Radical Adult Education Archive

100 Years of Radical Adult Education in Scotland: Building Hope for the future…



This is an archive of the transcripts and talks on November 16th 2019.  This was the only event in Scotland marking the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Report on Adult Education. The transcripts of the event were published in pamphlet form which you can download below:




The 1919 report shaped the development of formalised adult education in Britain and continues to influence the current adult learning landscape. We met just a few days before the publication of the 2019 Centenary Report on Adult Education1, with its call to reinvigorate our national infrastructure for adult learning necessary for securing adult learning so essential to civic and political life. You can download the Centenary Report here:




The Scottish Centenary event was held at the offices of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) on Woodlands Road in Glasgow. The purpose was to look back to the social and economic crises that shaped Scotland in 1919, immediately after the Great War, considering the role of radical adult education within social movement responses. This was no nostalgia trip. The intention was to be reminded of how adult education was born out of crisis and was integral to collective refusals to accept social injustice and inequality. Our assumption was that this reminder might inspire our own responses to current political and social events.


The talks took place in the weeks before the emergence of Covid-19, which catalysed existing crises following ten years of austerity in Britain. These are crises of poverty, poor public health, low wage economy, environmental degradation, and inequitable access to education and learning.


Dr Sharon Clancy

Sharon Clancy, in her role as Chair of the Raymond Williams Foundation, leads the debate. She sets out a wider British context where adult education infrastructure is in the process of dismantlement, and a political culture where ordinary people are presented as being defective in some way. Here she raises the importance of British adult education traditions informed by Raymond Williams and the idea that culture is ordinary. Ordinary culture and ordinary people like us might inform knowledge creation and practices necessary to addressing the political and economic crises we face.




The remaining contributions take the form of ‘looking back’ at the Scotland of 1919 and then ‘looking forward’ to the contemporary adult education landscape in formation. Three themes are addressed, all significant in 1919 and remaining so in contemporary Scotland. All the contributions are reflective of distinctive Scottish contexts. However, far from being parochial, we would argue this makes these talks of greater interest and relevance to the wider world.


Adult literacies Education

Jim Crowther and Sarah McEwan ‘look back’ and ‘look forward’ at literacies education geared towards adults. Perhaps this radical tradition is rooted in the Scottish Reformation and the Scottish Enlightenment, but guided by the principle that literacies might be powerful and empowering for communities and individuals.


Jim Crowther (Looking back)





Sarah McEwan: Looking forward





Secondly, Derek Keenan and Wendy Burton ‘look back’ and ‘look forward’ at working class education central to workers’ organisations. Here we can sense the contrast between current times and 1919, when unions were burgeoning and the electoral influence of organised labour was on the ascendancy. Whilst trade unions currently offer a range of significant and inspiring learning initiatives, the recent trajectory of our movement is weaker in terms of numbers, strength, and solidarity.


Dek Keenan: Radical Adult Education in Scotland (looking back)







Wendy Burton: Trade Union Education (Looking forward)

Wendy Burton is Director of Scotland-wide work-based learning and skills organisation who works in partnership with trade unions, funders, employers, learning providers and national agencies to deliver inclusive work-based learning, equality and leadership projects in a range of sectors. Responsibilities include strategic development, programme management, stakeholder engagement, financial management, training and development, and communications. Recent initiatives include Digital Skills and Cyber Resilience projects, and supporting young and precarious workers.


Below is a transcript of the presentation given by Wendy Burton, Scottish TUC celebrating 100 years of radical Adult Education in Scotland.



The Recovery Movement and Adult Education

John Player and Joyce Nicholson consider adult education and the temperance and recovery movements. Whilst outlining a less examined context for adult learning, perhaps these final talks go some way to encapsulating what’s distinctive about the Scottish adult education tradition. I would summarise this as a tradition that sources strength in response to despair and springs social compassion from collective indignity


John Player (looking back) and Joyce Nicholson (looking forward)




The event was lively and we engaged in some spirited discussions. The character of the discussion is captured, in a limited way, in the speech bubbles interspersing the text. These contributions were transcribed from comments posted by participants during the event itself. What’s revealed is more questions and less in the way of answers.


Adult education as a radical response to social injustices is closely tied to our own experiences and stories and there is an important dialogue that needs to be continued. The transcripts might be interpreted in that spirit and we invite you to contact us and continue the conversation.


Click on Quotes to Enlarge




Sarah Galloway

[email protected]



This project was funded by the Lipman Miliband Trust.




All the videos were filmed and produced by Bob Hamilton at City Strolls




From their about page: City Strolls has been hopefully serving a useful community function for the last 10 years. During that time the site has hosted events, updates and community activities.


A quote has sat at the top of City Strolls from the start. “This is the city and I am one of its citizens. Whatever interests the rest interests me, politics, wars, markets, newspapers, schools, the mayor and councils, banks, tariffs, steamships, factories, stocks, stores, real estate and personal estate.” Walt Whitman. It still encompasses to me what are the essential ingredients to life in the city (or anywhere).


If you do not get out and engage with other human beings you will not have much to say about them. City Strolls was, back in the day, when I had time to organise strolls and participate in them, about doing just that – strolling in your city. Not walking to go someplace with your head down, but looking up like a tourist and looking at, sometimes even well known things afresh. There was no planned root to a stroll. Time varied from 2 hours to 6 or so. Kids would be bored for the first bit but soon would be off exploring where they wanted, because we were free to wander anywhere, it wasn’t important. The conversation went where it needed to go. There were no leaders we were all tour guides.


Like other aspects of our lives, we need to put ourselves in the moment, to understand the connections. We learn by walking, by observing, by juxtaposing elements, how things overlay, interact, relate to each other. Looking at things from different angles, reserving judgment till we know all of the facts –till we look ourselves.


Peoples lives today are filled with endless farcical anomalies and deviations that folk are forced to worry about. We can only offer or highlight a few alternative paths through this debris, that may shine some light on the things we should really be worrying about. And on things that can offer some reflection on more human ways to live.


City Strolls Is dedicated to:

• Common Good awareness and the commons in general.
• Creating critical connections towards movement building.
• Encouraging organising social change towards institutional change.
• Creating events to encourage solidarity, learning and understanding.
• Encouraging skill sharing, networking and the avoidance of reinventing the wheel.
• Including: Encouraging the use of what we have that is free and available.
• Encouraging the use of free software and computer programming.
• Encouraging education and learning, Free University, Open Education…
• Encouraging growing, gardening, Understanding food sovereignty and permaculture.
• Transferring the organisational skills learned in the garden to the community.
• Participatory Action Research and the production of community documentation.
• Encourage young folk to organise and encourage their responsibility through self run projects.
• Relearning the city and taking it back from commerce, traffic and corporate blight.
• Carry out tasks and events with imagination to encourage participation.
• Broadening awareness of wider political activity.
• Using any medium available to express these ideas.