Institute of Education


Starting or resuming face-to-face data collection for postgraduate research

This guidance is for students and for their supervisors from 20 May 2021 until further notice

Category 1 and Category 2 face-to-face fieldwork

We are changing the guidance for PGR students in relation to Ethics Approval and Face to Face Fieldwork active from 20 May until further notice.

We will continue to keep you informed of developments related to the conduct of, and support for, your research. Please take good care of yourself and those around you at this time. We hope this material supports PGR students in relation to one component of the complex situations we find ourselves in.

This guidance concerns IOE PGR Research and builds on the Response to research and changed contexts due to the Coronavirus issued in March 2020.

We realise that IOE PGR research is undertaken in many different contexts and situations, so this broad material may need thinking through in relation to your specific work.

The IOE is creating two categories – ‘Category 1’ and ‘Category 2’ - for face-to-face fieldwork ethics applications, and these will be worked with differently in terms of the ethics approval process.

We are doing this to continue to be careful and thorough in our review and approval process, whilst recognising that:

  • in some contexts, the processes we adopted during the early stages of the impacts of COVID-19 are no longer necessary (Category 1), whilst:
  • in other contexts, the processes we created to guarantee safety for participants and researchers are still needed (Category 2).

The following defines these categories and then details the review process and actions to take in relation to ethical approval for PGR students and face to face fieldwork.

Definition: which category is my research?

CATEGORY 1* is defined as where the PGR student researcher:

(a) is employed in the research setting, and where: (i) clear processes are in place in relation to COVID-19 safety, (ii) the process can be followed in the research, and (iii) documents describing these processes can be supplied to the IOE Ethics Office


(b) has been granted, and can provide documented evidence of, permission to have access to the research site or setting (for example, a school or centre)**, and where: (i) clear processes are in place in relation to Covid19 safety, (ii) the processes can be followed in the research, and (iii) documents describing these processes can be supplied to the IOE Ethics Office


(c) The PGR student researcher can demonstrate in their risk assessment that they have satisfactorily addressed the three areas within the IOE Risk Assessment Form concerning the hazards and risks of Covid19, in relation to: (i) travelling to and from fieldwork; (ii) Fieldwork sites or setting and (iii) Heightened risk for vulnerable groups. Please see the IOE Risk Assessment Form for guidance on all three areas.  The risk assessment should contain links to national guidance relevant to the contexts of the context/country in relation to: (i) travel, (ii) the site or setting (iii) people who are at heightened risk. 

An example of recent and up-to-date national guidance relevant to a fieldwork site would be the UK Gov guidance for schools (for example, if face-to-face research was to take place in a school). An example of fieldwork site guidance for COVID-19 safety would be information like this guidance from Windhill Primary

*Please note that this category applies to any country context
** Please note that if your research does not have a specific site or setting, or takes place in a multi-site context, please contact the IOE Research Ethics Office and we will advise you

CATEGORY 2 is defined as:

All face-to-face fieldwork that does not meet the conditions defined in Category 1

IOE Categories 1 & 2: The review process and actions to take


A. Change - There is no need to meet the following requirement which has been in place since the onset of Covid-19:

  • The student researcher should verify whether the fieldwork can be carried out remotely before any making any plans for person-to-person interaction.

B. Actions – please complete and submit to the Departmental Graduate Tutor (DGT) the:

C. The Departmental Graduate Tutor (DGT) is sent the application/materials, as is currently the case, to review the status of the application. They decide whether the application/research is Category 1 or 2.

If Category 1, the DGT notifies the IOE Research Ethics Office and gives permission for the review process to be undertaken via the pre-COVID-19 ethical review process for PGR Students. As outlined in the ethics guidance for PGR students, this means it will be reviewed by your supervisor and another member of your advisory committee or member of the course team. The requirement stays for PGR students to include the IOE starting or resuming fieldwork proforma and the IOE Fieldwork Risk Assessment. 

D. When the review process has been completed, the student /principal supervisor will send the completed paperwork for the application to the IOE Research Ethics Office on ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk, copying IOE.CDE@ucl.ac.uk and the relevant DGT. This allows us to keep up-to-date records, and to enable the quality review (see ‘D’ below).

E. The IOE Head of Research Ethics and Governance and Director of Operations sample (30%) of the reviews and approvals in their entirety for quality every 1 month and report to the IOE Director as part of the process of agreed ‘delegated authority’ 

F. The IOE Research Ethics Office keep track of these and, as we do currently, send a monthly report, with all materials to the IOE pro Director for Research and Development who reports to the IOE Director as part of the process of agreed ‘delegated authority’


If the research is Category 2, The process for reviewing and approving face-to-face fieldwork that we have had in place since September 2020 (please see sections below)

Category 2: Needing to start, or restart face-to-face data collection

If your intended face-to-face fieldwork does not fall under the definition of 'Category 1' above, then this is the process to follow.

A PGR student needing to start, or restart, f2f data collection should first discuss with their supervisor(s) their need to do so and their plans to ensure that the data collection meets the requirements outlined in the appendix at the end of this guidance. 

If the supervisor agrees that f2f data collection meets these requirements, then the PGR will need to make a case in writing to the Departmental Graduate Tutor (DGT) explaining in the body of the email why online methods cannot be used or are not appropriate. They should copy their supervisor into this email.

If the DGT agrees that there might be a case, then the PGR student should read the IOE research ethics starting or resuming fieldwork proformas that the UCL Institute of Education Research Ethics Committee (IOE REC) have designed:

This will help PGR students see the fieldwork-specific ethical issues they will be asked to address, and the reviewers will be assessing.

The form is for staff, but similar principles apply for PGR students. Note that the form asks for a justification for the use of f2f fieldwork, asking the researcher to detail how they have ‘verified that data could not be collected remotely’ and asking that they address ‘the ethical obligation to not place extra burden on participants, such that risks outweigh benefits for any participant’.

Category 2: Starting face-to-face data collection

If intending to start f2f data collection, a PGR student should:

  1. Email your ethics application form and attachments including the , information sheets and consent forms to your supervisory team. 
  2. Attach all guidance concerning safety related to the context/s of your setting, (e.g. a school’s policy on COVID-19).
  3. Once approved by your supervisor and another member of staff, submit all documents to the DGT.
  4. Note that if you are proposing to collect personal data (i.e. data from which a living individual can be identified), you must be registered with the UCL Data Protection Office before you submit your ethics application for review.

* The form is designed for staff, but similar principles apply for PGR students.

To do this, email the complete ethics form and information sheets, consent forms and other materials to be used to inform potential participants of the research to data-protection@ucl.ac.uk

Once your registration number is received, add it to the form and submit it to your supervisor for approval. If the Data Protection Office advises you to make changes to the way in which you propose to collect and store the data, this should be reflected in your ethics application form.

Category 2: Resuming face-to-face data collection

If intending to resume f2f data collection, a PGR student should:

  1. Revise your original ethics application form and attachments including information sheets and consent forms, highlighting in yellow the updating of your application/attachments to reflect new arrangements that address the contexts of COVID-19. 
  2. Email a rationale for the revisions, the above documents, the , and all guidance concerning safety related to the context/s of your setting (e.g. a school’s policy on COVID-19) to your supervisor.
  3. Please provide in your email a clear list of the updated elements in your original ethics form and attachments. 
  4. Once the above is approved by your supervisor, submit all documents including the rationale to the DGT.

* The form is designed for staff, but similar principles apply for PGR students.

Reviewer process

Once completed, the DGT checks the following have been included and then forwards the documentation to Jane Perryman (Head of the CDE) and Phil Jones (Head of Research Ethics and Governance): 

  • the email setting out the reasons why f2f data collection is required, 
  • the ethics application form (updated if appropriate)
  • the IOE COVID-19 risk assessment form
  • the guidance for the fieldwork setting (e.g. a school’s policy on COVID-19)
  • supporting documents such as information sheets and consent forms (updated if appropriate with regard to COVID-19).

Jane Perryman and Phil Jones (IOE REC Chair) will review the proposed f2f data collection to consider whether the student makes the case for online methods/remote working not being appropriate and that f2f data collection is justified, and meets the requirements in the appendix.

If they conclude that f2f data collection is justified, then the materials will be forwarded to the IOE REC for review (please see Section 2.2 onwards in the IOE Starting or Resuming Face-to-Face Fieldwork guidance for this process) and will follow the same process as staff applications.

Please note that although f2f data collection may be approved, it should be kept under constant review in case the situation regarding COVID-19 changes. Any changes or pauses to the research project or design should be negotiated with, and approved by, the principal supervisor, with the IOE REC being informed. If there are concerns, then further review by the IOE REC will be undertaken.

Please note that no f2f data collection can go ahead until full approval has been granted.

Once reviewed, the IOE REC will communicate with the student and supervisor.


The following are IOE requirements for PGR students starting or restarting fieldwork:

  • Research fieldwork should, where possible, be conducted by remote means.
  • If you cannot guarantee the safety of participants and researchers, in relation to COVID-19, then data collection must continue to be paused, or appropriate online data collection methods must be designed.
  • If you are making a decision about whether to restart or to start research involving face to face interactions, you must also be sure that any potential future pause in the study caused by a fresh lockdown will not be detrimental to the interests, mental health or wellbeing of participants. For example, if relationships are restarted, or begun, which will later be paused then it is important for researchers to be sure that participants will not be adversely affected by this breaking of relationship or engagement. It is essential to take seriously your ethical obligation not to place extra burden on your participants such that risks outweigh benefits for the participant
  • Our approach prioritises the safety and well-being of participants and research staff. We recognise the complexities connected to this in relation to understandings of research as a benefit, and participation in it, as a desirable activity, including: the chance research provides for participants voices to be heard; and, the importance of researching specific issues relating to, and implications of, the pandemic. We recognise, then, that there is also an ethical issue in not researching people's experiences and perspectives, thereby excluding them from knowledge production. This is relevant in relation to people, for example, who won't have ready access to online technologies, or may not feel comfortable using them because of status concerns (e.g. undocumented migrants).