Is there anything else I should be doing at this time?

Making serious efforts to start marketing your products to consumers may be a big enough addition to your business strategy for your insurers to expect to be notified. We recommend you discuss your plans with your brokers, particularly if the scope of your policies includes professional indemnity. 

What if I get any of this wrong? 

Compliance is monitored by Trading Standards who can intervene should there be evidence that a trader is not taking consumer rights seriously. In most cases a warning to take corrective action will follow, but in more serious cases fines, and even prison sentences, are possible penalties.  Consumers have rights, such as to cancel their contract (extended for up to 12 months) with you, to demand fixes for any problems that arise with online services, and possibly claim compensation.

How can Freeths be of help?

We support education businesses in their commercial affairs making us adept at dealing with the practicalities of compliance in this area. We've already helped a number of businesses create terms and conditions which demonstrate compliance and we can also guide you as to how to present information compliantly to the consumer.  Please contact me if you require further information.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.