SERA: The First Thirty Years

SERA: The First Thirty Years


The proposal to found a Scottish Educational Research Association (SERA) was first aired in May 1973.  At that time the staffs of the Education Departments of the Scottish Universities and of SCRE (the Scottish Council for Research in Education) used to meet annually at a country house near Edzell, The Burn, to discuss issues and developments generally (Nisbet, J, 2003).  (It is a sign of these times that the total number involved was such that The Burn with rooms for 32 people could accommodate us all.)   At the 1973 gathering, Bryan Dockrell and Gerry Pollock (Director and Deputy Director of SCRE) suggested the establishment of a Scottish organisation comparable, though on a small scale, to those of the American Educational Research Association.  (The British Educational Research Association, BERA, had not yet been formed, though there were informal discussions instigated by Ed Stones, leading to a formal meeting in Birmingham in October 1973 – see Stones, 1985.)

Gerry Pollock had drawn up a memorandum, which began: There is a great need (I) to disseminate research findings on as wide a basis as possible, and (ii) to improve communication among those working in different areas of the research field.

With the support of the group Bryan Dockrell convened a meeting of representatives of the teachers’ and headteachers’ associations (including university teachers), local authority directors, further education principals, learned societies and the Scottish Education Department.  That meeting endorsed the idea and appointed a small committee to draft proposals for a constitution specifying aims, membership and operation.  The committee was:

Stanley Nisbet (Professor of Education, University of Glasgow, in the chair), Tom Henderson (Association of Directors of Education), Margaret Jarvie (British Sociological Society), R H K Thomasson (Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland) and Gerry Pollock (SCRE).

The work of that committee and the issues which they reviewed are described fully in Stanley Nisbet’s retrospective review on SERA’s tenth anniversary (Nisbet, S, 1984).


Nisbet, J (2003) A forlorn aspiration: The story of SUCSE.  Scottish Educational Review, 35, 60-64.

Nisbet, S (1984) Does Scotland need SERA?   Scottish Educational Review, 16,127-133.

Stones, E (1985) The development of the British Educational Research Association.  British Educational Research Journal, 11, 85-90.

The early years

Inaugural meeting on 21 September 1974 [at Stirling?] agreed on a one-day meeting at which research papers would be presented and office-bearers would be elected.

First conference on January 31, 1975, held at Stirling.  Office-bearers appointed: Nigel Grant, chairman; Arnold Morrison, vice-chairman; Gerard Pollock, secretary; Bart McGettrick, treasurer.  Annual subscription fixed at a nominal figure of £1.

Presidents (originally termed Chairman)

Nigel Grant                1975-79                     [Some dates may be one year out]

Gerry Pollock            1980-81

Harry Ashmall           1981-83

Mabel Scrimgeour   1984-86

John Wilson              1986-88

Eric Wilkinson          1988-90

Eileen Francis          1990-93

Rae Stark                  1993-

Brian Morris                        -98

Margaret Kirkwood  1998-2001

Donald Christie        2001-03

Fran Payne               2004-


1975 January: one day, at Stirling (see above).

1975 October: residential, at St Andrews, ‘Language Arts’.

1976 March: one day at Stirling, ‘Aspects of teaching’.

1976 September::at St Andrews, ‘Disadvantage in education’.

(An autumn meeting at St Andrews now became an annual event until 1995.)

1977 September: ‘Curriculum and assessment’ (Munn and Dunning Reports).

1978 March: at Inverness, ‘Education in sparsely populated areas’.

1978 September: ‘Research, development and the classroom’.

1979: two conferences at Stirling, aimed at teacher audiences, ‘Curriculum research in secondary schools’, and ‘ Research and development in health education’.

1979 September: ‘Research and educational policy’ (attendance 130).

1980 May: at Jordanhill, ‘Multiracial education’, and June: at Stirling, three topics, ‘Accountability, education and work, priorities in the curriculum’.

1980 September: ‘Research on teaching and learning’.

1981 March: at Dundee, ‘Unwillingly to School – truancy’.

1981 September: ‘The educational applications of microelectronics’.

1982 March: at Moray House, ‘Qualitative improvements in secondary education’, and May: at Dundee, ‘Uses of language in school’.

1982 September: ‘Research in assessment’ and ‘Continuing education’.

1983 September: ‘The management of research’ and ‘Research on special educational needs’.

1984 September: ‘Problems of communicating research’ and ‘Professional development’.

1985 September: ‘Research in primary education’, and ‘Research methodology: implications for policy’.

1986               ?          [Half-day  on ‘Contract research’]

1987 October: ‘The media in education’, Parents and teachers’ and ‘Special educational needs and integration’.

1988 to 1995 September: A range of themes.

1995 to 2001 September: Conference moved to Dundee.

2002 September: Conference moved to Perth.

2003 and 2004: Conference moved to November in Perth.

Scottish Educational Review

At February 1977 AGM, SERA takes over the journal, previously entitled Scottish Educational Studies.  Twice annually, May and November.

Editorial Board: representatives of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Open Universities, Colleges of Education and SCRE.

 The SERA Lectures

 1979: Lawrence Stenhouse (East Anglia), ‘The problem of standards in illuminative research’.

1980: Bryan Dockrell (SCRE), ‘Educational research: cross-national, multinational, international’.

1981: Margaret Sutherland (Leeds), ‘The impossibilities of education for citzenship’.

1982: David Robertson (Director of Education, Dundee), ‘Policy-oriented research: an administrator’s perspective’.

1983: Ian Morris (HMCI), ‘Looking before and after’ (a valedictory address).

1984: John Nisbet (Aberdeen), ‘The seventh sense’.



1987 Ralph Wilson (Headteacher, Armadale), ‘Managing change in education’.

1988 Lalage Bown (Edinburgh), ‘Motivating adult learners’.

1989 David Hargreaves (Cambridge), ‘Making schools more effective’.

1990 Sally Tomlinson (Lancaster), ‘Effective education in a multicultural society’.

1991 A H Halsey (Oxford),


1993 Tricia Broadfoot (Bristol), ‘Exploring the forgotten continent: a traveller’s tale’.

1994 Peter Mortimore (London Institute), ‘School effectiveness and school improvement’.

1995 Richard Pring (Oxford), ‘Educating persons: putting education back into educational research’.

1996 James Calderhead (Bath), ‘Towards a research base for the development of teacher education in Europe’.

1997 David Reynolds (Newcastle), ‘ School effectiveness: retrospect and prospect’.

1998 Lindsey Paterson (Edinburgh), ‘Educational research and Scottish democracy’.

1999 Ian Stronach (Stirling), ‘On being a nation again: alternative visions for Scottish education’.



2002 Jean Rudduck (Sheffield), ‘The transformative potential of consulting young people about teaching, learning and schooling’.

2003 Andrew Pollard (London Institute), ‘What is and what might be: TRLP strategies and the development of educational research’.

2004 Stephen Ball


At the inaugural meeting in January 1975, it was intimated that there were already 156 members.  In 1979, 211 members: schools, 71; colleges of education/ further education colleges, 46; universities, 38; SCRE, 13; SED/administrative, 28; others, 15. (Nisbet, S, 1984)


Significant contributions

Stanley Nisbet (1984) identifies a number of members who made a significant contribution to SERA in its early days:

Nigel Grant and Harry Ashmall as chairmen, Gerard Pollock as secretary and chairman, Mabel Scrimgeour as treasurer and chairman, Martin Stewart as secretary, Stan Gilmore as vice-chairman and editor of the newsletter, John Powell as treasurer, Bob Bell, Colin Holroyd, Eric Drever, Joyce Watt and John Darling as editors of Scottish Educational Review, John Wilson as chairman of its editorial board and subsequently President, and May Young as conference organiser extraordinary.