Dr Tony Lloyd criticises the latest zero tolerance behaviour initiative SLANT as unrealistic & harmful to the 1 in 5 school children who are neurodivergent – in this TES article by Liz Hawkins.
By Liz Hawker on 10 September 2021
Instead of the uniform nature of the ‘Slant’ technique, students with special educational needs and disability require a variety of individual approaches, argues Liz Hawker
Pupils sit quietly, straight-backed and attentive, tracking the teacher’s face. They digest the input then respond to questions with full eye contact and a smile. A dream lesson or some kind of strange dystopia?
For the one in five neurodivergent pupils in our classrooms, there is no doubt that it would be the latter. Enforced posture, attention and eye contact – summed up within the acronym, Slant – was pioneered in many US schools a decade ago and is being adopted by schools across the UK.
Developed by Teach Like a Champion author Doug Lemov, the Slant technique requires pupils to “sit up, listen, ask and answer questions, nod your head, track the speaker”.
But behaviour and special educational needs and disability (SEND) policies can’t possibly marry with this approach.
Behaviour management: the science behind Slant
Dr Tony Lloyd, chief executive of the ADHD Foundation, says it’s “unrealistic” to expect students with SEND to adopt the Slant approach.
“What is being asked of the one in five pupils who are neurodivergent is unrealistic and possibly in breach of the Equality Act, as well as the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice,” he says.
“This Slant model is a naive approach to improving education outcomes, emotional intelligence or behaviour – it is not actually possible for many neurodivergent pupils. We need to ensure every child in any school is able to access an education, which is their universal and legal right.”
Behaviour is often front and centre of any spotlight on SEND; neurodiversity experts argue that any uniform approach in schools contradicts the very notion of pupils’ individual differences, and pupils’ moods and behaviour are often a reflection of their difficulties.
Professor Amanda Kirby is a former GP and emeritus professor at Cardiff University. She has worked with children and adults with motor coordination difficulties and related specific learning difficulties, and is published widely in the field of neurodiversity, dyspraxia and developmental coordination disorder (DCD).
“Some children may find it harder to maintain posture easily with dyspraxia/DCD and could be penalised for the wrong reasons,” she says, “Often, there is a choice – do I look, listen or sit up? For some, combining all of Slant is impossible to do.”
The stipulation of eye contact, extended concentration and specific posture risks putting pupils with SEND right in the eye of the storm. Behaviour and learning specialist and author, Fin O’Regan, agrees. “Children need structure but flexibility in teaching and learning. They need systems that celebrate them as unique individuals, not ones built around compliance and control,” he says.
With the Slant model, something else very important has left the room along with individuality: the chance for teachers themselves to assess how pupils are engaging with the learning (and adapt the lesson in response).
“Staff can assess engagement by their pupils’ spontaneous use of eye contact and their body language,” adds O’Regan. “If these things become a requirement, you not only break the individuality of a classroom, you also lose valuable feedback.”
So, what would a fully neurodiverse classroom look like? It needs to be anything but uniform. And its behaviour policy? As no pupil with SEND is the same as another, it needs to focus on core principles and habits, allowing for individual adaptation.
Liz Hawker is a special educational needs and disability coordinator, specialist assessor and parent in Kent. She tweets @hawkerl1