Schools of Participation

July 21, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby

Schools of Participation are time-limited programmes of dialogue to action typically hosted by local organizations in areas of high inequality, urban poverty, and social exclusion. The Schools to offer inclusive spaces for community dialogue, capacity building, and action.

Problems and Purpose

Schools of Participation aim to address poverty, inequality and social exclusion through empowering disadvantaged communities and individuals over a period of weeks or months. Each School offers an inclusive space for people to meet, share their experiences and most importantly, gain the skills needed to mobilise in the community and take action for effective change. The approach is influenced by the work of Paulo Freire on popular education.

Origins and Development  

Schools of Participation were originally developed by the UK-based charity Church Action on Poverty. The charity has gone on to train people and organizations in the use of the method. Manchester’s Community Pride Unit is one of the most well known examples of a Church Action on Poverty affiliate who has implemented Schools of Participation in Greater Manchester. The group uses the Schools method to address poverty in Greater Manchester by tackling power inequality between those who live in the city and those who are in charge of it [1].

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Each school typically involves between 8-15 participants. Participants share a mutual disadvantage in their lives and past schools have included refugees and people seeking asylum, homeless men, people with sensory disabilities, Asian women and people with learning disabilities [2]. It is not clear exactly how participants are recruited individually but it seems to be the case that the schools are set up with the help of community organisations who presumably have a relationship with the specific groups involved.

How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

Schools of Participation utilise a range of deliberative tools and techniques including:

  • group discussion
  • participatory exercises on power
  • building listening and communication skills
  • forum theatre

Schools of Participation require a trained facilitator, although sessions should be led by participants. The process follows a participatory action and learning approach, which aims for a community to identify their needs and develop realistic plans of action. Schools can last from a matter of days spread over a month to, for example, every weekend for a year. 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The immediate outcome for participants is the opportunity to build confidence and skills in listening and negotiating. The aim is that participants are more likely to get actively involved in their community through campaigns or other actions. It is hoped that people will also take these skills and enthusiasm back into the community. In the past, participants from Schools have gone on to work with the police and housing organisations, to work on issues that were raised and discussed during the School [2].

Analysis and Lessons Learned

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See Also


[1] Community Pride (n.d.) About Us. Community Pride. Available at:[2] Take Part (n.d.) Schools of Participation. Take Part. Available at:

External Links