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Several years ago, Dominic Wyse addressed the long-running issue of whether education is a discipline. I suggest that an essential requirement for a discipline is engagement between those adopting conflicting theoretical and methodological views; and, more generally, that authors should respond constructively to criticisms of their work. In my view, there is far too little engagement of these kinds today. Instead, we seem to have adopted the neoliberal assumption that research publications are simply ‘outputs’ whose value lies in their ‘impact’. Either that or we are lodged in theoretical-cum-political silos that discourage constructive engagement with those outside them.

I can cite two relatively recent illustrations, from personal experience. In a previous BERA Blog post, I highlighted criticisms of an article (Connolly et al., 2019) stemming from a major educational research project funded by the Education Endowment Foundation. The stated political goal of that research was to challenge ‘historically hegemonic discourses on “ability grouping”’ on the part of policymakers and schools (Francis et al., 2017, pp. 2, 13). Roger Gomm (2022) later elaborated his detailed methodological criticisms in an article in the British Educational Research Journal. Yet there has been no public response to these criticisms by the researchers concerned, or by anybody else. Perhaps these criticisms are misconceived; but, if so, surely that needs pointing out.

The second case is even more contentious, but this is no reason for not engaging with it. A few years ago, as a member of a journal’s editorial board, I raised questions about a proposed special issue on the topic of ‘racially-just epistemologies and methodologies that disrupt whiteness’. My point was that some of the assumptions built into the proposal needed to be spelt out and justified. This did not happen, and so I offered a contribution for the special issue myself. This was rejected by its editors as ‘subversive’. When the special issue was published, I wrote a critical response to it (Hammersley, 2022), but the editors of the journal refused to publish this. While the journal’s editors later agreed to print the contribution I had initially provided for the special issue (Hammersley, 2024), there has still been no engagement with the issues I raised.

As already acknowledged, the topic here was a difficult and controversial one, but this does not mean that critical questions should be ignored. One of the implications of the position taken by the special issue editors is that any educational research that does not adopt what they define as racially-just epistemology and methodology serves racism. Yet the journal has continued to publish articles that do not adopt this type of epistemology and methodology. That is the correct policy, in my view, but there is clearly a question here that requires serious discussion: if the editors of the special issue were correct, then most of us are reinforcing racism in our work and presumably ought to stop it immediately. Simply tolerating the expression of this critical challenge, instead of engaging with it, is facile.

‘The topic was a difficult and controversial one, but this does not mean that critical questions should be ignored.’

These are just two illustrations. I am not saying that educational researchers never engage with contentious issues or with criticisms of their work, but is what we do in this regard sufficient? I don’t believe so. In my judgment, there must be more critical discussion of the issues that divide us, however fundamental these are. Furthermore, we need to engage with criticisms of our work, rather than ignoring them, or dismissing them via ad personam arguments. Otherwise, education has no claim to be a discipline.


Connolly, P., Taylor, B., Francis, B., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Mazenod, A., & Tereschenko, A. (2019). The misallocation of students to academic sets in maths: A study of secondary schools in England. British Educational Research Journal, 45(), 873–879.

Francis, B., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Pepper, D., Taylor, B., & Travers, M-C (2017). Exploring the relative lack of impact of research on ‘ability grouping’ in England: A discourse analytic account. Cambridge Journal of Education, 47(1), 1–17. 

Gomm, R. (2022). SATs, sets and allegations of bias: The allocation of 11-year-old students to mathematics sets in some English schools in 2015: A response to Connolly et al., 2019. British Educational Research Journal, 48(4), 704–729.

Hammersley, M. (2022). Reflections on a dispute about ‘racially-just epistemologies and methodologies that disrupt whiteness.  

Hammersley, M. (2024). Can epistemologies and methodologies be racially unjust? The case of Allison Davis and cultural deprivation. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 47(1), 20–32. 

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