We should do things as well as possible, rather than as fast as possible

 A Drive for more depth in learning  

The Slow Education initiative is inspired by Canadian journalist Carl Honore’s book ‘In Praise of Slow’.

Honore,  examined the whole ‘Slow’ movement for his book, explaining that pressure to fit a fixed model stifles the creativity of our children.

“They also don’t learn to look inside themselves to work out who they are because they are so busy trying to be what we want them to be,” he says.

‘In Praise of Slowness’,  explored how the Slow philosophy might be applied in every field of human endeavor and coined the phrase “Slow Movement”.

Honoré describes the Slow Movement thus:

“It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

Honore adds  that Slow is about how you personally approach every moment of the day: do you approach it in a fast spirit – ‘How can I do this as quickly as possible?’ – or in the spirit of, ‘How can I do this as well as possible, how much time and attention does this task require from me?

Academic and former teacher, Professor Maurice Holt, sums up the idea in his  paper “Slow Schools mean deep learning”:

“Standards- driven education isn’t very different from a fast-food outlet, where packages of test-shaped knowledge are swallowed, but never properly digested.

“The movement for Slow Schools … seeks to promote learning in depth, rather than a debased curriculum based on goals, inspections and unreliable standards.”

Honore says ‘It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed.’ He continues ‘ Today we are addicted to speed, to cramming more and more into every minute. Every moment of the day feels like a race against the clock, a dash to a finish line that we never seem to reach. This roadrunner culture is taking a toll on everything from our health, diet and work to our communities, relationships and the environment. That is why the Slow Movement is taking off.’

Honore believes that people are now  waking up to the folly of living in fast-forward and discovering that by slowing down judiciously they do everything better and  indeed enjoy everything more,

Honore says ‘I think children need slowness even more than adults do. It’s in those moments of quiet, of unstructured time, of boredom even, that kids learn how to look into themselves, how to think and be creative, how to socialize. We are doing a great disservice to our children by pushing them so hard to learn things earlier and earlier and by keeping them so busy. They need time and space to slow down, to play, to be children. Across the world, parents, politicians, adults in general are so anxious about children nowadays that we have become too interventionist and too impatient; we don’t allow them enough freedom. My wife and I give our children lots of time to play on their own. We resist the temptation to enrol them in too many extracurricular activities. We limit the time they spend sitting in front of computer screens and using technology, so that they run around outdoors and invent their own play. We also don’t try to push them to learn academic things before they are ready. And so far the results have been good. I hope it continues!

Joe Harrison an adherent to the Slow Education movement here writes:

‘The creative process is at the very heart of Slow Education. Indeed it is an idea of creativity that, as with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, goes far beyond its traditional home in ‘the arts’ to become “the process of having original ideas that have value”. A Slow School understands this process and supports its learners (pupils and staff) in it. The learner has a mindset which supports creativity and allows time for deep learning.’

Mike Grenier, a co-founder of Slow Education, has been teaching English at Eton College for 21 years. He says (Guardian 8 March) ‘I’m concerned about how much uncertainty is being introduced into our education system. We’re creating all these new versions of schooling, such as academies and university technical colleges, and at the same time having a complete review of GCSEs and A-levels, and changing the curriculum. The intensity of change means that the wheels are turning faster and faster. It’s a bit like running an engine with the handbrake on – at some point cogs and wheels will fly off. The problem is that some of those cogs and wheels are children. It’s left so many people, students and staff feeling disorientated and unsure about the purpose of it all.’

Grenier says that the American thinker W Edwards Deming, informs the movements  ideas. He talked about the dangers of doing things in the rear view mirror. A lot of exams look at the past, and then you move on to the next thing. He believed in a system of continuous improvement and spoke powerfully about how he used to mark students’ work to find out where he’d gone wrong, rather than the problems they were having.

So what does this mean for schools?

Professor  Holt writes ‘Instead of breaking the curriculum down into measurable, bite-sized chunks, we should encourage students to consider a situation or a problem, look at it from various angles, and ask questions that need answering. Students might work in groups, and teachers might work in teams: instead of classroom boxes, we need flexible spaces, and ways of linking subjects that enrich learning.’

Holt concludes, ’ The movement for slow schools and slow education has faith in the capacities of teachers and heads, and seeks to promote learning in depth, rather than a debased curriculum based on goals, inspections and unreliable standards. We deplore the excessive use of crude tests, currently undermining English and American education: we take comfort from the remarkable success of Finland. And we recognise, above all, the vital importance of the interaction between teacher and student. We affirm, with Michael Oakeshott, that teaching must be seen “not as passing on something to be received … but as setting on foot the cultivation of a mind.” The quality of the engagement between teacher and learner is supreme, and it lies at the heart of the slow school.’

Oakeshott, the liberal philosopher, had quite a lot to say on education and his central proposition was  that education is not just about acquiring knowledge and ‘knowing’,  its about acquiring understanding and , importantly ,inculcating a desire to understand in young people ,Central to this is the relationship between the teacher and student, which is what the Slow Education movement seems to be about. Give young people time to understand. Learning is the comprehensive engagement in which we come to know ourselves and the world around us.

The message here is- Don’t simply get pupils to regurgitate facts, primarily testing their short term memories, which is what the system incentivises now. This is too superficial and does not allow in depth learning and understanding.  Allow students time to reflect, to analyse   and to interact with others  drilling down into information  finding their own answers and cultivating a greater understanding of the world around them.

The main hub of activity for the Slow Education movement, as the Guardian pointed out this week, has been at Matthew Moss high school in Rochdale and at St Silas CofE primary school in Blackburn.’ At Matthew Moss three lessons a week have been freed up in years 7 and 8 to give students time to develop projects they are really interested in. At the end, students have a viva examination with an adult to explore their knowledge and understanding. The school has also developed a scheme called D6. On Saturday mornings younger students volunteer to attend classes given by older students. The topics they teach aren’t connected to the exam syllabus, they are just of personal interest to the student teacher.’

However, the movement is not without its critics.

Sir Chris Woodhead, a former chief inspector of schools, told the Sunday Times  that   he was worried that the movement’s turn towards project-based learning, in particular, harks back to the 1970s, when such an approach left children with gaping holes in their factual knowledge.

He agrees “it takes a lifetime to begin to understand anything, like a Shakespeare play, which really matters”.

However, he adds: “There are dangers to this movement, too. Some of the people associated with it are, wholly predictably, using it to attack everything the UK government has been trying for the last quarter of a century to do to raise standards. So our curriculum is said to be ‘debased’ and the importance of creativity is trumpeted over the importance of submitting oneself to a body of external knowledge.

“Yes, let’s give children the time to learn in a meaningful and personal way, but let’s avoid the danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.”


Slow Education Web Site

Professor Maurice Holt


The Guardian -8 March 2015


In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed Paperback – 4 Aug 2005 by Carl Honore (Author)



  1. Have you seen the work of Kieran Egan? all of it excellent but particularly his learning in depth projects (which for some reason are not showing on his web site at the moment but see this for an idea

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