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Glaston-BERA: How might attending the 50th BERA Conference compare to one of the world’s biggest outdoor pop music festivals?

Richard Holme, Lecturer at University of Dundee

This year marks an important milestone for the educational research community in the UK, as the BERA Conference reaches its 50th iteration. Since the very first BERA Conference in April 1974 it has become one of the must-attend events in the educational research conference calendar. Although starting small, BERA has gone on to gain an international reputation.

In 2022, I attended the BERA Conference just after I’d encountered another world famous, British-based mega-event, I was suddenly struck by the similarities. After navigating the competitive ticket allocation system – nearly as stressful as some university conference attendance application processes – I had secured tickets for the 50th Glastonbury Festival. The first thing that you notice at Glastonbury – like at the BERA Conference – is the sheer volume of people. People are purposefully moving in all directions, whereas others are deep in conversation, or carefully studying the programme. On a more rudimentary note, you need to remember to address your basic physiological needs (Maslow, 1943). Luckily though, at BERA the bathroom facilities are considerably better than any outdoor festival.

‘The first thing that you notice at Glastonbury – like at the BERA Conference – is the sheer volume of people.’

The similarities don’t end there. The main reason for attending both events is to check out the ‘acts’. Deciding where to go can be daunting, and there will be inevitable clashes. So, do you go with your preferred genre – rock or dance music – or an area of specialist interest – such as educational leadership, or philosophy of education? If you can’t decide then you might stumble onto something entirely new – broadening your horizons further. For me, a great example of this was learning about a teacher educator professional development programme, from researchers at Hartpury Univeristy. And along the way, as research has suggested (Fox & McCormick, 2009), the main benefit is in the connections and networks you will make.

Big musical festivals, like Glastonbury, rely on well-known acts, and BERA has had a history of great keynote speakers. Over the years BERA has played host to some of the biggest international names in education including Lawrence Stenhouse, Sugata Mitra, Marilyn Cochran-Smith, and someone I wish I’d been able to see myself – Ted Wragg. My own personal BERA highlight was securing a seat at the very front of the auditorium, in Liverpool, to hear Rachel C. Boyle and David Olusoga in conversation. This was on a par with seeing another famous professor, Alice Roberts, speak at the Free University of Glastonbury. And in each case, they managed to include a sound basis in research, while communicating in a way that was accessible and highly enjoyable.

Despite the size and scale, both the BERA Conference and Glastonbury have a strong sense of collaboration, community and were founded on principles relating to social justice and making a positive contribution to society. Glastonbury supports a range of charities, including Oxfam and WaterAid, and BERA has special interest groups researching subjects from Inclusive Education to Social Justice to Environmental Sustainability. Also, at both events there is an overriding sense of equality – as esteemed professors share a space with early career researchers – a welcome change from everyday life for people working in the often hierarchical higher education sector (Bleiklie, 2012).

The 50th BERA Conference, very much like Glastonbury a few years back, will be a celebration of what has gone before, while also giving space to look forward to the next 50 years. In the same way that the musical breakout acts become headliners of the future, the early career lecturers and researchers presenting for the first time at BERA 2024 will be the keynote speakers of tomorrow. And for those who have been attending for years, there will still be a place to join in, contribute and, most of all, enjoy the experience.

Not that I’m keen or anything, but where and when do we get the BERA 2024 lanyard and name badges…? Register now, before you miss out!


Bleiklie, I. (2012). Collegiality and hierarchy: Coordinating principles in higher education. In A. R. Nelson & I. P. Wei (Eds.), The global university: Historical studies in education. Palgrave Macmillan.

Fox, A., & McCormick, R. (2009). Events and professional learning: Studying educational practitioners. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21(3), 198–218.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.