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School CP - January 1986

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The Times Educational Supplement, London, 10 January 1986


Second state abolishes use of the cane

New South Wales bans corporal punishment. Luis Garcia reports

After nearly a decade of controversy, the New South Wales government has finally decided to abolish the use of the cane in state schools. But abolition will only come into effect at the beginning of the 1987 school year and will not affect private schools, many of which are likely to continue to use the cane.

NSW has now become only the second state in Australia to abolish the use of corporal punishment in schools. The other, Victoria, abolished the cane in 1983.

Announcing the decision, the NSW minister for education, Mr Rodney Cavalier, said that teachers had for too long been expected to deal with recalcitrant students by administering corporal punishment to keep them under control.

This was not only demeaning for the teachers involved but could hardly be described as a humane and effective discipline policy.

Mr Cavalier said he had always wanted to abolish corporal punishment in government schools but had not done so earlier because many schools were not ready for the change at that stage.

The situation was very different now. He said the number of schools still using the cane had declined considerably over the past couple of years. Those that continued to use corporal punishment kept the cane "in the cupboard", to be used only as a last resort.

Instead of the cane, schools would now be encouraged to use alternative methods of discipline including isolation (telling children to stand in corners), withdrawal of privileges (not letting children participate in some school activities), detention and the imposition of duties (asking children to pick up papers, for example).

"Where all other techniques and attempts at counselling fail, the Department of Education will support, without qualifications, the effort of schools to maintain discipline by removing the violent and recalcitrant from their midsts," he said.

"We can assume, as a matter of certainty, a dramatic increase in suspensions and expulsions from 1987 on. I am not concerned about the student who warrants punishment -- my principal concern has been for the conscientious teacher who reduces himself or herself confronting a problem that should not be part of his or her duties."

Although private schools would not be affected by the abolition of the cane, Mr Cavalier said many of these schools would probably follow the trend.

The decision was welcomed by the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations and the NSW Teachers' Federation.

But not everyone was happy. The headmaster of one of Sydney's best-known private schools, Mr Rex Morgan, said abolishing the threat of the cane could lead to a worsening of discipline problems in schools.

Mr Morgan, the head of the Pittwater House group of schools, said that throughout history forms of corporal punishment had been accepted by both the giver and the receiver as immediate and effective deterrents to anti-social and dangerous behaviour.

"Corporal punishment, like war, is never good, but it is sometimes necessary and inevitable," he said.

"Some of the alternative sanctions, such as the withdrawal of privileges or forms of detention, are more injurious than a few strokes of the cane. I believe there are arguments for the judicious or sensible use of caning because there are situations in which schools find themselves where using the cane acts as an immediate and sensible form of punishment."

Mr Morgan said many people thought that headmasters in private schools went around "thrashing boys all day long" but this was not the case. The cane was used only very rarely, probably no more than two or three times a year, in his schools.

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