The Learning Revolution Discussion Circles Project
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Raymond Williams Foundation (RWF)

REPORT on the
Learning Revolution Transformation Fund – Discussion Circles Project
Residential, Fri – Sun 19th > 21st February 10

Wedgwood Memorial College, Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent

The week-end was fully booked with every bedroom in the College occupied.
So, total of 35 resident with 6 non-resident participants from a wide area geographically;
From Berwick-upon-Tweed and Bolton to Birmingham to but most were from Liverpool/Merseyside (11) and Leek/North Staffs (13).

Two short lectures on the Friday evening engaged with the issues of Citzenship and Education, using Micheal Sandel’s 2009 Reith Lecture, leading on to the question of how current ‘informal adult learning’ developments may relate to these big themes.

The residential was organised to offer varied experience of informal discussion as practised by Open Democracy Discussion Circles (ODDc); Philosophy in Pubs (PiPs) and Sci-Bars (Science, primarily through question and discussion).
14 ‘circles’ or small groups discussed, mainly using the ‘stimulus’ of notes sent out in advance, a wide range of social, philosophical, political and cultural themes throughout the Saturday:
From Marxism to Humour; from Thatcherism to God and Dawkins;
From The Mona Lisa to How to talk about things we know nothing about’.

A central aim was to probe, interrogate and enquire about the learning process through informal discussion. Some subjects or themes more difficult than others? How to select and offer information? How best to ‘chair’, ‘facilitate’, ‘lead’, ‘guide’ groups?

The Sunday morning included sessions on Globalisation led by two WEA professional tutors and this again offered experience of different methods and approaches to learning through direct participation.

Evaluation and feed-back, verbal and written, indicates positive response. These quotes from e-mails sent through in the days following illustrate strengths and potential:

‘I enjoyed it very much. I would like to get involved in some way – perhaps by trying to start a circle in my area’;

‘Extremely interesting … a shot in the arm’;

‘I can not remember when I was last in the company of so many interesting, communicative (and opinionated!) people…’

‘There were no ghastly cliques to make one feel excluded, so that I met lots of interesting people during the weekend…. I think it important I now keep the momentum going’

‘What a great weekend…asking for a view of adult education for the future…
Mine would be the ‘divan design’ – a patchwork quilt of all kinds of learning; from iPlayer TV and radio 4, through OU, university and colleges to WEA > U3A …self help model through to PiPs, SciBars and Mugge/Trout etc.. Such a quilt… would lie on a bed that by design was generously padded with monies that had the springs of political openness and concern > Sandel’s ‘common good’.
Incidentally, I downloaded all his Reith transcripts and thoroughly enjoyed reading them – he communicated excitement and optimism.’

RWF can help, a little, to pad the quilt with monies. We are searching further funding (ideas - and donations! - always welcome). Meanwhile, RWF is assisting a Day School on Local Democracy in Berwick-upon-Tweed in March; our RW W/end in May on Towards 2020 is full residentially (but B&B and non-res. participants still welcome); look at RWF web-site for further future activities which may now include a similar ‘discussion circles’ residential but modified taking account of suggestions made, during and after the February weekend.

DT, BF and EB
Also visit:;;;;


Residential week-end at Wedgwood Memorial College, Barlaston.

The Raymond Williams Foundation -  Discussion Circles Project
Fri – Sun  19th to 21st February 2010.

Sharing experience and training for informal pub discussion circles (and other similar groups) funded by the Learning Revolution – Transformation Fund.
Aim:   To widen the circles, links to more formal and expensive WEA and residential courses.  To evaluate and discuss ways adults learn, interrogating for example:  The Lecture; Slide and  Power-point Presentations;  Professionally led Discussion; Open, Informal, Non-Professionally led Discussion;  the Role of IT, the Web  and Broadcasting Media assisting especially the latter. 

The week-end is free to all participants but with a £10 registration fee payable to RWF and posted to RWF w/end,  c/o   18 Tatton Close, Leek  ST13 8NS.
It may be useful to e-mail me to check place/s available:

This is an up-dated (Jan 27th) Provisional Programme.   Full programme details will be available on arrival at Barlaston.
20 places were booked originally at the College for this week-end.   However, when told in early January that ours will be the only residential course during the week-end I took the decision to increase the numbers.  Our budget should cope with this.    At this date, we have 25 booked residentially and these include (allowing for overlap)  8 Philosophy in Pubs (PiPs),  4 Esperantist Drondanoj  (Esp.  for  ‘members of discussion circles);  5 U3A;   7 WEA;
1 Sci-bar;  1 café-philosophique;  8 ODDC, Mugge and Trout…  4 Co-op…
We now want to fill the College including, if we can, more ‘representatives’ of informal learning groups (more of minorities above, plus ARCA, Salons, Lit & Phil;  Book and Reading groups…).
The Discussion Circle session themes below are provisional (comment and suggestions welcome -  see  for list of about 80 themes tried-and-tested in pubs).
Assuming 4 groups each Circle session, there is ample scope for PiPs,  Sci-bar and other

Friday 19 Feb

17.00hrs     Arrival and registration

    1. Dinner


19.45          Lecture:     - 25 minutes
Taking the theme:  Michael Sandel’s 2009 Reith Lecture
The New Citizenship
The value of discussion and debate -  learning from educational and social history, with some suggestions on ways forward with our project.
David Kelso.
(Former HM Chief Inspector for Post-School Education in Scotland -  ‘but making a remarkable recovery since his retirement’).
Mini-Lecture – 10 minutes
From Adult Education to Informal Adult Learning – Back to the Future…
                                         Derek Tatton (RWF-TF Co-ordinator)
Questions and comments    40 minutes approx.

Saturday  20 Feb

    1. Breakfast


09.30      Introductions:   ‘Where I am coming from and where I think adult
                    education should be heading…’   -  no more than one minute each…
10.00      Circle discussions -   The New Citizenship   (ODDc and PiPs organised)
10.40      Plenary -  Report and review.

11.00      Coffee

11.30     Circle discussions  (ODDc, PiPs,  Sci-bar organised)
Including  themes: 
God and the Meaning of Life (based on Dawkins, Eagleton and Jacobson debates)
               Humour  (based on Mugge and Drondo notes & sessions)_ 
               Thatcherism  (based on Trout notes and sessions)
12.30      Plenary -  report and review.

13.00     Lunch

14.00     Free-time:  a nap or  walks to Wedgwood Museum  and/or along the canal

16.00    Tea and cake

16.30    Circle discussions,  including themes:
Karl Marx – an up-date  (based on Melvyn Bragg’s In our Time)
Climate Change  (notes from Andy Dobson >
How to talk about things we know nothing about  (based on Od essay)
17.30     Plenary – report and review

    1. Dinner


19.45     Circle discussions:
Including themes     ‘All arts aspire to the condition of Music’
                                                  The Mona Lisa
Adrian Mitchell poem:      Dear Sir.
                                                               I have read your Manifesto with great interest
                                                                       But it has nothing on
20.45    Plenary   report and review

    1. DIY   Bar and social evening, which may include a poem or two and some


Sunday 21 Feb

    1. Breakfast


09.30    Session led by Tim Hollins,  WEA,  West Midlands Region.
Workshops based on the WEA WM Region/DFID project which involves
an introduction to Globalisation – what is it, how does the global market work,  how can we as citizens play our part in a fairer world?

11.00    Coffee

    1. Globalisation -  continued, as appropriate


12.00      Plenary -   Review,  evaluation of the week-end and planning ways forward
taking themes and ideas from the first two sessions especially.

13.00     Lunch

14.00     Heading homewards… 


Derek Tatton    Project Co-ordinator 

Another Successful event supported by the RWF Transformation fund project

Report for the Raymond Williams Foundation and NIACE
Drondo 5 and Drondido – January 15th to 17th, 2010
Wedgwood Memorial College, Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent, ST12 9DG

The fifth instalment of the Esperanto-Association of Britain’s popular Drondo series recently occurred at the usual locale, Wedgwood Memorial College in Barlaston. (Drondo is a contraction of diskut-rondo, Esperanto for discussion group.)

The fifth was notable for two things: Firstly, it was the best attended, with some nine full-time participants and three part-time, plus a full-time cancellation for illness. Secondly, it was run concurrently with the first Drondido (Drondo-offshoot), a similar version but for people who aren’t yet fluent in Esperanto, giving them the opportunity to learn through immersion but at a gentler pace, with notes partially in English and a teacher hosting.

The Drondo is where the more in-depth discussion takes place, since participants are fully conversant in Esperanto, the sole language of discussion during the activity. As is customary with Esperanto residential weekends, the language was spoken by all (except the beginners) throughout the breaks for meals and coffee, and at the pub in the evenings. It was a diversified group, split about equally in terms of sex and spanning a wide age spectrum. Although the majority of participants were retirees, there was an 18-year-old male and a 26-year-old female present, and the chairman was a 31-year-old man. Without a doubt the grant received from the Raymond Williams Foundation – Transformation Fund Project made the event more affordable for people who may not have much disposable income, and we are looking at encouraging more young people to attend future events; the grant, should it continue, will facilitate this.

There were seven 90-minute sessions in all, starting on Friday evening with a discussion on Citizenship. The notes were based on the 2009 Reith lectures given by Professor Michael Sandel of George Washington University. Saturday morning commenced with a double session considering the Chinese Cultural and Capital Revolutions. The full three-hours were used up because some participants had special insights having lived in China or studied the language. The notes were based on an outstanding television documentary and academic articles found at

Later sessions that day were based on the notions of Thatcherism and Confidence. Both were fully inclusive, since everyone (bar the two youngest) were sentient during Mrs Thatcher’s premiership (and the two youngest are aware of what it entailed), and so could speak from experience and citing personal opinion. (The Chinese Revolutions, on the other hand, weren’t fully inclusive in the sense that some of us needed to be informed of the subject matter by some of the other participants.)

Sunday morning started with one of the burning issues of the day; Climate Change. Conversation was lively, and every member of the group spoke on several occasions. The final session was on Buddhism, again a subject in which some participants were particularly knowledgeable whilst others weren’t.

After lunch we had a break-down of the weekend, where all participants could give feedback. The Drondo participants commented that it was pleasing that all the notes were in Esperanto, and that the themes had come from the participants themselves. A further seven or so themes were suggested for a future Drondo, so this tradition of encouraging the participants to personalise the event will be continuing.

The Drondido participants were full of praise for their course leader. They were happy with the subjects chosen, and that the course notes had word lists on them. The only downside was that they felt that they would have benefitted from more people being there, since it was heavy going for only four beginners. As a result of this feedback, we’ve resolved to look at the numbers in the future and have Drondo people take it in turns to sit in the Drondido, which will bring not only experience, but a fresh change, since people can always introduce themselves and put into practice their regular conversational Esperanto. We shall also look at reducing the number of Drondido speaking sessions, replacing a couple of them with teaching classes or translation exercises, which should reduce the pressure that participants may feel from having to be ready to give opinions at a moment’s notice.

The groups were fairly inclusive. A couple of participants walked with the aids of a stick, but there no access issues, and sessions ended sufficiently early that people wouldn’t have to make haste to get to the dining room on time.

The next Drondo and Drondido sessions are scheduled to take place in Llandudno in May. Since this is the annual British Esperanto Congress and the organisers’ prediction is for 100 people to be present, we shall be putting on Drondo sessions in five separate timeslots with several groups in session concurrently, so that people who have never gambled the cost of a weekend residential course will have the opportunity to sample the discussion groups, without there being too many present at once. I rest confident that we will see participation at Wedgwood Memorial College increase as a result.

Success with two January 2010 RWF – Transformation Fund (TF) funded residential events

Socrates weekend, 15-17th Jan, at Burton Manor College, Wirral,  attended by 36 adults including 8 from the Blue Mugge pub, Leek;  2 from The Lazy Trout,  Meerbrook,  North Staffs and at least  12 from Philosophy in Pubs (PiPs) in Liverpool. 
The Key-note Lecture on Socrates and Darwin was given by David Sedley, Professor of Ancient Philosophy, Cambridge who engaged with the central arguments from Socrates onwards about Creationism.   Darwin’s crucial role and impact on these arguments was stressed.    Fellow member of Melvyn Bragg’s In our Time team,  Angie Hobbs – now Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy -  followed through with two dazzling, inspirational, sessions on big public philosophical contemporary issues.

Discussion groups led by PiPs facilitators and a Sat. evening TV film session ensured that every session continued engagement with Socrates – the method and the arguments..   This successful weekend was organised by Derek Tatton, supported by RWF – TF financially,  and tutors were David Bates, Paul Doran but primarily Rob Lewis who provided extensive notes for participants. 

The strengths of this residential will be built upon, leading to other similar (WEA, maybe) Days and Residentials. 


Concurrently, a weekend course at the Wedgwood Memorial College, Barlaston, recruited recruited 17 Esperantists to discuss, in Esperanto,  big themes based on notes from the Mugge and Trout pubs  such as Citizenship,  Buddhism, Confidence, and Thatcherism. 
This was the 5th Drondo  (Esperanto for Diskut-rondo, or discussion circle),  led this time by Tim Owen, and it was subsidized by RWF – TF to widen participation,  which it did.
Rave reviews have been received demonstrating that the pub notes > residential and beyond can work and offer a model for future development.

The Raymond Williams Foundation (RWF) has been successful in a bid (18 pages long…) for funding the project summarised below.      

 The bid was submitted in the summer of 2009 to the Learning Revolution – Transformation Fund (£20 million to assist the ‘informal adult learning’ revolution).    Full details on this: google NIACE website.  

Over 1,300 organisations and groups submitted bids for between £10k and £100k
and about 250 were informed in September 2009 of their success, including RWF (for nearly £10k).

RWF partners: ; WEA; ARCA (adult residential colleges); ; ; BBC ‘In our Time’; U3A.

a)   Extend tried-and-tested Open Democracy Discussion (ODD) circles and Philosophy in Pubs (PIP) to more locations.  Themes: often contentious and controversial, across social, political, philosophic, cultural and international affairs.   Non-party and un-sectarian, within a tradition which Raymond Williams represents. 
b)   The above subjects and themes now feature rarely within state-funded adult education.  Reasons for lack of ‘popularity’ are complex but this project will explore and research the range and volume of informal adult learning, and whether finance and flexibility determine success or failure within ‘traditional’ professionally taught courses.
c)   Citizenship education: discussion and events based on 2009 Reith Lecture The New Citizenship.

Target groups: as above, and WEA/U3A/Book groups/Radio 4 IoT listeners/voluntary activists in all main social and political spheres broadly defined.

Project Objectives:
a)   Extend best practice, strengthening partnerships and sharing experience.
b)   Publish hard-copy leaflets/pamphlets to promote project/s.

  1. Support relevant day and residential courses already planned
  2. Organise with partners 2 single-day and 2 residential courses on themes from pub programmes.
  3. Organise residential training week-end on these projects at Wedgwood Memorial College,   Fri-Sun 19-21 February 2010.

f)    To use TF funding to achieve the above aims and objectives

Partners and Progress:

Most work within this project will continue to be voluntary but Advisers and Facilitators will assist, as appropriate.   This project will not in any way compromise or undermine the independence and autonomy of  or any other partner groups or organisations.    The aim is to enable and facilitate more similar activities, extending links and progression to more formal adult education and learning.

Ways in which you may help:

a)Send through information about any activities/groups/web-networks, which relate to the above.   Agree to be part of a Learning Revolution information-sharing network on ODD and PiP themes. 

b)Send through any notes and quotes on programme themes which may be used, as
appropriate, in discussions posted on the web-site.   In this way anyone, anywhere,
can contribute to the on-going debates and discussions.    

c)Start a group similar to ODD or PiP in your own area.   We may be able to help you in various ways in this endeavour.   

d)Assist, specifically, with citizenship education developments.  

Contact:     Project Co-ordinator.