Information for UG and PGT applicants for ethical approval to the School of Education Ethics forum

Information for UG and PGT applicants for ethical approval to the School of Education Ethics forum

How decisions are made

We are guided by general principles of ethical research with human subjects, as stated in the University of Glasgow Ethics Committee for Non Clinical Research Involving Human Subjects. In addition, we also take into consideration the codes of conduct and practice of a number of Research Councils and Associations, including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the British Educational Research Association (BERA), the Scottish Educational Research Association  (SERA), and the British Psychological Society (BPS). Full details are available here.

Respect for Human Rights

Human Rights

"Although researchers are committed to the advancement of knowledge, that goal does not, in itself, provide an entitlement to override the rights of others."
Statement 11 of the Ethical Practice for the BSA, March 2002.

Researchers must conduct all research within a climate of respect for human rights, which includes treating all persons affected by the research with dignity and affording special consideration to children and other vulnerable populations.

Children have the right to participate in and directly inform research. It is incumbent upon researchers to ensure that all children and adults affected by research have an opportunity to exercise the moral and legal rights bestowed upon them. Within this context, researchers must balance their pursuit of knowledge and understanding with their requirement to respect individual human rights.

The European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Act, in particular, offer guidance on what respecting the human rights of children and adults entails.

Working with Children

The University Ethics Committee Guidelines on the involvement of children in research (section 8) states:

"8.1 Where children are involved in research, extreme care should be taken over ethical procedures and explicit authorisation for participation of children should always be obtained from the School of Education Ethics Committee.

8.2 The Head of School and the designated Ethics Officer must ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms to bring to the attention of any staff or students for whom the School of Education is responsible and whose work involves research with children that they must check and comply with any legal requirements, such as vetting procedures, before they proceed with such work The responsibility for checking and complying with such legal requirements remains that of the researcher and this point must be specifically considered in all research involving children."

The word 'child', defined in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, refers to any person under 18 years of age and encompasses the term 'young people' for sake of brevity.

Working with Potentially Vulnerable Adults

You must satisfy yourself that there is a need to involve potentially vulnerable adults, for example those with severe learning disabilities, and be able to justify this to the Committee. You should ensure that you have familiarised yourself with the relevant legal position, where it is intended to conduct research with adults who may not be able to give a legally valid consent to take part in research.

Where the proposed research subject is in a dependent relationship to the researcher (for example, where the research subject is a student), the researcher must make it clear that a decision to take part or not in the project will in no way affect the individual's relationship with the researcher and the researcher must ensure that this is the case.

Recruiting Participants

The doctrine of valid consent operates here. That is, participants should enter into the research freely and willingly and know and understand what they are agreeing to when they take part. They should be told they have the right to withdraw from the research at any time. Wherever possible, anonymity and confidentiality should be maintained. If the experimental design necessitates some deliberate deception then participants should be told the purpose of the experiment and why information was withheld or why they were misled after the experiment is finished.

There are a variety of methods for recruiting participants, as follows:

  • Mail out
  • Email
  • Telephone
  • Advertisement
  • Recruitment carried out by third party (eg. employer, doctor)
  • Recruitment carried out by researcher/s
  • Contact details obtained from public documents (eg. phone book)
  • Contact details obtained from private sources (eg. employee list, membership database)
  • Participants from a previous study
  • Snowball (participants suggest other potential participants)
  • Personal Contacts

Electronic Recruiting

On the question of recruiting participants via e-mail and the Web ('electronic recruiting') we have decided that (a) in principle we see no reason to veto this method (b) we anticipate potential problems where the computer network would be overloaded (c) the number of electronic recruiting proposals should be carefully monitored.

Electronic recruiting is acceptable within the following limitations:

  • The GU postmaster must be asked for permission to send e-mails to group addresses. As well as complying with data protection principles this will also provide a means of monitoring the use of email across campus for research of this kind.
  • If students within the College of Social Sciences of the University of Glasgow are involved as participants in your research, approval must be obtained from the Dean of Graduate Studies: Dr Duncan Ross (designated by the Head of College).  If staff or students from more than one college are to be surveyed, permission must be obtained from the Clerk of Senate.
  • Normally permission to survey students should be sought after ethical approval is granted.
  • Any mailing to an identifiable group of people (e.g. to all of the students in a School or a class) should be brief and succinctly explain the nature of the research and the criteria for participation.
  • Clear indication that this is a request for help from a researcher should be given at the beginning and that the reader, if not interested, should ‘hit the delete button’.
  • If the reader of the e-mail is interested in participating then he or she should be asked to contact the researcher directly (not a group reply), or referred to a Web page where the research information is located.
  • Under no circumstances should University Office telephone numbers be given as contacts for student research. Under no circumstances should file attachments to group messages be used.

The researcher should check that they are complying with data protection principles in the use of personal information. 

Data management support for researchers

Guidance on Survey tools is available on the University's IT Services pages:

If children are being asked to participate, both they and their parents/carers should receive their own copy of a plain language statement in appropriate language.  Arrangements should be made to read these aloud to children and to adults, as appropriate, to ensure full understanding of the project.

Issues to Consider when Providing Information to Potential Participants

By far the greatest number of amendments that Ethics Committees ask to be made concern the information that will be given to participants. You must take time over this aspect as it is essential to explain what you are asking people to do and the possible implications so that they can make a proper decision for themselves whether they wish to take part.

You must clearly explain the following matters in terms that an ordinary person, rather than a specialist in your field, can understand:

  • that you are inviting them to take part in a research project
  • who you are - a student/your post in the University and, where relevant, your experience in conducting research of this kind
  • the nature, risks (if any), benefits (if any), duration and purpose of the research project. This must include clear information about what the subject will be asked to do, where the research will be carried out, any risks to the subject's health and safety and the steps that will be taken to minimise those risks
  • that participation in the project is entirely voluntary
  • if the project is funded (and if so, by whom)
  • if the research project is part of a student's coursework
  • what the information gathered is intended to be used for including whether it is intended to publish the results
  • the arrangements concerning confidentiality of and access to information about the research subject
  • how the research subject can obtain further information about the project (such as by the provision of work contact numbers/email for the researcher. Home contact numbers should not be given nor should university office numbers be given where the researcher is a student.)
  • who the research subject can contact if they are concerned about any aspect of how the research was conducted. This would normally be the Convenor of the College of Social Sciences Ethics Committee.

If participation in a research project is likely to be of no direct benefit to the subjects, you should explain this in the plain language statement (PLS).

You should give the research subject a copy of the plain language statement to keep. A set of instructions for preparing a plain language statement is available.

Consent Forms

It would normally be expected that proposed research subjects would be asked to give their agreement in writing on a consent form. Ideally, the plain language statement should be separate from the consent form and the SEF (School Ethics Forum) will wish to receive a copy of both. You should ensure that, before written consent is given, the proposed subject has been given the opportunity of reading the plain language statement and asking questions about the research. For this reason, sufficient time must be provided between the request to take part and the signing of the document. Subjects' signatures do not normally need to be witnessed.

Where the research involves young people under the age of 16, informed consent should be obtained from both the young people themselves and from parents/carers. Both parties must consent to the young person's participation.

Exceptionally, it may be unnecessary or inappropriate to seek written consent although this will need to be clearly justified to the Committee.  For example, in cases where you are handing out questionnaires that do not ask probing questions and it is clear from the front sheet what is going to be asked then we can assume that the act of accepting the questionnaire implies consent by the respondent.  There may be other situations too where the requirement of a signed consent form is inappropriate, perhaps in relation to participant safety in difficult socio-political circumstances.  This should be explained and the Committee will consider this.

Where, for good reason, written consent is not sought, you must still ensure that you give proposed research participants sufficient time to read the information about the research and ask questions.

In most cases however, you will have to supply us with a consent form.

Confidentiality of Information Obtained During Research

You must familiarise yourself and comply with current legal requirements for storage of and access to data about research subjects. You must consider the method of keeping personal data about research subjects and how to anonymise information about them, where appropriate.

A duty of confidentiality exists between researchers and their participants. Confidential information revealed to a researcher can only be disclosed to others if the party has given specific authorisation to do so; or the researcher is under a legal obligation to disclose it.

It is important not to promise or guarantee confidentiality and or/anonymity if this is not possible; for example if the sample is small, or participants may be identified from aspects of the research which cannot be disguised in the presentation of data. If this is the case, participants must be alerted to this possibility in the PLS and consent forms.

In addition, participants should all be made aware that if evidence of wrongdoing or potential harm is uncovered, this information may need to be passed on to relevant bodies.  Sample Plain Language Statements on the School of Education site give some appropriate forms of wording to cover this.

The above information can be found in more detail in the document ‘Procedures for University Colleges in Respect of Non-Clinical Research Involving Human Subjects, Human Material and Data’ available at: (Section 9: Statement on Confidentiality)

What Happens If I Want to Publish the Research?

There are ethical issues involved in respect of publishing research.

You must tell the proposed research subject in advance if you have any intention of publishing the results of the project. You must also explain the extent to which, if at all, any identifying information about the research subject will appear in the publication. If identifying information about the research subject is intended to be published, you must obtain and keep specific written agreement to this from the research subject. Preferably these issues should be addressed in the plain language statement and consent form that are given out before the research starts. This will prevent any disappointment if the individual, when asked later, chooses not to agree and therefore reduces the value of the information that can be published.

In most cases you will not be the only person with an interest in publishing the results. Research is a collaborative activity and, in the case of student work, supervisors may expect to claim some contribution.

Informing Research Subjects of Results of Research

You are encouraged to consider the issue of informing research subjects of the results of the research or where they may be able to get access to this information, although research subjects may not be able to be given their individual results. Taking part in non-clinical research is a voluntary matter requiring good will on the part of the community and it is appropriate for research subjects to be able to receive feedback on research they have been involved in where this is possible.

College of Social Sciences Ethics Committee Meetings

The Committee does not normally interview the researcher or request their attendance when the proposal is considered, although it may invite the researcher to attend if it is believed this would assist the Committee. Researchers may also request the opportunity to address the Committee. Members of the Committee must withdraw from consideration of any submission in which they are researchers or supervisors.


If you are dissatisfied with the decision made by the School of Education Ethics Forum you should in the first instance discuss this with the Convenor of the Committee. If discussion is unable to resolve the issue satisfactorily an appeal from the decision of the School of Education Ethics Committee may be made to the University Ethics Committee. However, it should be noted that the University Ethics Committee will not normally interfere with a School Ethics Forum decision to require revisions to the project, such as to amend a Plain Language Statement or consent form. The University Ethics Committee is concerned with the general principles of natural justice, reasonableness and fairness of the decision made by the School Ethics Forum.

Consideration of the Application by the University Ethics Committee

The University Ethics Committee will provide general advice to the College of Social Sciences Ethics Committee and will refer the matter back to them with that advice for them to make a decision.

How the School of Education Ethics forum decides

All applications, regardless of risk level, are reviewed by two academics. Feedback to the applicant/supervisor is provided on a standard form which allows applicants to respond to requests for amendments or to clarify any issues. Applicants should allow up to four weeks for the process to be completed. 

Reviewers may:

  • authorise the research to proceed without requiring any amendment. Any such authorisation is granted on the basis of the project as stated on the research submission. Any changes must be notified to the ethics forum (see below) and normally approval obtained before proceeding.
  • require clarification or modification of parts of the research submission. Amendments should be considered within a week of resubmission.
  • reject the research proposal in whole or in part.
  • revoke approval of the research if dissatisfied with the conduct of the research or of the researchers.

In exceptional circumstances, the School Ethics Forum may refer students or staff through the University's disciplinary procedures if issues of concern arise from the research.

The role of the Ethics forum and reviewers is not to question research methodology, except where it impinges either on ethical issues or illustrates any irrelevance in questioning. However, it should be noted that:

  • The University of Glasgow Ethics Committee requirements state that given that the researcher is affecting people's time, it is important therefore that for example, interview or questionnaire questions should be restricted to pertinent ones.
  • The Committee also states that the reviewers have to look at the application/project/materials as it would appear to others outwith the University eg, Local Authorities.