Summary Background There is an impetus to involve service users and carers in the education of nurses and a general consensus in the literature about the benefits that this brings to all involved. Whilst these benefits are well rehearsed in the literature there is little written about the potential barriers to service user and carer involvement in nurse education. Objective The objective of this study was to investigate service users, carers and staff views on the potential barriers to becoming engaged in nurse education. Design A qualitative study using focus group discussions (FGD) was used to canvas the views of service users, carers and teaching staff. Setting A large school of nursing in the North West of England. Participants 38 service users and carers recruited from the North West of England and 23 nursing and midwifery teachers and lecturers. Methods Focus group discussions were employed as the main data collection method. The data were analysed using thematic analysis. Results Six themes occurred in the data as being negatively associated with potential and actual involvement: not knowing the context of the group, lack of preparation of the group, not being supported, not being allowed to be real, not receiving feedback, not being paid appropriately. Conclusions The process of involvement is not without difficulties. These data show that some consideration needs to be given to the potential barriers to involvement if the engagement of service users and carers is to be effective.