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All researchers in the field of education need to attend to the ethical and epistemological foundations of their enquiries. The ESRC guidelines for postgraduate training indicate that researchers in education:

‘should have training in philosophical issues in educational research including an introduction to:

  • epistemological and ontological issues in the philosophy of social science and the philosophical underpinnings of educational theories
  • the nature of theory and explanation in education
  • the philosophical assumptions underlying different methods of empirical enquiry, e.g. evaluation and action research
  • the use of a range of concepts such as objectivity, subjectivity, and reflexivity in educational research
  • the relationship of the researcher to the researched and connections between theory and educational practice, including the nature of professional knowledge
  • interpretations of the concept of education and their implications for research and the role of values in educational theory and research methodologies

‘In addition, students should become aware of the ethical and political concerns implicit in different methodological approaches and be equipped to deal with ethical dilemmas and problems that may arise when working in educational settings or contexts (including, where appropriate, making use of ethical guidelines issued by learned societies and professional bodies).’

Recognising this need, we include here guides to ethical issues and also some consideration of research paradigms and epistemology. Under this heading we also include topics related to the financial basis of research i.e. funding.


Ethics and educational research: philosophical perspectives by D.Bridges

Educational Research and policy: epistemological perspectives by D. Bridges

Resources aimed at helping researchers build their careers by A. Brown

Understanding researchers' career development by A. Brown

Methodological Paradigms in Educational Research by M. Hammersley

Philosophy as educational enquiry and critique by P. Standish

Resources from RCBN and Journal: foundations by C. Taylo

Ethics and Educational Research by M. Hammersley and A. Traianou

Additional Resources

'The British Educational Research Association believes that all educational research should be conducted within an ethic of respect for the person, knowledge, democratic values, quality of educational research and academic freedom' (BERA Ethical Guidelines, 2004: 5). Researchers have responsibilities linked to the research profession, participants, public, funding agencies, publication, relationships with host institution and so on. All research therefore faces ethical issues, and a past BERA president (and TLRP researcher) Anne Edwards discussed ways of being a researcher in her presidential address: Responsible Research: Ways of being a researcher at the BERA Annual Conference, Leeds 2001. She argues:

Being an educational researcher is not an easy option. We are practitioners in an engaged social science which makes particular demands on us. These include responsibility to our field of study. In this address I argue that close-to-the-field research, that can do justice to the meaning making that occurs there, is an important part of the responsibility of the educational research community. Research of this kind, sometimes called interpretative or transformative research, calls for a form of engagement with the field which could be termed responsible agency. Because examinations of individual agency and responsibility must take into account contexts, their values and opportunities, I also examine how BERA as a Learned Society can sustain the identities of engaged researchers and how their revelations from the field can inform educational policy and the methodologies which shape educational enquiry.

The linked documents below are other sets of ethical guidelines produced by various professional and government bodies:

Doing the Right Thing – outlining the Department for Work and Pensions' approach to ethical and legal issues in social research, Bacon J and Olsen, K, DWP working Paper 11 (2003). The work on ethics is concerned with giving clarity about the duty beholden on researcher to undertake investigations sensitively, ethically and legally. They have produced a draft document, which includes a whole chapter on ethical issues and research methodology.

The British Psychological Society have also produced a Code of Ethics and Conduct (2006), which includes a section on research ethics.

The British Sociological Association too have produced a statement of ethical practice (2002) with reference to research issues.

The Government Social Research Unit has developed guidance for the ethical assurance of government social research (Ethics in social research) and produced a report on Ethics in social research: the view of research participants.

Yee, W; Andrews, J (2006) Professional researcher or a 'good guest'? Ethical dilemmas involved in researching children and families in the home setting
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Macnab, N; Thomas, G (2007) Quality in research and the significance of community assessment and peer review: education's idiosyncrasy
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Elliott, J; Lukes, D (2008) Epistemology as ethics in research and policy: the use of case studies
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Desforges, C (2000) Familiar challenges and new approaches: necessary advances in theory and methods in research on teaching and learning
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Nixon, J (2005) Education for the good society: the integrity of academic practice
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Carmichael, P; Youdell, D (2007) Using Virtual Collaboration Environments for Education Research: Some Ethical Considerations
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Biesta, G (2009) Educational Research, Democracy and TLRP
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Thomas, G; Gorard, S (2007) Quality in Educational Research
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Waltz, M (2007) The relationship of ethics to quality: a particular case of research in autism
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