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It will sound trite to say that the first BERA Early Career Researcher (ECR) Network conference was ‘inspiring’. Did I hear a particularly engaging talk? Did some specific detail of another’s work resonate with my own or open up an interesting conversation? Of course, but in this line of work such a thing can happen on any given day. So, what was it about this experience that felt inspiring?

As with conceptualisations of childhood development, the ECR journey can be ‘clearly defined in stages of growth ordered with a certain temporality and hierarchy along a predefined path’ (Quennerstedt & Quennerstedt, 2014, p. 120). Throughout the learning and development journey, we – as educators – must resist the creation of a false distinction between our early career colleagues ‘becoming’ or ‘being’ researchers. Indeed, given the challenging landscape of academia more broadly, and in relation to our discipline in terms of ‘issues of equality and diversity and the conditions for researchers in the early stages of their careers’ (BERA, 2023, p. 2), we see perpetual attempts to (re)define the temporal boundaries of the ECR journey. When do we ‘become’ researchers? Is it three years, five years or eight years post-viva? For many of us, this journey has taken a somewhat circuitous route. Perhaps we have come via the classroom, or from industry, where we found opportunities to teach or train, or research these or other social practices. Many have already been researchers for some time but have more recently engaged in doctoral study for different personal and professional reasons.

Whatever our own journey, linear or more likely circuitous, as researchers we are inspired to engage with issues that we are passionate about. In these ripe contexts, the research outputs can effect change to establish progressive influence and make an impact.

‘Each blog post covers one area of key importance to the researcher with the intention of inspiring discourse and informing policy and practice.’

In this special issue of the BERA Blog, we – a group of ECRs – showcase our research inspiration and our potential impact. Each blog post covers one area of key importance to the researcher with the intention of inspiring discourse and informing policy and practice. Sophie Atherton explores the intricacies of how trans students navigate and negotiate their school lives, and points to inequities within English schools. The theme of inequality is carried through in the contribution of Ye (Catherine) Cao. Her work details the impact of China’s ‘double reduction’ policy, which is intended to address ever-increasing educational inequalities stemming from the growth of a shadow education system in China. Rebekah Ackroyd considers the promotion of tolerance and mutual respect in the implementation of teacher standards to report on how educators can best navigate the shifting educational landscape of emerging policies and strategies. Kathryn Spicksley investigates challenges around teacher retention, proposing that establishing more concrete professional teacher identities can contribute towards teacher resilience and subsequently counteract teacher attrition. Issues around leadership, retention and recruitment are also taken up by Kelly Stokes, who explores headteacher agency in the context of performativity pressures that often appear to suppress teacher values and pedagogy, thereby disenfranchising leaders in the profession.

In an age where there is ever less space for informed critical discussion, without ignoring temporality or hierarchy, we can be heartened that the ECR Network events create a space for our community to be fully engaged in shaping the future of research and research impact.

We would like to thank the contributors to this BERA Blog special issue and would like to invite our readers to engage with these authors and with our broader ECR community. We look forward to welcoming you to our upcoming dedicated ECR conference ‘At crossroads of becoming’ to be held on 5 June 2024 at the Cloth Hall Court, Leeds. Register now at this link.


British Educational Research Association [BERA]. (2023). Education: The State of the Discipline. A BERA statement.

Quennerstedt, A., & Quennerstedt, M. (2014). Researching children’s rights in education: Sociology of childhood encountering educational theory. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35(1), 115–132.