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Blog post Part of special issue: Independent researchers: The challenges of accessing ethical approval

Editorial: Revealing the challenges for independent researchers in accessing ethical approval

Carrie Birch, Independent Researcher at N/A

This special edition of the BERA Blog highlights a problem: independent educational researchers are unable to access an ethics panel for approval to carry out research. Approval is necessary for researchers to publish outcomes – but independent researchers cannot access the process.

How many researchers are affected by this? We don’t know. However, the contributions to this series illustrate the experiences of independent researchers.

‘Independent educational researchers are unable to access an ethics panel for approval to carry out research, which they need in order to publish their findings.’

If one accepts that there is more than one side to an argument, it follows that differing perspectives should be examined. As a teacher, I found meaningful examples of this point in children’s literature (Cressey & Cole, 1986), and used such texts to support children’s understanding of equality and social justice by helping them to learn the value of listening to other’s perspectives and reaching compromises.

The same applies in the world of research. In a BERA Blog published in 2019, Sarah Quinton (2019) pointed out the frequent tensions between ethics panels and applicants. She concluded that a less divisive approach would bring benefits to the world of scholarship and educational practice. For the world of educational research, there remain valid lessons to learn about widening perspectives and inclusion of unacknowledged educational research. Independent researchers face the same ethical challenges faced by researchers in higher education institutions (HEIs), and like them intend to carry out rigorous and valuable research in order to inform practice and add to knowledge.

Carrie Birch, in her blog, reports on a successful BERA event about ethical issues for independent researchers attended by both practitioner-researchers in educational settings and organisations with expertise in publishing and in the legal aspects of ethics. Contributors William Wadsworth, Sarah Hamilton, Jocelyn Bailey and Lynne Taylerson discuss their research and experiences of working beyond academia, describing the circumstances which occur for educational researchers working ‘at one remove’ from HEIs:

The contributions to this series include examples of work undertaken by independent researchers, and note the implications both for them and for the world of research arising from the lack of access to a robust system of ethical guidance and approval.

The descriptions of ethical dilemmas may apply to all researchers. However, while researchers employed within HEIs may have access to in-house advice, advice is rarely available to independent researchers, who include those working in educational technology, schools and further education. Readers of the BERA Blog will recognise that many contributors work and conduct research in settings such as schools and FE colleges, where multiple other priorities may jostle for position with ethical considerations, posing greater challenges to the ethical integrity of the independent researcher.

Independent researchers are already seeking a collaborative approach that makes it possible to undertake and publish educational research. We welcome the contact and development of ethical thinking that follows when we listen to a ‘critical friend’.


Cressey, J., & Cole, T. (1976). Fourteen Rats and a Rat Catcher. London: A & C Black.

Quinton, S. (2019, September 3). You don’t understand us! [blog post]. Retrieved from