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School CP - February 2005

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The Age, Melbourne, 13 February 2005

Schools likely to accept corporal punishment ban

By Nassim Khadem

Victorian schools that have used corporal punishment in the past or that still use it say they are not worried about the State Government's proposal to ban it.

Corporal punishment was banned in Victorian public and Catholic schools nearly 20 years ago, but a handful of private schools still use it. Only one school, the Frank Dando Sports Academy in Ashwood, admitted that it still used the cane.

Vice-principal Ziad Zakharia said the school occasionally used it as a last resort. "We do use it, but only in extreme circumstances, for example where a student is doing something dangerous that is endangering their life."

Mr Zakharia said a student last year received "a stroke across the buttocks with a cane" because of misbehaviour. The student's parents would have signed an agreement when they enrolled their child and were told about it afterwards, he said.

"There are parents who say they are against corporal punishment and the school has been debating for years the merits for and against it, but there are some cases where it is warranted because it can work as a deterrent for bad behaviour," he said.

Mr Zakharia said the school had alternative disciplinary strategies in place, "so if they banned it (corporal punishment) it wouldn't worry us; we could get by without it".

Education Minister Lynne Kosky released a discussion paper last week looking at ways to update Victoria's education laws.

Tony Keenan, head of the Victorian Independent Education Union, which represents independent schoolteachers, called for an end to corporal punishment in a submission to the review.

"It's abhorrent - in other states it would be deemed to be an assault and there is no evidence that it assists in discipline; in some cases it can actually harm the child."

Mr Keenan said many parents were appalled to find that schools were still allowed to administer corporal punishment. "I think that in the year 2005, for schools to be receiving funding and still be able to assault students is wrong. I can't imagine any controversy over it being banned."

Mr Keenan said it was also legally dangerous for teachers to use corporal punishment because it could result in them being sued by parents if a child was injured. "As a body that represents teachers, we believe that it's inappropriate for the teacher to administer corporal punishment without putting themselves in a dicey situation," he said. "Corporal punishment is not an exact science, it could result in an injury."

Michelle Green, chief executive of the Association of Independent Schools of Victoria, said a very small number of schools still used it and the only one she was certain did was the Frank Dando Sports Academy.

"There are a range of views about corporal punishment and in those schools where corporal punishment may be practised, the teachers would have discussed it with the community, with the parents, and it would be part of the school's policy, so that at the time of enrolment the parents would have signed a form consenting to it," she said.

Ironbark Christian School, a Seventh Day Adventist school in Yarrambat, practised corporal punishment more than a decade ago. Principal Fiona Dumitrache said that in the 12 years she has been principal the practice has been banned. "I think parents would rather keep that role to themselves," she said.

Ms Dumitrache said that, personally, she thought corporal punishment could be beneficial, but it was not a policy of the school. "I believe that children need to be shown the right behaviours rather than just be belted."

Although St Michael's Grammar School used to have a reputation for caning its students, principal Simon Gipson said corporal punishment had not been used since he took over as head five years ago. Mr Gipson welcomed it being outlawed: "It's a violation of the rights of a child. It's assault."

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