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Ongoing project

Education: The State of the Discipline

This project aims to provide a clear, comprehensive account of the state of education as an academic discipline in universities; as a field of practice; and as a significant and central element of social and political policy in the four nations of the UK.

Reports from each stage of the initiative will equip stakeholders in every part of the sector with the most objective and powerful information on which to base their advocacy for, and their efforts to grow the size, influence and impact of, education. It will also be key to informing decision-making processes within BERA.

Two elements are central to the initiative:

  • the definition of education as an academic discipline that shares characteristics with many other disciplines, including those that have been established for much longer in universities worldwide (Wyse, 2020)
  • the intersections between education and practice (including in teacher education and training – e.g. BERA-RSA 2014), which in recent work has been articulated as ‘close-to-practice-research’

In the last decade the nature of work in universities has been subject to a range of significant changes. Some of these changes have been recognised by trade unions, for example increased casualisation of the workforce and changes towards more teaching-only contracts. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) also continues to be an influence on the ways universities work. Mindful of the ongoing changes within many UK universities, with resultant impacts on BERA members, BERA Council approved the development of an initiative to examine the state of education as a discipline taking account of the four nations of the UK.

In January 2020, we commissioned a systematic review (SR) which was designed to inform this work. The SR reviewed the research on the structures and processes – both formal and informal – that influence research activities in the UK.  

The next stages of the project include A survey of education researchers’ perceptions of their work and identities in relation to education research in universities in the United Kingdom. This “Census” ran over summer 2022 with the outcomes to be published in early 2023.

Alongside this, BERA commissioned research analysing equality and diversity issues within the discipline. Both the projects presented interim findings at our annual conference in September 2022 and a recording of the plenary session can be found here

We have also commissioned two pieces of work following the outcomes of the most REF which will play into this project. The first of these will provide a quantitative assessment of the progress of education as an academic discipline in UK universities through the analysis of REF data. The analysis will be divided into two steps – firstly, assessing Education’s absolute progress. This analysis will compare Education’s REF 2014 and REF 2021 outcomes through analysis of REF reports and publicly available data. The analysis will draw out the four types of outcomes (Overall, Outputs, Impact and Environment) numbers (FTE of submitted staff), and percentages of individuals in education departments who were submitted to the respective REFs (% of eligible staff submitted). Secondly, we will assess Education’s relative progress. This analysis will compare Education’s REF 2014 and REF 2021 outcomes with other six academic disciplines. The disciplines will include social science, mathematics, arts, and a natural science. 

We are also committed to publishing a selection of REF impact case studies. The aim of these is to demonstrate the positive impact of educational research and well as highlighting education as a vibrant and exciting discipline and can be used for a variety of different audiences.

Both these projects will report in spring 2023.

We are also planning a one-day conference  bringing together all these projects which is due to be held in June 2023.

Research Intelligence 149, published in December 2021 focused on these issues. This issue presents a variety of perspectives on the present and future of education as a discipline, responding in part to a newly published systematic scoping review that explores the structures and processes that have shaped educational research between 1990 and 2020 and lays the foundations for a wider investigation by BERA. BERA members can access the full issue but we have chosen to make some of the pieces available here to support the project. These include:

  • Vivienne Baumfield discusses BERA’s strategic priorities and role in the wider educational research landscape in the coming years.
  • Christopher Boyle and colleagues survey our discipline’s recent past and identify important gaps in the literature
  • Sally Power offers an account of the unique environment for educational research in Wales
  • Ian Menter urges deeper investigation of the increasing divergence in teacher education between the four nations of the UK nations

In addition, there were some follow-up pieces in Research Intelligence 150 published in February 2022. Published here are two further selected pieces:

  • Barbara Skinner surveys the state of educational research in Northern Ireland
  • David Egan discusses the Welsh government’s national strategy for educational research and enquiry

Content associated with this project

Plenary Session – State of the Discipline

Chair: Dominic Wyse IN THIS SESSION Education is in a State: Exploration of In/Equalities Shown in Statistical Data of Academic Staffing in UK Higher Education Dr Dina Zoe Belluigi1, Prof...

Video7 Sep 2022

Plenary Session – Reading the REF

Prof David James Cardiff University, United Kingdom In the opening conference plenary David James presented an overview of education submissions in REF 2021 and highlighted key points about...

Video6 Sep 2022

HE Education Research Census 2022

The UK-wide census of all HE-based education researchers has just been launched. It is a nationwide census examining the characteristics, experiences and attitudes of education researchers...

BERA in the news25 May 2022

Winter 2021/22

Education: Mapping the discipline Research Intelligence issue 149 This issue presents a variety of perspectives on the present and future of education as a discipline, responding in part to a...

Research Intelligence2 Dec 2021

Tender: Updating the BERA Observatory

As part of our ambitious project examining the state of education: as an academic discipline in universities, as a field of practice, and as a significant and central element of social and...

Research opportunityClosed