Ethics, education policy and research: the phonics question reconsidered

Sue Ellis, Gemma Moss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
252 Downloads (Pure)


This paper argues that direct control of the early years literacy curriculum recently exercised by politicians in England has made the boundaries between research, policy and practice increasingly fragile. It describes how policy came to focus most effort on the use of synthetic phonics programmes in the early years. It examines why the Clackmannanshire phonics intervention became the study most frequently cited to justify government policy and suggests a phonics research agenda that could more usefully inform teaching. It argues that, whilst academics cannot control how their research is eventually used by policymakers, learned societies can strengthen their ethics policies to set out clearer ground-rules for academic researchers working across knowledge domains and with policymakers. A stronger framework to guide the ethical interpretation of research evidence in complex education investigations would allow more meaningful conversations to take place within and across research communities, and with research users. The paper suggests some features for such a framework.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241–260
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number2
Early online date25 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


  • phonics
  • research ethics
  • literacy policy
  • early reading
  • knowledge mobilization
  • evidence-based education


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