School's 'inhumane' discipline crackdown leaving pupils 'terrified' and dreading lessons

  • Pupils and parents told ITV News Anglia's Matthew Hudson about life at the school

Parents say pupils have been left "terrified" by a school's new discipline crackdown - claiming children have wet themselves and spent weekends dreading the return to the classroom.

Children at the St Ivo Academy in Cambridgeshire say they are banned from speaking in corridors between classes, and are not allowed toilet breaks during lessons.

The school in St Ives has adopted the SLANT teaching strategy which requires that children "Sit up, Lean forward, Answer questions, Nod their heads and Track the teacher".

The Astrea Academy Trust, which runs the school, said the new policy and stricter disciplinary procedures, is leading to better behaviour from students.

But parents and pupils at the school told ITV News Anglia it was making their lives miserable, and teaching unions said staff were leaving or taking time off because of the new regime.

More than 400 are calling on the school to change the rules, saying their children are frightened to attend.

Pupils at St Ivo Academy told ITV News Anglia about the impact of the new rules Credit: ITV News Anglia

One child said: "I always feel really nervous because I'm trying not to break any of their rules because they are handing out detentions now like it's nothing."

Another added: "It feels like every day you come in and there's more and more rules piled on top of you and it just feels like you're going to forget one of them and get into trouble."

A third said: "Even if your pen runs out, you get detention."

Students told ITV Anglia that the new rules state that children must remain silent, even when walking between classes and that there are strict rules in place determining when children can go to the toilet.

If they cannot find one available at lunch time, then they cannot go at all, said pupils.

Julie Norton, a parent of a child at St Ivo Academy. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Julie Norton, a parent who has two children at the school, said: "Break times and lunch times are incredibly short. So you've got children who are desperate to use the loo and are having accidents in the classroom. It's inhumane.

"The children have been coming home telling us about this Nazi salute.  "I believe it's when the teacher wants attention - the pupils have to put their pens down, lean forward and they have to hold their hand up at a certain angle which very much mimics a Nazi salute."I do not see how that can help anything."

One pupil spoke to ITV News Anglia on condition of anonymity. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Another child, who spoke to ITV News Anglia anonymously,said: "From halfway through Sunday I start feeling ill because of school, because of the rules and the way they treat us. It's like a prison."

Bethan Lawrence-Jones, who has a child at the school, said: "Children are so unhappy, so anxious, so nervous about school.

"My son says it's not a happy place to be, it's not an inspirational place to be and it's really difficult to learn there. "He just can't wait to get out and leave and I think that's really sad. They're frightened. And from what we've heard from the teaching unions, the teachers are just as unhappy and are petrified too."

Rev Matt Finch is leading the parents' campaign. Credit: ITV News Anglia

More than 400 parents have now gathered in a forum to demand that the school relaxes some of the new regulations, but the trust maintains that the new rules are getting them the results they want.

In a statement, an Astrea Academy Trust spokesperson said: "An aspect of our morning routine consists of students raising their hands very briefly for a few seconds following a signal from the Head of Year, to indicate the start of the day and routine.

"As would be expected, any inappropriate gesture made by a student at any time will be addressed in line with our behaviour expectations, as we will not tolerate racist behaviour of any sort.

Responding to concerns about student toilet breaks, the spokesman said: "There are 1,755 students at St Ivo, and for safeguarding reasons we cannot allow students to leave lessons during the school day.

"That’s why we have ensured there are opportunities for students to access toilets during break and lunchtimes. This is in line with most other schools across the country.

"All students who have a specific medical need are given a pass which allows them to go to the toilet at any time."

The spokesman also added that reasonable adjustments are made to the SLANT policy for any student who has additional needs.

What is the SLANT strategy?

SLANT is a teaching method with a long history, but it has reached a wider audience in recent years after author Doug Lemov wrote about it in his book, Teach Like A Champion.

First published in 2010, the book advocates "Sitting up, Leaning forward, Answering questions, Nodding your head and Tracking the teacher" as a way of enhancing children's ability to pay attention.

The idea is that children are less distracted and so focus more on topics covered in lessons - thus learning more.

It hass been adopted in many schools in the UK, particularly those that advocate a disciplinarian "no excuses" approach.

But the method has drawn criticisms - according to the Times Education Supplement, the method has not been extensively interrogated in research, and there are some studies that seem to refute the idea that sitting still is inherently better for academic performance.

Many others have criticised the strict method as being especially isolating or children with additional learning needs, such as pupils with ADHD or autism.

Parents at other secondary schools where SLANT has been introduced, including the Astrea Academy Sheffield, have also spoken about their concerns, saying the school had become like a "prison camp" and that pupils were left feeling suicidal.

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