Last Saturday we spent the day at the London Festival of Education, which was hosted by the London University Institute of Education. We’ll report on the day more fully later this week, but today we’re focusing on one of the most interesting and stimulating sessions of the day: Slow Education.
The Slow Education website was created by Joe Harrison.
Slow Education is an approach that gives time for absorption in learning and reflection on learning: finding space and time where children and young people (and parents, teachers, schools, universities for that matter) can become passionate about and engrossed in their learning. Time to follow an interest and care about their work. Time to explore, experiment and direct their own learning. Time to reflect and absorb their learning without direct pressure of attainment targets or exams.
The website already carries a number of excellent articles, including one by Mike Grenier:
* As a culture we have lost sight of the purpose of education.
* Francis Wheen’s book, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, is a seminal read: how is it that we have allowed so much sophistry, gobbledegook and bullshit to corrupt the public and private language of Education?
* The result is an increasingly disorientated and demotivated polity. For instance: how can a person be an outcome? What does value mean in value added? What is meant by standards?
* What we are left with is an education system that obfuscates and uses an almost Orwellian doublespeak when a combination of clarity, precision and nuance are required.
* We are proud that Slow Education is a metaphor, and delighted that it causes people to think in order to begin to consider its connotations and meanings.
* Improving the experience of schooling in human terms is critical to our vision. From Early Years to the end of Postgraduate study in the formal settings, in places of work and in private lives where life-long dispositions can evolve, human beings need to be allowed to flourish in environments that respect their individuality, their right to caring and nurturing relationships, their potential and their ambitions.
* Too many lives are damaged at home before the young child has even set foot in a nursery environment; but also far too many lives are negatively affected by exposure to an education system that is hell bent on judging, marking, defining and standardising.
* There are two recognised extremes in terms of damaging parent styles: negligent and authoritarian, and Slow Education is confident that our education system would be improved significantly if, in the first instance, negligent teachers, parents and policy makers were made aware of their impact on young lives and encouraged to become more engaged, compassionate and authoritative; and similarly the system and the experience of pupils would be improved if the authoritarian, limiting and micromanaging forces of Government, schools and parents stopped intervening in a manner that betrays a lack of trust, empathy and consideration for individual needs.
* The DfE and OFSTED are two of the worst tiger parents and have demoralised and demotivated too many in the profession, have damaged the autonomy of schools and created a burdensome and ineffective results driven model.
* As a teacher, I can see how year by year students come to define their ability in terms of inaccurate data and labels: the fixed mindset that Carol Dweck defines pervades classrooms and common rooms and it would appear has taken over those who plan examinations and curricula.
* We need to reclaim a longer term vision of what education is for: to reduce it to employability, life-time earnings, to measure it in these crudest terms is to debase humanity.
* Slow Education will allow teachers to regain rhythm and tempo in their lives, to collaborate effectively with one another and to regain their sense of professional esteem.
* Slow Education can also allow students to gain a better understanding of who they can be, what they can do and how they can contribute to a better life for both themselves and others.
* Children need time to be children; teachers need time to be able to develop their craft; society needs time to reflect and debate and to reach balanced decisions about what is significant in life.
* Yet at pace and with little proper consultation, large scale changes are rushed through and embarrassing U-turns required. Too much of the debate deals with extremes and there is too little moderate thinking and too little compromise, understanding and calm in this public discourse, and as a teacher I remain deeply concerned that those who live and breathe education are largely sidelined and denied the chance to contribute.
The speakers at Slow Education’s conference session included:
Carl Honore – Author of “In Praise of Slow” and authority on all matters Slow.
Maurice Holt – Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Colorado, and Slow School pioneer.
Mike Grenier – House Master at Eton College and fellow of the RSA.
Joe Harrison – Creative Education consultant and practitioner. Founder of http://www.sloweducation.co.uk
Ian Morris – Head of Well-Being at Wellington College. Author of “Teaching Happiness and Well-Being in Schools”.
James Stanforth – Head of Computing at Eton College.
The Senior Management Team of Matthew Moss High School, Rochdale.
SLOW SCHOOLS MEAN DEEP LEARNING by Professor Maurice Holt
Despite a huge investment in tests, initiatives, and political aspirations, the English education system fails to inspire confidence. Those of us who advocate slow education believe it is the actual process of schooling that matters – not the invention of more ways of inspecting and assessing, or more types of schools. These are all blunt instruments. Slow education is smart education.
The government is forever telling us that the task for schools is Driving Up Standards. This mantra emerged under New Labour and continues under the Coalition. What does it mean? How are the standards defined, and how are they driven up?
The picture that emerges – the view the government takes of school – is of an assembly line rather than a place of learning. No wonder teacher morale is low. No wonder teachers are reluctant to become heads: get the paperwork wrong, misread the health and safety requirements, and a single inspection can blight your career. It’s a climate of fear: those Ofsted inspectors are always waiting to pounce.
The idea that education is all about delivering right answers is clearly misconceived. Yet it’s the inevitable consequence of this mistaken approach. Students learn, but they do not understand.
And working backwards from outcomes – to deliver the required answers – is a recipe for dumbing down. Standards-driven education isn’t very different from a fast-food outlet, where packages of test-shaped knowledge are swallowed, but never properly digested. Slow food, on the other hand, starts with sound ingredients and creates a satisfying experience. So does the slow school.