Background Due to their increased spending power and influence on spending within the home, children have been the focus of an increasing volume of research. A review of the literature reveals a large number of books and academic papers that focus on pertinent issues within the field of child research (for example, Christensen & James 2000; Barker & Weller 2003; Fraser et al. 2004; Greene & Hogan 2005; Solomon & Peters 2005). These texts cover issues such as the conceptual and philosophical underpinnings of child research (e.g. Christensen & James 2000; Fraser & Robinson 2004), ethical considerations of working with children (e.g. Morrow & Richards 1996; Hill 2005), the nature of the research relationship (Robinson & Kellet 2004), legal issues affecting the research relationship and the storage/use of data (Greig et al. 2007), effective and appropriate methodologies and analytical techniques for child research (for a comprehensive review see Greene & Hogan 2005; see also Christensen & James 2000), and more specific techniques and practical advice on eliciting information from children and young people (e.g. Hazel 1995; Barter & Renold 2000). However, there seems to be little information on the crucial first step of accessing this specialised sample: children in schools. For this reason, this paper aims to 'fill a gap' by providing child researchers with practical advice on how to negotiate access and work with schools in the most effective way. This advice is likely to be particularly relevant to researchers working in institutions that do not have wellestablished links with schools (for example, novice/PhD researchers and those working with children for the first time). Schools, as organisations, differ from commercial organisations; the biggest differentiator being the increasingly security-orientated and closed nature of schools. For this reason, in attempting to contact and gain access to a school, one must know whom to contact, how best to contact them, what to expect from them and, importantly, what can go wrong when working with them. This guidance will assist readers in gaining and maintaining working relationships with schools and can thus be seen as a recipe for researchers to follow when preparing to negotiate access.