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Critical Reflection 3

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Engaging with excluded groups in adult education
We recently hosted a Scottish Government event around the Healthier Scotland
conversation. I felt it was very important to ensure that we reached the groups who
would not normally engage in a government consultation.
We held the main event at the Fly Cup in Inverurie, a social enterprise that supports
people with a range of disabilities to access training and work. I made sure that we
got the views of the trainees to make up part of our response, and also did a general
open consultation that we ran as a drop in over the course of a day. I also worked
with an organisation that specifically deals with excluded groups in the local area.
They target people with long term health conditions, a range of physical disability,
learning disabilities and mental health issues, and support them to find better ways
of coping with it and living life to the full. As Taylor (pg148, 2003) says Playgroups,
environmental clear-ups, youth activities, mums and toddlers groups and self-help
groups may not hit the headlines, but it is here that community engagement often
The consultation on the day was busy, with over 80 responses from the general
public, and then working in collaboration with the other voluntary group, we
developed an easier version of the consultation, with simple language and less
ambiguous questions. We tested the new version with a group of young people with
a range of mental health and learning disabilities.
The process of re-doing the consultation questions was about participatory
democracy and adult learning, but I had asked the group for assistance, not to
educate them. As McGivney explains the use of the term adult education or
participatory democracy would have been a barrier. In approaches to some groups
(for example young men, ex-offenders) it can be more effect to talk about activities
rather than education or learning and to stress the potential short-term rather than
long-term gains (pg8, 2000)

In agreement with Toomey, it was important to me to be aware that development

relationships constitute a two-way street in which both the development agent and
subject must work together to make positive and sustainable change (pg193, 2009)
Using Brookfields autobiographical lens, I realised how my own values came into
play, and was aware of not slipping into Toomeys rescuer role, and to take an asset
based approach to this work, working with the skills and knowledge the group had.
As Jeffs & Smith discuss, education embraces a respect for persons, a belief in
democracy, a commitment to fairness and equality. These values will inform both the
contents of conversations and encounters, as well as our behaviour and
relationships as educators (pg10, 2005)
I was also careful to keep in mind Taylors assertion
why people in excluded communities are expected to participate
when most of the rest of society is not. Most of us do not want to
run all our own services; what we do want is to ensure that those
who do provide them reflect our needs and preferences and
provide quality and choice. Excluded communities should not have
to participate in order to have the same claim on service quality
and provision as other members of society have (pg165, 2003)
I kept the sessions short and engaging for the group to work through the document,
and made sure they all understood it was entirely voluntary and that they could opt
out at any time. The group and I all discussed how important the government was
and really looked at democracy and public policy. I felt that these small starting
points can provide the foundation for fundamental change: so we have power and,
if sufficiently aware of the structuring constraints bearing in on us, can work to make
changes by changing the rules, changing the flow of resources, and most
significantly, changing the way we think about things (Healey, pg49, 1997) I
identified with Toomeys Ally role, talking to the group as a friend and an equal, not
as an educator come to teach them something, but to have an open discussion and
engage with them. The group felt surprised that the government would want to know
what they thought, or that they would care.

We did some informal learning on participatory democracy, and other ways of having
a say. For some of the group, it was a new experience for them to actually be
listened to and allowed to formulate and express their own opinion, particularly
around politics and government policy. We came to the same agreement that
Henderson and Salmon did that social responsibility should be applied not only to
people, families and communities, but also the all those bodies which affect the lives
of ordinary people (pp27-8, 1998)
From an initial idea to involve a group in a consultation, the end product was so
much more. It was a genuine engagement and discussion on the place of people
with long term health conditions, learning disability and mental health issues in
communities, democracy and government. Within this conversation, we also looked
at self-esteem, active citizenship and how others judge if you do not fall within their
parameters of normal and how the group could challenge some of those
assumptions, and about being the best person we could all be.
It was a touching reminder for me about the importance of our role as capacity
builders within communities, and how capacity is there at all levels; we just need to
find the most effective way to support it to flourish.

Brookfield, S. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, San Francisco,
Healey, P (1997) Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies,
London, Palgrave Macmillan
Henderson, P. and Salmon, H. (1998) Signposts to Local Democracy: Local
Governance, Communitarianism and Community Development, London, Community
Development Foundation and Warwick: The Local Government Centre
Jeffs, T. and Smith, M. K. (2005). Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and
learning, Ticknall, Education Now
McGivney, V. (2000) Working With Excluded Groups Guidelines on Good Practice
for Providers, Leicester, NIACE

Taylor, M (2003) Public Policy in the Community, Hampshire, Palgrave

Toomey, A. (2009). Empowerment and Disempowerment in Community
Development Practice: Eight Roles Practitioners Play. Community Development
Journal, 46(2), pp.181-195