School of Education and Social Work


The University of Sussex is committed to promoting and upholding the highest quality academic and ethical standards in all its activities. It has developed research governance and ethics policies and procedures which recognise the importance of addressing ethical matters, while supporting the achievement of its collective research objectives.

Research which involves human or animal participants, presents possible risks to individuals, the environment or society, involves access to personal information/data, or raises other ethical issues is likely to require ethical review.

Anyone within the School conducting or advising on research should familiarise themselves with the University’s ethical review process and guidance available on the Research Governance and Integrity web pages.

It is important that you receive ethical approval before starting any research as without it you will not be covered under the University’s insurance policies.

People and roles

Research projects may be Low Risk or High Risk for purposes of ethics review: guidance on how this is classified can be found on the 'Overview of ethical review processes' web page. Ethical review is managed by:

Questions about the progress of ethics applications made to C-REC through the system should be addressed in the first instance to the C-REC administrator [] who coordinates the reviews, rather than to David or Louise.

Ethics Support and Advice

Tim Parkinson is the Research Ethics, Integrity and Governance Administrator for the Social Sciences and Arts and the University. Tim is happy to help staff and postgraduate researchers with the ethics process, including advice on when/how to obtain ethics approval and the process for submitting an application.
E: /

Applying for research ethics review

Applications – by staff or students – for university research ethics review are submitted online, using the application form on Sussex Direct. You can find a link and guidance on the 'How to apply for research ethics review' web page.  

Applications to C-REC should be made by the 20th of the month, for consideration by the 20th of the following month. Applications received after the 20th will not be considered until the following month’s cycle. Note that new applications are not accepted for review on 20th August (ie. if you submit after the 20th July deadline, your application will normally enter into the review cycle on 20th September).  

You will receive a response from the committee within 2-3 weeks. The majority of applications are returned to applicants with at least some amendments before ethical approval can be granted so you are advised to submit an application in plenty of time before your research is due to begin.

In some circumstances it is possible for an application to reviewed outside of this cycle, such as an application requiring rapid review in order to receive funding etc). In all expedited review cases, the agreement of this process is by the discretion of the SREO or C-REC Chair.

Some research projects may require ethical review outside the university C-REC. This is the case for research involving:

  • NHS patients, patient data, staff or facilities
  • Adult social care clients, practitioners and/or resources, where specific conditions apply. See the University's 'Guidelines on social care research' and also guidance from the NHS.
  • Studies funded, sponsored or undertaken by the Ministry of Defence(MoD)
  • Staff and/or offenders in prison establishments.

In these cases, it may be necessary to first obtain sponsorship either from the University or from a partner organisation such as an NHS Trust, before applying to the relevant NHS, Social Care, MoD or Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service Research Ethics Committee ethics committee (see guidance on the 'Sponsorship of research'). This process can take considerable time, so make sure you allow for this in your planning.

Where research takes place outside the United Kingdom, researchers should explore the relevant ethics approval processes in the country involved.

* If a number of undergraduate or postgraduate taught students conduct low risk research of a sufficiently similar nature to be reviewed together, Course Convenors may apply for Generic or ‘Blanket’ ethical approval for all students together. If granted, approval is valid for a year at a time and must be renewed at the start of each academic year if necessary. An application form can be found on the 'How to apply for research ethics review' web page. See also 'Guidelines for Completing an Application for Ethical Review - Generic Approval'.

Research integrity

The University of Sussex is committed to promoting and upholding the highest quality academic professional and ethical standards in all its activities, and seeks to foster a culture of professional integrity and is a signatory to the Universities UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity. The purpose of the Concordat is to ensure that all research conducted by the University is underpinned by rigorous high standards and thorough misconduct procedures. Detailed information on the number of completed formal investigations or upheld allegations are detailed in the University’s Annual Research Integrity Policy Statement.

As part of your ethics application, it is important that as a researcher you read and familiarise yourself with the University of Sussex’s Code of Practice for Research.

The Code of Practice for Research sets out standards for conduct expected of all staff and students engaged in research at the University of Sussex. As an individual conducting research on behalf or under the guidance of The University of Sussex you are expected to always:

  • Demonstrate integrity and professionalism
  • Observe fairness and equity
  • Avoid, or declare and manage, actual or potential conflicts of interest
  • Show care and respect for all participants in subjects, users and beneficiaries of research including humans, animals, the environment and cultural objects (those associated with or involved with the research)
  • Observe all legal, regulatory and ethical requirements laid down by the University of Sussex or other statutory bodies.

Failure to comply with the provisions of this Code could be grounds for action to be taken under the University’s Procedure for the Investigation of Allegations of Misconduct in Research. Please contact the Research Governance Office if you have any concerns, questions or queries.

In instances when a researcher is working with a third party and/or partner the code of ethics that should be followed is that of the University (as sponsor of the research) and not of the third/party or partner. However, If a third party and/or partner’s code of ethics is more restrictive than that of the University then the third party/partner’s code of ethics should be observed so that the research always abides by the maximum level of restriction and/or regulation.

Advice and resources

University guidance on ethics application can be found on the 'How to apply for research ethics review' web page. Templates for designing information sheets and consent forms for participants can be downloaded from there. Policies also available cover data management, Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, risk assessment, recruitment of students as research participants and accessing IT resources for security-sensitive research.

Researchers planning to work with children in schools should consult the ‘Guidance for obtaining consent for research with child participants in schools'.

The ESRC has produced a very helpful, user-friendly, web-based resource: The Research Ethics Guidebook. It is designed for social science researchers at all stages of their training and careers. Its aim is to help you think your way through ethical issues at each stage of your research, and find your way through the variety of regulatory processes and procedures that can apply to social science research. It also signposts you to more detailed information along the way.

Research Supervisors and/or Principal Investigators (PIs) often have specific expertise on ethical issues in their own field of study and ethics should be a regular topic for discussion during projects.

A strong ethical application:

  • demonstrates that confidentiality and anonymity have been properly considered in the context of the research, and that this will be communicated to all participants
  • explains how it will obtain informed consent from participants or their guardians
  • provides participants with clear information about the research, how it will be used and what limitations apply to their right to withdraw from the study
  • details how it will collect and store participant data safely and legally
  • addresses all ethical considerations and attempts to resolve them
  • includes all relevant supporting documents, including:
    • Participant Information Sheet and Consent Form
    • Recruitment materials (poster, advert or text to be used on social media)
    • Questionnaire, topic guide, interview questions
    • OTSSRA form where applicable
    • Permission letter on headed papaer from the gatekeeper organisation where applicable.
Research involving parental consent

The default position for research involving the primary data collection from participants aged under 16 years in schools should be ‘opt in’ and parent/carer permission procedures to be used unless you can justify using alternative procedures. This does not mean that research involving children and young people in formal educational settings is automatically treated as high risk research, rather that research and your ethics application must address procedures for obtaining permission from parents/carers and children and young people. 

Situations in which ‘opt out’ parent/carer permission procedures may be permissible include group testing/data collection on topics included on the standard school curriculum or class observation (such as that undertaken  in the course of teachers continuing professional development or similar). In such cases, Head Teachers must register their agreement to allow the application of ‘opt out’ parent/carer permission procedures.

'Opt-out' may be applied in cases where:
  • Head Teachers are made fully aware and give their explicit permission
  • All parents/legal guardians of children involved are informed directly and given a full explanation/justification of their decision
  • The continuous, informed consent from the child remains paramount in all conditions
  • The impact/benefit etc. of the research to the child, school, are made explicit.

If the demands of children's participation:

  • are likely to entail a risk of distress or discomfort (however moderate or transient);
  • are sufficiently burdensome and/or intrusive that children are likely to need assistance from parents/carers in deciding whether to take part; or
  • are likely to be a cause of concern to parents/carers

Then “opt in” parent/carer permission should be obtained in all but exceptional circumstances.

In cases where any of these criteria apply, but where the researchers feel that “opt in” parent/carer consent is not ethically appropriate, a case must be made for alternative procedures in the application to the C-REC or SREO that approved the research in the first instance. If researchers are unsure as to whether “opt out” parent/carer permission procedures may be permissible, then they should contact the Chair of the relevant Cross-School Research Ethics Committee (C-REC) or the University’s Research Governance Officer prior to submitting their application for ethics approval.

Although the University is not in a position to direct individual schools’ policies and practices, if the C-REC or SREO that approved the research in the first instance concludes that “opt in” parent/carer permission should be obtained, then this approach should be used, even if schools express a preference for use of “opt out” procedures. Whilst some schools (such as boarding schools) may act in loco parentis, the researcher should ensure that they understand clearly the limits of such responsibilities.

In all cases, school-children must be aware that data collected for the purpose of research will in no way impact on their grades and (where possible) that those not participating in the research are able in some way to obtain or benefit from the research.

As a principle no child should miss out on an important aspect of their education as a result of taking part in the research. However, a further difficulty can arise when a research study stresses the possible benefits to be gained by taking part in the research. So, for example, if one class group take part in a research activity that brings about some benefit, it is unfair that class groups in the same year do not have equal access to these benefits. It is suggested therefore that if the research takes place in one group, at some point the same opportunity (or equivalent) is offered to others.

Researchers who are considering research involving children should consult the Guidance for obtaining consent for research with child participants.

Research taking place overseas

If your research is to take place in a location other than the United Kingdom, you will need to complete an Overseas Travel Safety and Security Risk Assessment (OTSSRA). This form has been designed to help you identify the steps you need to take to ensure that your research and trip are safe and successful, it also assists the university to comply with legal, ethical and social obligations in respect of any activities associated with the university. If you are conducting your research in your home country the OTSSRA form still needs to be completed and submitted as part of your ethics application.

Research and practice

Research is defined as a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared whilst practice draws on a variety of creative methodologies that might be incorporated into interdisciplinary research projects such as methodological innovations, providing new perspectives on and extending existing knowledge as well as materialising a different kind of knowledge practices.

Research is generally driven by a question or theory to be explored or tested, whilst practice may be driven by other factors such as aesthetics, conversations, ideas or chance encounters. 

There can sometimes be an overlap between research and practice, for example a research enquiry may involve elements of practice, or a piece of work that starts out as practice may subsequently form the basis of a piece of research. Research generally involves the use of methodologies and results in new knowledge whilst practice involves the use of creative outcomes to test a theory or demonstrate originality or contribution to knowledge.

When researchers are working in professional-based roles and engaging with members of the public in order to inform their professional practice it can be considered that such activity is not research and therefore not subject to the University’s ethical review process. However, as a researcher you should always be aware of the implications of not seeking ethical review for such activities in terms of potential use of any direct information gathered which is then used in publication or as an output.

Often these boundaries are not always clear such as in the case of audits, service evaluations and professional practice. In such instances you are advised to carefully consider the differences between ‘an evaluation’ of a practice and ‘researching’ a practice and seek further clarification from the SREO.

You are advised that whenever working on an audit, service evaluation or professional practice project where the results are to be published externally that this will always require ethical review.

As a researcher at the University of Sussex you are advised to continually evaluate these distinctions and consider your activities on a case by case basis and discuss with your supervisor, SREO, Head of Department (if a PhD Student) or Line Manager (if staff). Whether or not ethical approval is required, researchers should be mindful of ethical issues associated with any work involving engagement with the public and ensure that the appropriate risk assessments have been undertaken. 

Examples of successful applications

The following are examples of good practice in completing research ethics review forms, and were all approved. They include examples of low and higher risk applications, as well as an 'exceptional case' for low risk review. These examples have been anonymised and are offered here with the researchers' permission.

Note that the ethics application form is regularly reviewed and some changes have been made since these applications were submitted. Similarly, the legal, governance and ethical frameworks around research change and develop over time, so the past success of these applications does not guarantee that an identical approach will be approved without revisions today. These examples should therefore be considered indicative and considered in the light of your own challenges, rather than as a model to copy: