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Ethics and Educational Research

Professor Martyn Hammersley, The Open University

Dr Anna Traianou, Goldsmiths, University of London

To cite this reference: Hammersley, M. and Traianou, A. (2012) Ethics and Educational Research, British Educational Research Association on-line resource. Available on-line at [INSERT WEB PAGE ADDRESS HERE] Last accessed _[insert date here]

It is not uncommon, in planning research or in carrying it out, for the question to arise: Is this ethical? Similar questions may be prompted when reading accounts of other people’s research. Here are a few examples of ethical issues that can arise:

  • In designing a project concerned with investigating racist practices within schools, the researcher believes that only by disguising the focus of enquiry will access be granted. Would she be justified in doing this?
  • In the course of a piece of practitioner research concerned with improving the operation of a prison education unit, its manager decides to allocate prisoners randomly to two tutors, whom he trains to teach in contrasting pedagogical styles. Is this legitimate?
  • Studying provision for students with disabilities in further education, a researcher is faced by a young adult with severe learning difficulties who demands to be included in the research project, along with fellow members of the class, even though her parents have already refused on her behalf. What should be the researcher’s response?
  • In writing up a study of three nurseries, the researcher realises that his analysis is likely to be interpreted by parents and the local media as suggesting that one of these nurseries does not meet current inspection standards. Should he proceed to publish the findings?
  • During the course of investigating induction processes in a military training establishment, a researcher witnesses what she feels was severe bullying of a new recruit by two of the staff. She documents what occurred, interviews the people involved, and discusses the incident at length in the research report published two years later. But should she have intervened at the time to try to stop it; or, if this was not possible, should she have abandoned the research and immediately reported or publicised what had happened?

Several distinct ethical principles can be involved in dilemmas of this kind, and it is important to identify them clearly.