Is Compliance a Learning Disability?

Teacher and Class 3

As teachers we know that our classes can fall into three groups, this is especially evident at reporting time.

There are those that do well, are active participants in the learning, question and who are confident. You know these well and find it easy to say something about their progress, attitudes, and behaviours. “Well done. Keep it up” There are those who have presented challenges, often of a behavioural or engagement in nature. Once again you know these well and you do not struggle to offer advice on how to do better next year. “Learn to focus and avoid distractions” The last group are not so well known to you. They are often quiet, do as they are told and take up little of your time. In short they are compliant and when it comes to writing reports often provide the biggest challenge.

The size of each group may vary but I would bet they still exist in many classes.

The first group

We could argue that the first group find the learning environment to their liking and are comfortable within it. They are comfortable with the approach, resources, pace, language and tasks. This group are often the “volunteer” group and will take part in extracurricular activities or be members of out of class groups. As a result of their learning needs being met they do well and make progress. 

The second group

The second group do not find the learning environment to their liking, something is missing, and they are not comfortable but do not have the language or skills to express what is wrong in an appropriate and helpful manner. Although they seek to express their needs they do not fully understand what it is that is missing or what to do about it. The result is a series of challenges as they seek attention to help them resolve the issues they have with their learning environment.  This group will often take up a greater percentage of resources than their numbers suggest both in terms of the teacher and support provision. This support may not produce as much impact as wished too because it often does not address the issue of the learning environment and the missing needs. A little like giving glasses of water to somebody when they ask for water when actually what they need is the fire brigade to put out a blaze. 

The third group

The third group, the compliant learners, don’t make a fuss even if the learning environment is not meeting their learning needs. They may “self-label” as not very bright and have reduced expectations of themselves as they reflect the expectations placed upon them. When we rely on past performance as a predictor of potential or future performance this group often go unchallenged since they achieve within the expected or predicted range even if this is way below their true and as yet untapped potential.  When there is a threshold associated with targets and grades this group will often be seen as the “borderline” students, those who with more help could achieve a little more. What we give them though is more of the same and yet we are still not meeting their learning needs although some will do better because of the greater expectation we have of them.

Do you disagree with me?

If you disagree with me then for you these groups don’t exist, you have never experienced them, and report writing for you is a case of limiting what you have to say rather than trying to find things to say about some of your students. You do not see compliance as a learning disability?

If you agree with me and these groups do exist what can we do about them?

Firstly we know there are students who do well in everything they do at school. We may see or recognise these as “more able” or “gifted or talented” students. Perhaps we should also see them as students who have the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours to manage their learning environments to meet their learning needs in whatever learning environment they find themselves. They know that whatever they face in terms of learning challenges there are ways around the obstacles and they can do something about it, a form of “acceptance compliance.”

Next we have the anomaly of a student who does well in one subject and not in another. Rather than exploring the differences in the learning environment we rather comfortably explain this by saying they have a natural ability in a subject or perhaps it is because they get along with the teacher of that subject. For whatever reason we accept their lack of performance or achievements in other subjects as a result of this “reasoning.” The students go along with this and see themselves as being better in some subjects than others, another form of “acceptance compliance.” We do not question their ability to manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs nor do we seek to develop their skills or challenge their attitudes and behaviours. It is uncommon to find those students who do not do well

It is uncommon to find those students who do not do well in any subject at school being offered a “different” or “alternative” curriculum. This has the radical effect of changing the learning environment in a number of ways. Something they are likely to go along with for their present experience is nothing more than uncomfortable, to say the least. There are many cases where students unexpectedly excel in this different environment and this is often put down to the lack of academic demands or the student being more interested and therefore more motivated to learn. Once again what is not explored is the learning environment and the match to the learning skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours of the learner that may bring about this change. Further, we do not take this success and use it to demonstrate that where the learner has succeeded in a learning environment that suits their needs that with the appropriate support they may be able to learn to manage other learning environments too and therefore extend their achievements.

The case for Learning Intelligence or LQ

LQ is the ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs. In the examples I have given above I would argue that we tend to ignore the learning environment and our ability as learners to manage it. We find ways of explaining achievement in some areas and not others and ultimately may reject some learners. We accept compliance and make no link between the level of success of a learner and their ability to manage the learning environment to meet their needs. I argue that it is at least worth exploring LQ as a factor in learning and that working to develop the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours of learners will ultimately be a better approach for all learners than compliance, more of the same, support or an alternative curriculum.

Link to Learning Intelligence graphic:

LQ banner

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About AcEd

"4c3d" (AcEd) is the abbreviation for Advocating Creativity in education, a company I set up to challenge how we think about and deliver education. The blog champions my concept of Learning intelligence, how we manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs as well as detailing those needs: Power Belonging, Choice and Fun - PBCF. Kevin Hewitson 2019

7 responses to “Is Compliance a Learning Disability?”

  1. Re-learn Again says :

    Reblogged this on relearnagain and commented:
    Is Compliance a Learning Disability? On reading this blogpost by ace-d, I was taken back to my own school years at Sir Thomas Abney Primary School, Hackney in the mid-1960s. My rather scary teacher Mr H often got frustrated with me over my failure grasp basic maths. I enjoyed listening to stories, enjoyed history, but my memories of his lessons consisted of watching various cloud formations on the north London sky-line, making out the shapes of faces, horses, clowns, watching the milky exhausts of aeroplanes across the pure blue. I also remember his nasal intonations, way his voice rose and fell when he read the class ” Alice in Wonderland”, his check shirts, his frown and NHS glasses. I don’t remember, his lessons, but I do recall his huge hands and noise they made and a naughty child’s backside. A dull heavy clapping. Quite Buddhist I suppose as it was done with only one hand. But I can’t remember what he taught me. Not one lesson is recalled, and it has nothing to do with time and distance because I do remember more clearly other lessons from other teachers going back decades.
    The author describes three types of pupils/learners. The apparently success and skilled who have the ability to adapt to any learning environment and do well in most subjects. The second, a group I tend to teach, who are disruptive, have pragmatic linguistic and other problems, who are openly out of sync with the learning environment and who, and author does not directly broach this subject, become labelled and if they are lucky statemented as Adhd, ASD, behavioural problems, possibly dyslexic with all the other cocktail of symptoms and so on.
    The third, and I would say is the most common, the compliant. These are learners who are often quiet, avoid getting into trouble and attracting attention, many excel in some subjects but fail in others and they often graze along on the middle or lower streams. I would add they leave schools and colleges with a stronger sense of under achievement than others.
    The author demonstrates how LQ ( Learning Intelligence) needs to be applied to these learners. What does this mean, a change or flexible approach to their learning environments. Unlike the first group who adapt to the envionments and the second group who through their behaviour attempt to change it, this group checks out.
    unfortunately, even with the current policies on educational choice, the choices centre more around governance in schools rather experimenting with the school environment, and I have not come across evidence where the traditional classroom teacher format in urban schools have been challenged. In the mean time check out of my blog and read ace-d’s excellent article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 4c3d says :

    @Re-learn Again. Thank you for your comment and insights. I purposefully try to avoid labels unfortunately I find that in education they are rather seductive and tend t get liberally applied. LQ has much to offer all three groups of learners. Being able to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs build life long learners too. I created a summary “info-graphic” for those who want a quick introduction to LQ and how it can benefit the learner. The link is:

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Re-learn Again says :

    Great article. I re-blogged it. Hope you don’t mind.


  4. Sue Jones says :

    Your argument makes some very valid points, Kevin – particularly with regard to the ‘compliant’ group – who may well be capable of much more if they had the skills or courage or belief to express their needs. If then we in education are to look to encourage use and understanding of mismanaging the learning environment – the question that springs next to my mind is – how would we do this? How do those schools who have created modern open learning places respond to this ? Do we need to teach these skills ? Or does thus fit alongside nurturing Emotional Intelligence and/or Emotional Resilience ?


    • 4c3d says :

      Thanks Sue. Here is how to develop LQ

      Since LQ is a construct we can work on the Skills, Attitudes, Attributes and Behaviours (SAAB) that are necessary to manage your own learning environment successfully. To see some of the SAAB that form LQ you can explore the info graphic I produced. The link to the info-graphic once again is:

      I would also direct you to the AIM Awards “Personal Potential Award” mentioned in my last article. The link is:

      Talk to me! Developing LQ can be a simple as changing the teachers mindset and approach but they need to be aware of the impact on the learning environment they make and how this can impact the learner. I can deliver talks or workshops on LQ tailored to your needs but with the powerful message that a learner who can manage their own learning environment is a life long, independent and agile learner.


      • Claudia Kennedy says :

        Thought-provoking blog title!! I agree that for a teacher, really knowing our individual students and creating a fertile learning environment for them is crucial. As teachers, we must pay attention to this vital aspect of learning, and perhaps we do sometimes imagine that the difficulty lies with the student, rather than with the environment facilitated by the teacher.

        I also really like your point though, that explicitly teaching students to be aware of and understand what steps THEY can take to improve a learning environment (or ask for it to be improved in some way) is also very important. I wonder how often we actively teach students the language and skills to advocate for themselves in this way? Excellent food for thought, thank you!


      • 4c3d says :

        Thanks again Claudia for taking the time to read the articles and leave a reply, it is encouraging when people do so.

        Where I have worked with students to help them advocate for themselves the key has been rehearsing strategies and tapping into their emotional intelligence (or at least helping them to acknowledge how important this aspect is when working with others).


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