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Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research, fifth edition (2024)


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Letter from the President

Dear colleague,

On behalf of the Council of the British Educational Research Association (BERA), I am very pleased to present to you the fifth edition (2024) of our Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research. I would like to thank all of the BERA members and professional office staff whose commitment and diligence have enabled the publication of this edition to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of BERA.

As a learned society we are dedicated to the promotion of research as vital for democracy and social wellbeing in improving knowledge and understanding of all aspects of education. Fundamental to all our work is the importance of recognising and tackling power differentials and structural inequalities affecting our members and the wider educational research community. The recent Education: The State of the Discipline initiative has highlighted these issues and our Strategic Plan 2021–2026 sets out the steps we are taking to address them. To this end, we promote respect for all those who engage in and with educational research and unequivocally celebrate the diversity of approaches. These guidelines are designed to enable researchers to conduct their work to the highest ethical standards in any and all contexts. In turn, this will require researchers to take reflexive and situated approaches, mindful of the linguistic, political and cultural aspects of their particular research settings.

Since publication of the first edition of the guidelines in 1992, BERA has continued to review them to ensure their relevance to the needs of educational researchers navigating a complex and rapidly changing world. In developing this fifth edition we have reflected on issues of inclusion, and these updated guidelines acknowledge the Equality Act 2010 and the impact of structural inequalities throughout research, putting particular responsibility on researchers to guard against inadvertently compounding marginalisation. The review and associated updates recognise that all topics and groups have a right to be considered researchable, but also emphasise that duty of care to one another is a responsibility for all researchers, especially towards the next generation of researchers. These guidelines emphasise researchers’ responsibilities not only to protect participants but also to promote their rights to participation, particularly marginalised and vulnerable groups, so maximising inclusivity; for example, assent as well as consent is now included. Crucially, and following BERA’s wider work in this area, the updated guidelines acknowledge the role research can play in promoting environmental sustainability. I recommend reading the historical note at the end of this edition for more information on the process involved in conducting the review.

Our aim was to produce guidelines that are clear and helpful to anyone undertaking educational research, including those new to the field. We have also provided footnotes with links to current developments in the use of artificial intelligence and social media as well as developments in the support of educational researchers. We expect researchers to consult more specialist literature relevant to the tradition of research or specific methods as needed, so as to ensure that their research is undertaken in a way that is both valid and ethically appropriate. BERA will continue to promote the highest quality educational research through our special interest groups and programme of activities. I hope you will find these a helpful supplement to this latest edition of the Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research.

With best wishes,

Vivienne Baumfield

President, BERA

April 2024

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The intended audience for these guidelines is anyone undertaking educational research – whether their job description includes research, or they conduct research within the field (for example, while studying for a qualification or with the intention of improving practice). This includes both independent researchers and practitioners based in educational institutions of any kind.

The Association expects its members to conduct themselves in a way that reflects its vision, aims and ethical values (as stipulated in the British Educational Research Association [BERA] code of conduct1). For this reason, BERA recommends that members use these guidelines (and/or other ethical guidelines, where relevant or required), and expects that they will adhere to their spirit and underlying principles (described later) and apply them with integrity in their research activities so that their actions can be seen to be ethical, justifiable and sound. The Association hopes that these guidelines will attract widespread consideration and use by those engaged in carrying out, sponsoring or using educational research who are not BERA members.

For a lot of educational research activity, the application of these guidelines will be straightforward, but in some cases dilemmas may arise. We recognise that since few ethical dilemmas have obvious or singular solutions, researchers will take different approaches to resolving them. Certain dilemmas are flagged up within these guidelines, but others that cannot be covered here will also arise. Guidelines that state what action ‘should’ be taken may not be appropriate to all circumstances; in particular, different cultural contexts are likely to require situated judgments. Furthermore, some kinds of research may require ethical clearance from other bodies, for example, the National Health Service (NHS), which commit researchers to acting in accordance with their guidelines. In sum, and for each research project, researchers will need to devise specific ethical courses of action which may incorporate elements from more than one set of guidelines – those of both the NHS and BERA, for example. To do this, they may draw on ethical approaches that reflect a range of philosophical orientations (virtue ethics, or deontological ethics, for example). It is adherence to the spirit of the guidelines that we consider most important to protect all who are involved in or affected by a piece of research. In addition to these guidelines, support and links to related resources are provided.2

We recommend that at all stages of a project – from planning through conduct to reporting – educational researchers undertake wide consultation to identify relevant ethical issues, including listening to those in the research context/site(s), stakeholders and any sponsors. This means that ethical decision-making becomes an actively deliberative, ongoing and iterative process of assessing and reassessing the situation and issues as they arise. Good researchers are reflexive and consider both general issues and the specifics of each research situation.

BERA recommends that researchers bring these guidelines to the attention of those they work with – including participants, stakeholders, sponsors and commissioners of research, educational institutions and other organisations – and encourage and support those contacts to engage with them. BERA hopes that these guidelines will be helpful to students enrolled on education and research degrees, and recommends that local ethical review procedures make use of them in support of their own work.

The guidelines are intended to promote active and concrete responses following from a deliberation of the issues. Researchers should – in their research proposals, reports, funding applications, work with educational institutions and so on – explicitly indicate how they are adhering to those points included in these guidelines that are salient to their work.

It is recognised that educational researchers whose work is conducted under the auspices of an educational institution will be required to seek ethical review and clearance from that institution. These guidelines are, therefore, intended to inform and support researchers as they develop their ethical thinking and practice. BERA recommends that checks and balances are in place through the use of critical friends for ethical appraisal of all educational research studies.

Aspirations of educational researchers

Educational researchers aim to extend knowledge and understanding in all areas of educational activity and from a wide range of perspectives, including those of learners, educators, policymakers and the public. The Association recognises that the community of educational researchers is multidisciplinary and diverse in its application of research approaches and philosophical positions. Concepts such as ‘data’, ‘reliability’, ‘validity’, ‘credibility’, ‘trustworthiness’, ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’ may therefore be understood and legitimately applied in different ways. Ethical review processes thus need to be conducted in an open-minded and inclusive manner.

These guidelines do not pre-empt, judge or constrain, directly or indirectly, anyone’s choice of research approach.

The Association believes that all educational research should be conducted within an ethic of respect for: people; knowledge; the quality of educational research; the environment; and academic freedom. We believe there should be an ethic of care for all involved in educational research by and for researchers. Trust is a further essential element within the relationship between researcher and researched, as is the expectation that researchers will accept responsibility for their actions. These are the collective principles that we ask members and those using the guidelines to commit to and engage with when making decisions in their research.

Applying an ethic of respect may reveal tensions or challenges. For example, there will usually be a need to make decisions about how best to balance research aspirations, societal concerns, institutional expectations and individual rights. It is recommended that researchers undertake an analysis, beginning at the earliest stage of research planning, to consider how these various tensions or challenges might best be addressed in the research design and throughout the entire research process.

In guiding researchers on their conduct within this framework, the Association sets out its guidelines under the following five headings.

  • Responsibilities to participants
  • Responsibilities to sponsors, clients, stakeholders and the environment
  • Responsibilities to the community of educational researchers
  • Responsibilities for publication and dissemination
  • Responsibilities for researchers’ wellbeing and development.

Finally, since the guidelines were first published in 1992, there has been an explosion in writing about ethics in educational research. This publication should be seen as providing a set of guidelines intended to cover the broad field of educational research. Rather than produce much longer guidelines with numerous references to the specialist literature, we aimed to produce guidelines that are clear and helpful to anyone undertaking educational research, including those new to the field. Depending on the tradition of research (for example, ethnography, digital research) and specific methods being employed (for example, interviews, multimodal data analysis), researchers have a responsibility to consult more specialist literature as needed, so as to ensure that their research is undertaken in a way that is both valid and ethically appropriate.

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Responsibilities to participants

  1. BERA believes that educational researchers should operate within an ethic of respect for all persons – including themselves – involved in or affected by the research they are undertaking. Individuals should be treated fairly, sensitively, and with dignity and freedom from prejudice, in recognition of both their rights and their differences arising from age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, nationality, cultural identity, partnership status, faith, disability, political belief or any other significant characteristic.


  2. The Association reminds researchers of the protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010 – age, gender reassignment, being married or in a civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, disability, race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Beyond this, the Association expects researchers to be mindful of the ways in which structural inequalities – including those listed above but also socio-economic status, parental status and neurodiversity – affect all social relationships, including those that are formed in the course of research. Where relevant, attention should be paid to the ways in which such inequalities specifically affect vulnerable individuals and their relationships. Sensitivity and attentiveness towards such structural issues are important aspects of researchers’ responsibilities to participants at all stages of research, including reporting and publication.


  3. Participants in research may be actively or passively involved in such processes as observation, experiment, auto/biographical reflection, survey or test. They may be collaborators or colleagues in the research process, or they may simply be implicated in the context in which a research project takes place. (For example, in a teacher’s or lecturer’s research into their own professional practice, students and/or colleagues will be part of the context but will not themselves be the focus of that research.) It is important for researchers to take account of the rights and interests of those indirectly affected by their research, and to consider whether action is appropriate – for example, they should consider whether it is appropriate to provide information or obtain informed consent. In rare cases – such as some politically volatile settings, or where researchers are investigating illegal activity – covert research can be defensible.


  4. Digital/online research, as well as the use of artificial intelligence, is a rapidly developing area, therefore conventions as to what constitutes good ethical practice are not as well established as in most other areas of educational research.3 Nevertheless, the fundamental principles apply. Where research draws on social media and online communities, it is important to remember that digital information is typically generated by individuals. Researchers should not assume that the names given and/or identities presented by participants in online forums or other sites are ‘real’, but should consider whether and how these potential participants might be traceable and indeed whether it can be proven that they exist at all.


  5. Where an organisation shares its data with researchers, those researchers have a responsibility to account for how and with what consent these data were gathered; they must also consider the authorship of the data and who owns them and, consequently, whether it is necessary to approach the relevant individuals for consent concerning their use. Researchers should keep up to date with changes in data use regulations and advice, which are often specific to particular jurisdictions.


  6. Researchers have a responsibility to determine the most relevant and useful ways of informing participants about the outcomes of research in which they are or were involved. Researchers should consider whether and how to engage with participants at the conclusion of the research, for example, by debriefing them in an audience-friendly format or by eliciting feedback on the findings. Should conflicting interpretations arise, researchers should normally ensure when reporting the research that participants’ views are presented. Researchers may wish to offer participants copies of any publications arising from projects in which they have participated, and/or to produce reports or summaries specially tailored for the research context, taking into consideration potential subsequent uses of this material, including by the participants’ institutions. A project website can be a way of reaching and engaging with participants and others.

    Researchers also have a responsibility to put in place ways of maximising the benefits and minimising the likelihood of any potential harms to participants, sponsors, the community of educational researchers and educational professionals and the environment more widely. At times, some benefits to certain parties may be compromised in order to achieve other goals, but these compromises should be justifiable and, where possible, explicitly accounted for. Particular care may be needed when the researcher is also an ‘insider’.


  7. Researchers should not undertake work for which they are not competent.



  8. It is normally expected that participants’ voluntary informed consent to be involved in a study will be obtained at the start of the study, and that researchers will remain sensitive and open to the possibility that participants may wish, for any reason and at any time, to withdraw their consent. The Association takes voluntary informed and ongoing consent to be the condition by which participants understand and agree to their participation, and the terms and practicalities of it, without any duress. It should be made clear to participants that they can withdraw at any point without needing to provide an explanation – this is detailed in paragraphs 31 and 32 below. Researchers should be alert to non-verbal signs that individuals who previously consented to participate may no longer wish to. In such circumstances, renewed consent should be sought.


  9. Researchers should do what they can to ensure that all potential participants understand, as well as they are able, what is involved in a study. They should be told why their participation is desired, what, if anything, they will be asked to do, what will happen to the data they provide and how and to whom the data will be reported. They also should be informed about the retention, sharing and any possible secondary uses of the data. Where appropriate, researchers who are BERA members may include a declaration of membership in information sheets and consent forms, to make explicit the fact that members are expected to follow BERA guidance as part of the Association’s code of conduct (which contains a complaints procedure that may be helpful).4


  10. Participants may be willing to take part in research even though they are unable to be fully informed about the implications of their participation – perhaps due to their unfamiliarity with research, a lack of ability to understand, or their circumstances. In these situations, researchers and participants should negotiate consent within relationships of mutual trust, the credibility of which largely depends upon the integrity and trustworthiness of the researcher.


  11. The institutions and settings within which the research is set also have an interest in the research, and ought to be considered in the process of gaining consent. Researchers should think about whether they should approach gatekeepers before directly approaching participants, and whether they should adopt an institution’s own ethical approval and safeguarding procedures; this is usually a requirement. (Furthermore, in some circumstances researchers may have a statutory duty to disclose confidential information to relevant authorities; see paragraph 48.) Particularly when researching in more than one language or culture, researchers should consider the effects of translation and/or interpretation on participants’ understandings of what is involved.


  12. In many cases the producers of publicly accessible data may not have considered the fact that they might be used for research purposes, and it should not be assumed that such data are available for researchers to use without consent. Researchers should be attuned to differences between, for example, policy documents, governing body minutes and charitable trust reports that are written with the expectation that they are available for public use or accountability, and data that may appear to be in the public domain yet are produced for a range of purposes (for example, in social media, online discussion forums, face-to-face presentations or meetings). Seeking consent would not normally be expected for data that have been produced expressly for public use. There are a range of views, however, as to whether those in online communities perceive their data to be public or private, even when intellectual property rights are waived. Therefore, consent is an issue to be addressed with regard to each and any online data source, with consideration given to the presumed intent of the creators of online content, the extent to which such content identifies individuals or institutions, and the sensitivity of the data. 


  13. Consideration should be given to whether and how best to approach online communities (for example, through members, gatekeepers or moderators), or those involved in face-to-face public events and spaces, in order to inform them about the intended research.


  14. When working with secondary or documentary data, the sensitivity of the data, who created them, the intended audience of their creators, their original purpose and intended uses in the research are all important considerations. If secondary data concerning participants are to be reused, ownership of the datasets should, if possible, be determined, and the owners consulted to ascertain whether they can give consent on behalf of the participants. Sometimes it may be deemed appropriate to accept consent from hosts of the data, such as a depository on behalf of contributors.


  15. It is accepted that gaining consent from all concerned in certain spaces (face-to-face or virtual, past or present) is not always feasible; in such circumstances, attempts to make contact should be documented.


  16. In circumstances in which some members of a group (such as students in a class or their parents/guardians) have not given consent to participate, for example in class observation, researchers should decide whether this was an active refusal of consent, in which case they would need to respect this and find a practical solution. For those whom it is not possible to contact to obtain consent, a decision should be taken as to how it might be appropriate to proceed, in conjunction with gatekeepers or other stakeholders.


  17. In ethnographic and observational studies, the level of analysis in group-focused research should be taken into account where some members of the group refuse consent. If the research aims to understand the roles of individuals within the group, then these non-consenting members must not be included in the research. However, it may still be feasible and ethically permissible to record consenting individuals’ interactions with anonymised non-consenting individuals.


  18. Specific issues also arise with respect to consent within large-scale research across multiple settings. Institutional leaders may agree to take part, acting as gatekeepers on behalf of members (such as teachers and students in schools). In order to ensure that all participants are as fully informed as possible about the benefits and potential costs of the study, researchers should offer both information and support. This may result in participants exercising their right to opt out within the parameters of the intervention. Where stratified random sampling is used, it may be appropriate to select additional participants so that where institutions or individuals withdraw, they can be replaced.


  19. An important consideration is the extent to which a researcher’s reflective research into their own practice impinges upon others – for example, in the case of power relationships arising from the dual roles of teacher/lecturer/manager and researcher, and their impact on students and colleagues. Dual roles may also introduce explicit tensions in areas such as confidentiality. These may be addressed appropriately by, for example, making the researcher role very explicit, involving an independent third party in the research process and seeking agreement for politically controversial research. Researchers who are researching their own practice should also consider how to address any issues arising as a result of collecting data for different purposes – for example, using data collected for evaluation purposes for research purposes, or vice versa.


  20. In some cases, potential participants may not be in a social position vis-à-vis the researcher that enables them to give voluntary informed consent. This can occur, for example, when the researcher and potential participant are family members, or if the researcher is the participant’s teacher/lecturer. Researchers need to consider carefully how to deal with such situations and, if possible, should reassure potential participants that non-participation is entirely acceptable.


  21. Researchers using auto/biographical approaches and autoethnography need to consider how their work implicates other people, and what the consequences may be for individuals who, although not directly involved in a study, may be identifiable through their relationship with the researcher or other participants; consent may need to be sought from these individuals in some cases.


  22. BERA expects UK researchers to apply the same ethical principles to research they undertake outside of and within the UK. The application of these principles in different social, cultural and political contexts may require careful negotiation, adaptation and sensitivity, and there is ultimately no substitute for the integrity and ethical code of the individual researcher. In some countries it is advisable to work with a local person as a co-researcher/co-investigator in order to establish adequate levels of trust with prospective local participants. Appropriate permission should be sought from relevant authorities (such as community or religious leaders or local government officials) in cultures that adopt a collective approach to consent. However, in such cultures it should not be assumed that individuals cannot make their own informed decisions about whether or not to take part in the research.


  23. Principles of consent apply to children and young people as well as to adults. This is termed assent for those under the age of legal consent in the setting/culture. However, children of different ages vary in their capacity to make informed decisions. BERA endorses the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC);5 the best interests of the child are the primary consideration, and children who are capable of forming their own views should be granted the right to express those views freely, and have them taken into consideration, in all matters affecting them, commensurate with their age and maturity. Information sheets and consent forms should be appropriately designed for participants who may differ in such factors as age, reading ability and attention span. Researchers should be aware of issues to do with neurodiversity, as referenced in paragraph 2.


  24. Researchers following the UNCRC will take into account the rights and duties of those who have legal responsibility for children, such as those who act in guardianship (for example, parents) or as ‘responsible others’ (that is, those who have responsibility for the welfare and wellbeing of the participants, such as social workers). This may involve gaining the consent of those responsible for children, such as parents, guardians or others in loco parentis. 


  25. In the case of potential participants whose capacity, age or circumstances may limit the extent to which they can be expected to agree voluntarily to participate, researchers should fully explore ways in which they can be supported to participate with assent in the research. Care should be taken to ensure that documentation and oral information is as intelligible as possible. In such circumstances, researchers should also seek the collaboration and approval of those responsible for such participants.


  26. Generally, opt-in procedures for gaining consent are preferred. However, opt-out procedures are acceptable in some circumstances. Researchers have a responsibility to consult local legislation and consider local practice if opt-out procedures are envisaged.


  27. Researchers should aim to be open and honest with participants and other stakeholders, avoiding non-disclosure unless their research design specifically requires it in order to ensure that the appropriate data are collected, or so that the researcher or participants are not put at risk. Decisions to use non-disclosure in research should be the subject of full, principled deliberation and subsequent disclosure in reporting.


  28. Principles of consent also apply to possible reuse of data. There are two relevant categories of such reuse: secondary data analysis by the same research team to address new research questions; or the sharing of the dataset for use by other researchers. In both cases, if data may be reused, this should be made clear when gaining initial consent. It is recommended that only anonymised data should be archived for sharing with other researchers.


  29. Where research has been sponsored or commissioned, this should be made explicit to potential participants and other stakeholders, and in reports of the research and other publications, in the interests of both transparency and acknowledgement.


  30. Researchers should not undertake work in which they can be perceived to have a material conflict of interest, or in which self-interest or commercial gain might compromise the validity of the research. Any potential conflicts of interest should be declared to relevant parties at various stages of the research, including in any publications.

    Right to withdraw

  31. Researchers should recognise the right of all participants to withdraw from the research for any or no reason, and participants should be informed of this right and how to exercise it. In most cases the appropriate course of action will simply be for the researchers to accept a participant’s decision to withdraw, but there are circumstances in which researchers can appropriately discuss with the participant whether a course of action might be taken that would enable the participant to re-engage. Any decision to attempt to persuade a participant to re-engage should be taken with care, and coercion, duress of any form or additional incentives (see paragraph 33) must not be used. However, in cases in which participants are required by a contractual obligation to participate (for example, when mandated as part of their employment to facilitate an evaluation study), researchers may have proper recourse to a third party (the employing authority in this example) to request compliance.


  32. In online research contexts, if authors of postings or other material withdraw or delete data before the end of data collection, then these data should not be used in research. However, since it will not be possible for researchers to identify such withdrawals after the end of data collection, a note could be included in publications that the data were ‘as made available at the [stated] date of harvesting’.


  33. Researchers’ use of incentives to encourage participation should be commensurate with good sense, such that the level of incentive does not impinge on the free decision to participate. The use of incentives should be acknowledged in any reporting of the research.

    Harm arising from participation in research

  34. Ethical research design and implementation aim to put participants at their ease and to avoid making excessive demands on them. In advance of data collection, researchers have a responsibility to think through their duty of care in order to recognise potential harms, and to prepare for and be in a position to minimise and manage any distress or discomfort that may arise. Researchers should immediately reconsider any actions occurring during the research process that appear to cause emotional or other harm. The more vulnerable the participants, for whatever reasons, the greater the responsibilities of the researcher for their protection.


  35. Researchers should make known to the participants (or their guardians or responsible others) any predictable disadvantage or harm potentially arising from the process or reporting of the research. Any unexpected harm to participants that arises during the research should be brought immediately to their attention, or to the attention of their guardians or responsible others as appropriate. Researchers should take steps to minimise the effects of research designs that advantage or are perceived to advantage one group of participants over others. For example, in an experimental design (including a randomised controlled study), the intervention made available to one group, while being unavailable to the control or comparison group, may be viewed as desirable. In mitigation, for example, an intervention found to be effective can typically be offered to control groups after the end of a trial.


  36. The rights of individuals should be borne in mind along with any potential social benefits of the research, and the researcher’s right to conduct research in the service of public understanding. The researcher’s obligations to the wider research community and to the public good may, in some circumstances, outweigh the researcher’s obligations to act in accordance with the wishes of those in positions of economic, legal or political authority over the participants (such as employers, headteachers or government officials).


  37. Researchers should recognise concerns relating to the time and effort that participation in some research can require – the long-term involvement of participants in some ethnographic studies, for example, and the repeated involvement of particular participants in survey research or in testing for research or evaluation purposes. Researchers should consider the impact of their research on the lives and workloads of participants, particularly when researching vulnerable or over-researched populations. Equally, researchers should do what they can to ensure that relevant individuals and communities are not, intentionally or otherwise, excluded from participation in their research.


  38. During the research process (especially in longitudinal or ethnographic studies), if unforeseen consequences arise – in terms of human relationships or life experiences, for example – it may be appropriate to go back to the participants, gatekeepers or sponsors to renegotiate consent.

    Privacy and data storage

  39. Appropriate treatment of participants’ data is required for the conduct of ethical research. Researchers should recognise the entitlement of both institutions and individual participants to privacy. This could involve anonymisation, pseudonymisation or employing ‘fictionalising’ approaches when reporting; when using such approaches researchers should fully explain how and why they have done so. However, in some circumstances individual participants, or their guardians or responsible others, may willingly waive their right to confidentiality and anonymity. Researchers should recognise the right of participants to be identified as the originator of their own work if they so wish.


  40. Anonymity may not always be possible. For example, if conducting fieldwork within a small, close-knit community, it may be impossible to prevent some members of that community becoming aware – either through observation or because participants discuss it with them – of some details about the research that is being conducted. Similarly, when researching a very well-known institution, it may be possible for some readers to infer the identity of that institution even from an account that attempts to anonymise it. Approaches to this issue differ according to the type of research being undertaken; for instance, the maintenance of confidentiality and anonymity is not considered the norm for research using historical or archival data, nor is it generally achievable for autoethnographic work published under the researcher’s name.


  41. Anonymity may also need to be reconsidered in the context of some visual methodologies. For instance, the study of facial expressions and gestures and the increasing prevalence of video and multimodal data raise questions about whether concealing identities is always feasible or appropriate. Researchers need to discern an ethical course of action here – one that secures clear agreement about anonymity and about subsequent use of the data. Researchers need to be aware that visual material, in particular, can be misused by others, and should take steps to prevent this as far as possible.


  42. Sponsors may require researchers to make anonymised (potentially, even non-anonymised) data available, for the purposes of linking with other datasets. It is important that in seeking consent from participants, researchers are explicit about what kinds of data (if any) may be shared with others and whether or not these data are anonymised.


  43. In cases where participants are anonymised, researchers should be aware of the possible consequences to participants should it prove possible for them to be identified by association or inference. Researchers should take especial care to minimise the chances of identification if this might lead to participants being harmed in any way.


  44. Researchers need to be aware that participants’ understandings of their level of privacy in a particular place, especially in online spaces, may be inaccurate. Ambiguity about privacy within some online communities in which sensitive or illegal topics are being discussed, or material shared, raises further ethical concerns. Relatedly, researchers should consider the question of what online content, and in what circumstances, they could be obligated to report to relevant authorities and/or online service providers, bearing in mind any agreements entered into regarding confidentiality and anonymity (see paragraphs 48 and 49, on disclosure). Researchers gathering data in such contexts should inform potential participants about such possibilities.


  45. Researchers must comply with the legal requirements in relation to the storage and use of personal data as stipulated in the UK by the Data Protection Act 2018 and any subsequent related legislation or regulations, such as the legislative amendments to accommodate the post-Brexit changes to UK data privacy law. Researchers must have participants’ explicit permission to gather, store and disclose their personal information to third parties, and are required to ensure that such parties are permitted to have access to that information. They are also required to confirm the identity of such persons to their own satisfaction and must keep a record of any disclosures. Both the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and UK Data Protection Act define personal data as ‘any information relating to an identified or identifiable person’, and require that sensitive personal data are given additional protection. Record-keeping and reporting of breaches are mandatory and compliance must be proven.


  46. Researchers should ensure that data are kept securely, and that the form of any publication or dissemination (for example, at a conference) does not directly or indirectly lead to a breach of agreed confidentiality. Accepted practices for keeping data secure change over time but currently include: the use of secure computer networks; ensuring that hard copy data are stored under lock and key on secure premises; digitising resources and destroying the originals; the use of password protection and/or data encryption for electronic data; using courier or secure electronic transfer when moving data; and ensuring that any third-party users of the data agree to an appropriate data-sharing agreement. Researchers should be aware that some online services, such as automated transcription, may compromise confidentiality.


  47. In an international context, researchers should be aware that it may not be possible to protect data stored within some jurisdictions from scrutiny.


  48. There are circumstances in which confidentiality may need to be broken, and information sheets and consent forms should state this. Researchers who judge that adherence to agreements they have made with participants about confidentiality is likely to result in illegal or harmful actions should carefully consider making disclosure to the appropriate authorities. In some cases, such as revelations of abuse or proposed acts of terrorism, researchers may be under statutory duty to disclose confidential information to relevant authorities. Researchers should seek advice from a relevant responsible person before proceeding to disclosure if and when appropriate (for example, a student undertaking research should seek advice from their supervisor[s]). Insofar as it does not undermine or obviate the disclosure, or jeopardise researcher safety, researchers should inform the participants, or their guardians or responsible others, of their intentions and reasons for disclosure.


  49. At all times, the decision to override agreements on confidentiality should be taken after careful and thorough deliberation. In such circumstances, it is in the researcher’s interests to make contemporaneous factual and dated notes on decisions and the reasoning behind them.

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    Responsibilities to sponsors, clients, stakeholders and the environment 

  50. A stakeholder of research is considered to be any person or body who has a direct interest in its framing and success. A sponsor of research is considered to be a stakeholder that funds or commissions research (such as a research charity or philanthropic foundation, a national research council or other government body, or a commercial or nongovernmental organisation), or that facilitates it by allowing and enabling access to resources needed to carry out the research, such as data and participants (for example, an examinations body).


  51. Written contracts are considered the norm for funded or commissioned research. Such agreements should, wherever possible and especially in the case of publicly funded research, take into account the rights of the public within a democracy to have open access to the results of research. They should minimally cover: the purpose of the research; the research methods to be used; any conditions of access to data or participants; ownership of data; the researcher’s right to publish; requirements for reporting and dissemination (including the need for transparency); and deadlines for completion of the work; and accounting for the use of funds. In recognition of the dynamics of research, agreements should also include provision for negotiating changes sought by either the researchers or the sponsors.


  52. It is in researchers’ interests that respective responsibilities and entitlements should be agreed with sponsors at the outset. Where the sponsor acts essentially as a host or facilitator for research, researchers should, at the very least out of courtesy, inform them of the work they propose to undertake. For example, a group of teachers engaging in a process of action research as part of curriculum renewal should inform the school management of their intentions.


  53. In negotiating sponsorship for their research, researchers should provide honest and complete details of their competence and capacity to undertake the work that is proposed. Researchers are encouraged to think carefully about how they position themselves and their research design, analysis and interpretation in relation to the interests of their sponsors and other stakeholders. Any conflicts of interest or compromises to the integrity of the research must be made clear and open to scrutiny. 


  54. Researchers should consider the implications of their research for the global community and the environment more generally, bearing in mind the interests of non-humans and broader issues to do with sustainability, climate change and biodiversity. This includes such specifics as the amount and type of travel, the nature of the food at meetings and dissemination events, and more fundamental questions about the actual research, for example, and the purposes for which it is undertaken.


  55. Researchers should acknowledge sponsors of and participants in their studies in any publications or dissemination activities.


  56. These guidelines should not be interpreted as privileging particular research methods over others: the Association respects the diverse range of possible methods. Researchers who prefer or promote specific methods, theories or philosophies of research should have knowledge of alternative approaches sufficient to assure sponsors that they have considered these, and that the needs of the research are being properly addressed. Sponsors should be offered a full, honest and accessible justification for the final choice of methods.


  57. Researchers should, within the context and boundaries of their chosen methods, theories and philosophies of research, communicate the extent to which their data collection and analysis techniques, and the inferences to be drawn from their findings, are robust and can be seen to meet the criteria and markers of quality and integrity applied within different research approaches.

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    Responsibilities to the community of educational researchers

  58. The ‘community of educational researchers’ is considered to mean all those engaged in educational research – including, for example, students following research-based programmes of study, independent researchers and practitioners who undertake research, as well as staff who conduct educational research in their employment within organisations such as universities, schools, local and national government, charities and commercial bodies. Established educational researchers, and the community as a whole, have a responsibility to support the next generation of educational researchers, including independent and practitioner researchers. The Association is supportive of the Researcher Development Concordat6 in this respect.


  59. All educational researchers should aim to protect the integrity and reputation of educational research by ensuring that they conduct their research to the highest standards. Researchers should contribute to the community spirit of critical analysis and constructive criticism that generates improvement in practice and enhancement of knowledge.


  60. Institutions, such as universities, that undertake educational research have responsibilities in establishing and sustaining research collaborations with other such institutions. The 2013 Montreal Statement on Research Integrity in Cross-Boundary Research Collaborations7 identifies 20 responsibilities of individual and institutional partners in joint research. It begins from the premise that such collaborations present special challenges for the responsible conduct of research, because they may involve substantial differences in regulatory and legal systems, organisational and funding structures, research cultures and approaches to training. It maintains that collaborating partners should take collective responsibility for the trustworthiness of the overall collaborative research and individual responsibility for the trustworthiness of their own contributions. In any inter-institutional research collaboration, it is important for individuals and institutions to avoid a presumption that certain institutions, by virtue of their history or other considerations, are necessarily more likely to know what good research, including ethical research, entails.


  61. Educational researchers should not criticise their peers in a defamatory or unprofessional manner, in any medium.


  62. It is recommended that researchers, in communications about research projects, identify an appropriate contact whom participants or other research stakeholders can contact if they wish to raise questions or concerns, including those to do with making a complaint.


  63. Where researchers, participants or other stakeholders become aware of examples of malpractice or potential malpractice by a researcher, they are advised to contact the appropriate individual, organisation or authority and raise their concern, following an established complaints procedure. If there is no established complaints procedure, the complainant should respect the researcher’s right to respond and, with due consideration of the important principle of the public’s right to know, they should avoid bringing the researcher or broader community into disrepute through public accusations or allegations. This is relevant, for example, in the case of potential social media trolling as it relates to commenting on research. The Association has developed its own social media guidelines for reference.8


  64. In any instance in which a stakeholder or member of the public raises a concern or makes a complaint, researchers have a duty to respond with appropriate action.


  65. Plagiarism is the unattributed use of text and/or other material. There are now many guidelines about plagiarism. They generally stipulate that all sources should be disclosed by an author, and if large amounts of other people’s (or the author’s own) written or illustrative material are to be used, acknowledgement must be made and, particularly in the case of other people’s material, permission obtained. In clear cases of plagiarism, the author should be contacted in writing, ideally enclosing documentary evidence. If no response is received, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) advice is initially to ‘contact author’s institution requesting your concern is passed to the author’s superior and/or person responsible for research governance’.9


  66. Attribution should include explicitly recognising authors of any type of content, in all cases in which an author (or creator) can be identified. As well as text, this includes images, diagrams, presentations and multimedia content. Researchers need to be aware that a great deal of content is subject to copyright, and cannot be freely reused or modified unless it is explicitly licensed as such – for example, by means of one of the ‘Creative Commons’ (CC) licences.10 Authors retain copyright of CC-licensed material (which may be published hard copy or digitally), but have chosen to permit reuse, distribution and sometimes adaptation, depending on the licence terms; any copies or modifications have to be made available under the original licence terms and must link to that licence. Researchers have the responsibility of checking the conditions for reuse, and for attributing the author(s) in all cases. Researchers are advised to regularly check the latest guidance from COPE as digital technology develops.11


  67. Subject to any limitations imposed by agreements to protect confidentiality, researchers should endeavour to make their data and methods amenable to reasonable external scrutiny. Ideally, researchers will make shareable anonymised versions of data available for secondary analysis. They should be fully aware (and make participants aware) when funding bodies require this.


  68. Assessment of the quality of the evidence supporting any inferences is an especially important feature of any research, and should be open to scrutiny. Where sponsors initiate a request for scrutiny, and disclosure of aspects of the data may be injurious to participants or not previously agreed by them, researchers should with sponsors consider appointing a mutually acceptable third party to undertake such a scrutiny, who would also be bound by any existing non-disclosure agreements.


  69. All results of interventions and evaluations, including those that are negative, should be reported. Evaluations should preferably be registered beforehand with an official body that maintains a platform for this purpose (indeed, many sponsors require this). A condition of such registration is that researchers report the results of their research – whatever they are – in full at the specified end-date of a project. This should therefore allay any concerns that negative results will be withheld.

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    Responsibilities for publication and dissemination

  70. Educational researchers should communicate their findings, and the practical significance of their research, in a clear, straightforward fashion, and in language judged appropriate to the intended audience(s). Researchers have a responsibility to make the results of their research available for the benefit of educational professionals, policymakers and the wider public, subject only to the provisos indicated in subsequent paragraphs. They should not accept contractual terms that obstruct their exercise of this responsibility.


  71. Where research is conducted in a setting in which English is not the prevalent (or only) language, researchers should make the fruits of their research available in languages that make it locally accessible.


  72. To assist researchers in making the results of their research accessible, consideration should be given to providing open access, as is increasingly required by sponsors and some other bodies. Mindful of the potential impact of research findings outside of academia or specific educational institutions and organisations, researchers should think carefully about the implications of publishing in outlets that restrict public access to their findings.


  73. Researchers acting as consultants should be particularly aware of potential constraints upon publishing findings from projects which their institutions, sponsors, partners or publishers may consider to be commercially sensitive, and whose findings may, in whole or in part, need to remain confidential for that reason.


  74. In some circumstances, research findings will be regarded as sensitive information by sponsors, commissioners or other research stakeholders (for example, because they raise politically or culturally controversial issues, or because they may result in negative publicity for an organisation). When researchers become aware that research findings are likely to be sensitive, they should aim to inform stakeholders prior to publication, and negotiate with those stakeholders a fair publication strategy that takes into consideration the public interest in the findings, the researchers’ need to publish and the stakeholders’ concerns. Particular care should be taken to guard against publication or dissemination leading to discrimination against marginalised or otherwise disadvantaged groups or particular individuals, including whistleblowers, or to negative impressions being formed or reinforced about such groups or individuals.


  75. Researchers must not bring research into disrepute by in any way falsifying, distorting, suppressing, selectively reporting or sensationalising their research evidence or findings, either in publications based on that material, or as part of efforts to disseminate or promote that work. When non-trivial errors or other problems are identified in published work, researchers should rectify these as best they can, typically in the form of a published correction. In some cases, a retraction may be needed.


  76. The authorship of publications normally comprises a list of everyone who has made a substantive and identifiable contribution to the research being reported. Examples of this include: contributing generative ideas, conceptual schema or analytic categories; writing first drafts or substantial portions of text; significant rewriting or editing; contributing significantly to relevant literature reviewing; and contributing substantially to data collection and analysis, and to judgments and interpretations made in relation to it. Where research has involved collaboration across different roles or professions – for example, between education researchers who are academics and those who are teachers or other practitioners – then anyone who has made a substantive contribution should be credited as a co-author. Less substantive contributions should be acknowledged.


  77. Academic status or any other indicator of seniority does not determine first authorship. Rather, the order of authorship should reflect relative leadership and contributions made. Alternatively, co-authors may agree to a simple alphabetic listing of their names. Consensual agreement on authorship should be gained as early as possible in the writing process. An increasing number of publishers now require author contribution statements.


  78. Researchers should not use research carried out with co-researchers as the basis of individual outputs without the written agreement of the co-researchers concerned.


  79. Researchers and sponsors have the right to dissociate themselves publicly from accounts of research in which they were involved, but that are authored by others, where they consider the presentation and/or content of those accounts to be misleading or unduly selective. Arbitration may be useful in order to reach agreement before such publication or dissemination.

    Scope and format

  80. For contracted and sponsored research, the contract will normally cover methodologies, reporting processes, and publication and dissemination strategies, including how the researcher’s name will appear and whether the researcher may independently publish the findings. Research outcomes are unpredictable, and discussions to resolve any sensitive issues are both to be expected and advisable prior to publication of findings.


  81. The format(s) in which research is published, and the means by which those publications are disseminated, should take into account the needs and interests of the communities that were involved in the research. Researchers have a responsibility to share their findings with participants and their wider social groups as fully as possible, while maintaining confidentiality.

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    Responsibilities for researchers’ wellbeing and development

  82. Safeguarding the physical and psychological wellbeing of researchers is part of the ethical responsibility of employers and sponsors, as well as of researchers themselves. In general, there should be an ethics of care for researchers, including self-care. Safety can be a particular concern in certain circumstances, for example when fieldwork is undertaken in situations that are potentially risky. Researchers should be aware of the legal responsibilities as well as the moral duty of institutions towards the safety of staff and students. Institutions, sponsors and independent researchers should consider whether an in-depth risk assessment and ongoing monitoring of researcher safety is advisable, especially for those undertaking fieldwork, working in certain jurisdictions and/or investigating sensitive issues; this may be required by employers and sponsors. Principal investigators, other researchers, students undertaking research and their supervisors should ideally be offered training on researcher safety. Specialist training should be made available to researchers entering conflict or post-conflict settings, or areas with high levels of infection or other risks.


  83. Employers and sponsors need to avoid exploiting differences in the conditions of work and roles of other researchers, including student researchers and those on time-limited contracts. Employers are also responsible for supporting researchers’ personal and professional career development. The BERA Charter for Research Staff in Education provides guidance on these issues.12 Researchers employed in higher education institutions in the UK are covered by the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, which stipulates the standards that research staff can expect from the institution, as well as their responsibilities as researchers.13


If you have any feedback or queries about these ethical guidelines, please contact

While BERA cannot provide ethical guidance further to these guidelines, or comment on individual cases, we value feedback, and will endeavour to address any and all points and concerns in subsequent editions of these guidelines.

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Historical note

The provenance of these guidelines can be traced back to a BERA invitational seminar convened by John Elliott and held at Homerton College, Cambridge in March 1988. The seminar led to a report published in Research Intelligence 31 (February 1989), which called for a code of practice to be drawn up. In 1991, BERA Council invited Caroline Gipps and Helen Simons to formulate a set of guidelines, drawing with permission from the Elliott report and the ethical guidelines recently published by the American Educational Research Association. In 1992 the draft BERA guidelines were published in Research Intelligence 43 (Summer 1992) for members’ comment, and later that year they were formally adopted.

As a code of practice the guidelines were universally welcomed; however, they also attracted a degree of criticism in relation to their scope and application. An example of this was the critique presented by Peter Foster at the 1996 BERA conference. Following Peter Foster’s death in 1999, his paper was reproduced in Research Intelligence 67 (February 1999) as a tribute to his work. Michael Bassey, the then academic secretary of BERA, used the paper to promote debate within BERA Council and, at the beginning of her presidency in September 2001, Anne Edwards announced her intention to update the 1992 guidelines.

In spring 2002, a working group comprising John Gardner (chair), Ann Lewis and Richard Pring began the task of revising the guidelines. The revision built on the 1992 statement to recognise the academic tensions that a multidisciplinary community generates when dealing with the complex research issues that characterise education contexts, and to include the field of action research. Over the next 18 months several consultative exercises were carried out, and in spring 2004 the final draft of the Revised Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research14 was formally adopted by Council. These guidelines stood unchanged until concerns began to be raised about aspects of some contemporary research contracts running contrary to the Association’s declared principles and ethical code – for example, those that prevent or inhibit publication.

Therefore, in late 2008 Pamela Munn (president) set up a working group to examine and make recommendations on these issues. The subsequent report, from David Bridges (chair), Sean Hayes, Jeremy Hoad, Saville Kushner, Olwen McNamara, Ian Menter and Nigel Norris, came to Council in November 2009. This report refined and strengthened the Association’s position on the rights of researchers in commissioned research contexts. It recommended a number of further changes and updates, including the need for updated guidelines on culturally sensitive issues. Council accepted the majority of the changes, and asked another small group, comprising Uvanney Maylor, Pat Thompson and David Bridges, to develop the final amendments on cultural sensitivity. The new guidelines were then formally adopted by Council in June 2011.15

In 2015 BERA convened a group to review the 2011 ethical guidelines and suggest what may need updating, particularly with regards to how the guidelines accommodated and facilitated practitioner research, how they integrated technological development, and any other pertinent issues arising since the previous review. The group consisted of Anna Mountford-Zimdars, Rachel Brooks, Alison Fox and David Lundie. This was followed by the establishment of an Ethical Guidelines Review Working Group in 2016, chaired by Sara Hennessy and including Ruth Boyask, Alison Fox, David Lundie, Marilyn Leask and Lesley Saunders, assisted by Jodie Pennacchia. The working group consulted BERA members and a wide range of experts, learned societies and stakeholders,16 and reviewed key publications. Significant revisions were made to the guidelines to incorporate new concerns such as those raised by online and social media research. The consultation process led the review to consider more explicitly the range of contexts for educational research, in particular: research by organisations outside higher education; school-based and practitioner research; studies carried out in international contexts; and online and social media-related research. A more deliberative and less prescriptive approach was also taken to the language of the guidelines. This has been maintained in the latest set of revisions. After independent peer review, the updated draft was then passed to Pat Sikes who worked with Gary McCulloch in preparing an updated version ultimately approved by Council in June 2018.

At the time of publication, it was agreed that after three years, BERA Council would undertake a new review and therefore a review group was established in early 2022, tasked with reviewing the guidelines and making recommendations for any changes to Council. Chaired by Alison Fox, that group consisted of Nicole Brown, Sin Wang Chong, Matthew Courtney, Merris Griffiths, Felicity Hasson, Kerry Heathcote, Iryna Kushnir, Pauline Lyseight-Jones, Una O’Connor Bones and Aimee Quickfall.

As part of their considerations, the review group was asked to identify: recent, relevant ethical guidance; aspects not covered in the current BERA guidance; and general improvement to the structure and content. The group met collectively and then established Padlet walls17 and subgroups on digital research, international and intercultural aspects, and links to practitioners and independent researchers. They also commissioned position papers for their deliberations on: inclusivity for neurodiversity of researchers and participants; inter-university collaborative research; sustainability and environmental responsibility; sensitive issues and vulnerable groups; and ethics of publication.

The outcomes were reported to BERA Council, which decided that this revision would not entail a full-scale rewrite of the guidelines. However, there were some areas clearly identified that warranted inclusion or strengthening. These included: the need for direct reference to the importance of environmental sustainability; an update of the section ‘Responsibilities for publication and dissemination’ to take account of the ethical issues generated by increased open access mandates, particularly around author naming order and inclusive access to publication; the inclusion of references to the ethics of care for researchers, stressing that references to risk assessment and ethics of care do not absolve behaviour; and recognition of assent as well as consent for including children in research. Council also felt there should be increased emphasis on points related to digital research and secondary data collection regarding privacy and data storage, and stronger emphasis on both intercultural and interdisciplinary research.

Given the general consensus on what needed to be changed, Council identified the need for an experienced academic to take on the next stage of drafting the revised guidelines as a collaborative process involving members of BERA’s Leadership Committee. After a competitive process, Michael Reiss was appointed to the role; he produced a draft for consideration by the Leadership Committee alongside a commentary on the nature of, and reason for, the changes recommended.

The final text was approved by Council in late 2023.

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In compiling this version of the guidelines, BERA would like to acknowledge the contribution of the original review group led by Alison Fox and comprising Nicole Brown, Sin Wang Chong, Matthew Courtney, Merris Griffiths, Felicity Hasson, Kerry Heathcote, Iryna Kushnir, Pauline Lyseight-Jones, Una O’Connor Bones and Aimee Quickfall.

We also acknowledge the role of Michael Reiss in producing a draft version of the revised guidelines and members of BERA Council who commented and advised as they were finalised.

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1 British Educational Research Association [BERA]. (2023). BERA handbook: Member code of conduct.

2 BERA publishes case studies that illustrate how researchers have put ethical guidelines and principles into practice within specific projects and contexts.

3 We recommend reference to the Association of Internet Researchers ethical guidance, which is regularly updated, has international applicability and is responsive to technological developments.

4 BERA. (2023). BERA handbook: Member code of conduct.


6 The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.


8 BERA. (2023). BERA handbook: Social media policy – external.

9 COPE Council. COPE Flowcharts and infographics – Plagiarism in a published article – English.

10 See


12 BERA. (2013). The BERA Charter for Research Staff in Education.

13 The Concordat. (2019). The Concordat to support the career development of researchers.

14 Archived at

15 Archived at

16 Among the experts who gave substantial responses to our consultation were representatives from the National Education Union, teaching school alliances, Chartered College of Teaching, Higher Education Funding Council for England, National Foundation for Educational Research, Social Policy Association, Social Research Association, Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education, and the Education Achievement Service for South East Wales.

17 Padlet is an online post-it wall. It allows individuals and groups to post their comments, questions and resources in one place that is accessible to everyone.

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Published in 2024 by the British Educational Research Association


If referring to or quoting from this document in your own writing, our preferred citation is as follows.

British Educational Research Association [BERA]. (2024). Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (5th ed.).

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