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C. Farrell tackles readers' queries on corporal punishment

Now that the UK is leaving the European Union, will we see the return of school caning?

No. It was not the EU that obliged Britain to outlaw school corporal punishment in the 1980s but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), an institution of the Council of Europe, which is an entirely separate body from the European Union. The UK is not leaving the Council of Europe or its Convention on Human Rights.

However, there are those who think it should, arguing that adherence to the Convention interferes with parliamentary sovereignty. (Then again, so to an extent does any international treaty, and there are hundreds of them.)

It happens that among those politicians who would like to see the UK leave the ECHR is the former Home Secretary and recent Prime Minister, Theresa May. She and several other senior Conservatives have for some years been urging this course irrespective of whether or not Britain stays in the EU.

Leaving the Human Rights Convention would have seemed unlikely until relatively recently, but then so would leaving the EU, or the election of President Trump: politics has become very unpredictable these days.

So it might eventually happen. But of course that would not of itself restore corporal punishment. That would require a majority in Parliament, of which there is no sign at present and which is hard to imagine in the absence of a groundswell of support among the public at large.

(July 2018, updated August 2019)

The principal in one of your US school CP video clips says that paddling is an option only for boys. Isn't that unacceptably sexist? If the arguments for corporal punishment stand (many of which I agree with) then why is it that only those who have male reproductive parts need such forms of correction?

Yours is a common view nowadays in the USA and I think has probably resulted in a higher percentage of girls being paddled in recent years than in the past, in the relatively few places where there is any school CP at all. Even so, it's still only 20% to 25% of the total, according to the federal statistics, and maybe this simply reflects the fact that adolescent boys have been on average naughtier than girls since the dawn of time. It's the testosterone that does it.

I too was surprised by the statement by the superintendent in Tennessee that girls are explicitly excluded from CP in his school system. My impression is that that is rare now in the USA. Some would maintain that it could even constitute unlawful discrimination, though I am not aware that that proposition has ever been tested in a court of law.

Here in the UK, up until when school CP was outlawed altogether, there were lots of mixed-sex schools where only boys received CP. Caning, especially, was always thought of as mainly "a guy thing". I think there was always some distaste about the idea of physical punishment for girls, perhaps stemming partly from traditional notions of chivalry ("no gentleman would strike a lady", etc.). On top of that, there was probably some unstated nervousness about caning girls on their bottoms because it was thought that it might be misconstrued as having sexual overtones and/or because teenage girls might have started menstruating and nobody really wanted to start thinking about the potential implications of all that. So in practice, with a few exceptions, when girls were caned at all, it was usually on their hands, even at schools where boys were caned on their bottoms.

Personally I have no problem with making that gender distinction, or discrimination if you want to call it that, but then I was brought up in the UK in the 1950s and it never occurred to anyone in those days to claim that boys and girls belonged to the same species. This attitude was naturally also found in most of the former British Empire. The practice continues today in, for instance, Singapore, where school caning is commonplace for boys but actually against the law for girls. Singaporeans rarely seem to question the assumptions underlying that. It's just a cultural thing.

I think if you inhabit a culture where the conventional wisdom is that males and females are not significantly different from each other (as seems to be the case in the USA at the moment), the best solution is probably to make it an optional choice, as is already the case in practice in quite a number of the relatively few US schools that use CP at all. Then boys will (I gather) nearly always choose it in preference to some more laborious punishment, and so will some but not all girls.

(Aug 2008)

In which year was there the most CP of teenagers in UK schools?

The answer is that nobody knows, because the records were never centrally collected. Clearly it would be after universal compulsory education in 1880. But after that the minimum school leaving age was still 12 or 13 for several decades, so most teenagers were working.

The school leaving age was raised to 15 in 1947. From then on, there were suddenly a lot more fractious adolescent boys to be kept in order. Ditto when it was raised again to 16 in 1972 -- especially when you consider that 15 is typically the most rebellious age for a boy. I have a hunch that the amount of CP probably actually went up quite a lot at that point after, perhaps, a dip in the middle/late 1960s.

So the year we are looking for might well be in the middle 1970s. I've always felt sure the incidence of CP in that decade was higher than most people realised at the time, and higher than most people seem to think in retrospect now. However, the use of CP was beginning to decline by the end of the 1970s -- see the figures for the London Borough of Croydon, which was probably fairly representative of many other areas.

(Aug 2006)

I am a little troubled by the reference to Eric Wildman, who, I assume, was a founder of your Organisation, in Ian Gibson's The English Vice, p.60.

We have a misunderstanding here. Wildman's 1950s venture used the name "Corpun", and it is quite possible that it was he who first used the word as a contraction for "corporal punishment", though others have also done so. But he is nothing to do with this website, and as far as I know he has been dead since long before the internet age dawned.

Also, this website isn't an "organisation", it's just a website, run by me as a spare-time hobby. Unlike Wildman, I'm not campaigning for anything, or selling anything, I'm just providing information. Please note that the events described at p.60 of Gibson took place 50 years ago.

I regard Wildman as a rather amusing sideline to the history of CP in Britain. The man was clearly a harmless crackpot. I have myself quoted a whole chapter from D'Olbert (1956) poking gentle fun at Wildman's somewhat ridiculous activities. See also some of the 1950s news items about him that I have reproduced.

Gibson acknowledges that his own account is entirely drawn from that of D'Olbert, but he has made the whole thing sound altogether more sinister. This is in keeping with the general tone of Gibson's book.

(Jan 2003)

I sent in a news item I found. Why hasn't it appeared in the latest update?

It will probably appear sooner or later, unless it was really only of marginal interest. This website has never claimed to offer an up-to-the-minute news service.

It would be possible to run a "hot topical news" site about corporal punishment. But it would probably be a full-time job in itself. And any need for it is nowadays reduced, since readers who are desperate for the latest CP news coverage can get it for themselves using such tools as Google News.

With the limited time available, it seems to me better to take the long view, and gradually to build up a more balanced collection of research resources old and new, in which the reliability and comprehensiveness of the historical record is more important than short-term extreme topicality.

Even if your contribution is not used on the site, it is much appreciated.

(Dec 2001, revised Oct 2002, Aug 2006)

How do you decide what to include in the website? For example, does it include ALL available news items about corporal punishment?

No. I have had to become increasingly selective, as there is simply far too much material to include everything. However, where school, judicial, prison and reformatory CP is concerned, I am gradually adding to the website all items that seem to me to be interesting or significant. Many of those not included are really only passing mentions, or largely repeat what has been said elsewhere.

In the case of domestic (parental) CP, I am even more selective. This is partly because there is an awful lot of such material but also because of problems of definition: quite a lot of the public comment and discussion spills over into the subject of mothers smacking their babies and toddlers, which I regard as a quite different topic and not one that I want to be concerned with here, and which in any case is very fully covered elsewhere. However, I do include items dealing with the more formal domestic punishment of older (especially teen) offspring, as well as anything which appears to have wider (e.g. legal) implications.

In general, my definition of "corporal punishment" is probably rather narrower than some people's. Anti-CP campaigners, especially, have a tendency to conflate a lot of disparate phenomena under that heading when it suits their purpose. Thus the "Nospank" website includes articles about all kinds of clearly abusive treatment not related to spanking or formal CP in the accepted sense, and lumps it all together as CP. Obviously I will not include that kind of material.

And, as I have pointed out elsewhere, casual, indiscriminate heat-of-the-moment clouting round the head by ill-tempered and inadequate or drunken parents, and wild assaults all over the body with whatever instrument is to hand, do not count as corporal punishment as far as I am concerned, whatever lazy hacks and those with an axe to grind may find it expedient to claim.

For more on this, please read the About this website page, particularly under "What's included" and "What's not included".

(Feb 2000, updated Sep 2000, Oct 2002, Aug 2006)

Is there any information on the incidence of crime in areas that have banned corporal punishment in schools, compared to those which haven't?

This is a terribly difficult area - to start with, trying to make international statistical comparisons is notoriously difficult because of differences of definition, terminology, culture and tradition. This is particularly true of crime statistics, which are an absolute minefield of traps for the unwary. There are few convincing international cross-cultural comparative studies on crime.

If anyone has attempted to make comparisons between CP and non-CP cultures, I am not aware of any clear conclusions being drawn.

A further problem is that the countries or states still using formal school CP are a highly disparate group: southern states of the USA, most English-speaking countries in Africa, much of SE and E Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea), India and Pakistan (?), parts of the Middle East, one or two private schools in Australia, and several small countries in the Caribbean and the Pacific. It's now entirely gone from Britain and from many of the places historically largely defined by Britain (South Africa, Hong Kong, New Zealand), and didn't exist within living memory in much of the rest of Europe or in large parts of urban northern USA.

Anti-CP campaigners in the USA make a lot of the fact that in the south, to which school CP is now almost entirely confined, crime rates (or at any rate, violent crime) tend to be higher than in the north, in so far as one can compare like with like (i.e. urban with urban and rural with rural, etc.) but I doubt myself whether this has anything much to do with CP. More likely both facts -- and capital punishment too, and probably many other differences, from moon pies to ice hockey -- are simply a product of differing culture and history.

In any case, on closer inspection there are really no very obvious correlations: the highest murder rate in the western world is in Washington DC, which hasn't had school CP for many decades. Similarly, Chicago banned it about 100 years ago, but this did not stop the city from being notorious for gang-related crime for much of the 20th century.

Conversely, some of the last countries to abolish school CP in continental Europe - Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden - are among the least violent and crime-ridden anywhere. But these are fairly small, relatively homogeneous countries. More comparable with US cities in terms of urban density, cultural diversity and population figures is London, which until recently had rather a low rate of violent crime as very big world cities go, yet many of its schools were using a tremendous amount of caning and/or slippering until the early 1980s.

Likewise, Singapore has a famously low crime rate alongside a great deal of school caning as well as the better-known judicial CP.

All this might seem to suggest that CP tends to reduce violence - but then look at Africa: Kenya for example, which until very recently used CP widely both at school and as a judicial penalty, and where murderous violence is rampant, lynchings now occur with impunity in broad daylight in the middle of the capital, and law and order have pretty nearly broken down in the past decade or two. Ditto (if in slightly less extreme form) some parts of the Caribbean, where I suspect the prevalence of the US-influenced gun, gang and drug culture is probably the more salient factor.

Overall, I think it's clear that you can't use crime statistics to prove (or even to suggest) anything about CP one way or the other: there are far too many other variables at play.

(Feb 2000, revised Oct 2001, Aug 2006)

Is it true that the UK school cane was generally applied to the hands rather than the bottom?

We are talking here about England and Wales (Scotland was quite different - see feature article The cane and the tawse in Scottish schools).

It is a widespread myth that the cane was mainly applied to the hands. This myth comes in several forms: one version that periodically crops up in press articles is that men who went to elite private schools (misleadingly known in Britain as "public" schools) often seem to think that while they indeed got whacked on their backsides, boys in state schools only got the cane on their hands. This is certainly not true, of secondary schools at least.

I'm not quite sure where this wrong idea originated but I think it might stem from literary sources of the early 20th century about the co-educational "elementary" schools which first developed after the introduction of free, compulsory, universal education in 1870. At the time these were the only fully state-controlled schools, but since kids then left to start work at 13 they were more akin to today's primary schools and tell us little about the state secondary schools which came into being after the 1944 Education Act, still less about grammar schools, the only "secondary" or "high" schools open to most kids (subject to passing an academic entrance exam at age 11) before World War II.

One allusion to hand-caning in these early elementary schools was immortalised by the Edwardian music-hall star Florrie Forde in her famous comedy song, "Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy".

Another possible source for this misapprehension amongst people of a certain age group is a worthy but inaccurate 1961 feature film called "Spare the Rod" in which Max Bygraves, of all unlikely people, played a saintly teacher in a tough East London boys' secondary school where he strove to have CP abolished, and the CP depicted consisted of caning across the hands. There might have been such a school, but if so it was not typical.

The trouble is that practice varied quite a lot from area to area and even, to some extent, from school to school within an area. But people tend not to realise this, so they generalise from their own particular experience. Thus, someone can always come up with a counter-example to "disprove" a generalisation that is in fact broadly true. For example, out of the 104 local education authorities (LEAs) in England and Wales there was just one (Coventry) which actually did specify in its rules that all canings had to be on the hand (a very stupid rule, in my view). Newcastle in the north-east of England was more like Scotland (tawse on hands). Some other places in that region, and also Walsall in the West Midlands, used the tawse on bottoms for boys but on hands for girls.

But apart from these somewhat special cases, the general rule in most mixed-sex secondary schools would be that boys got caned on their bottoms in the vast majority of cases, with a few exceptions, and girls, where they got it at all (far less than boys), would be more likely to get caned on their hands, with a few exceptions.

In the overwhelming majority of boys-only secondary schools, such as the grammar school I attended, canings were absolutely always applied to the buttocks and never ever to the hands. I have long felt that the cultural significance of the grammar schools in 20th-century Britain has been greatly underestimated: they supplied the route through which the burgeoning lower-middle class gained access to the professions (not least, the teaching profession itself) and were therefore a major vector for the spread of a whole raft of attitudes and assumptions heavily influenced by the ethos of the 19th-century private elite (so-called "public") schools on which most of them were consciously modelled. The acceptance of corporal punishment as absolutely normal and proper for adolescent boys, and of the notion that the inevitable place for it is the seat of the boy's trousers, is in my view a small but potent part of that.

I know rather less about girls-only schools, except that many of them claimed never to use CP at all.

In primary schools, where punishment was more likely to be delivered on the spot in front of the class, spanking with the teacher's hand, or slippering with a gymshoe, was probably a lot more common than formal caning. At my village primary school I saw quite a number of handspankings on boys' bottoms (the girls got to watch this, but never received it themselves), and on a few occasions spur-of-the-moment semi-jocular whackings on the bottom with a metre ruler or whatever implement was to hand, but I only remember seeing the "proper formal cane" come out twice and that was given on the hands. But, again, practice probably varied quite a bit from one school to another.

(Feb 2000, revised Dec 2001)

When and why did the cane replace the birch in England?

There is clear evidence that the birch was in widespread schoolroom use in mediaeval times, and possibly much earlier. Broadly speaking, it seems to have been the CP weapon of choice until the late 19th century. The recipient was invariably required to lower his trousers. The birch -- essentially a bundle of twigs -- is useless through clothes.

My working hypothesis is that Victorian prudery began to find the idea of birching boys' bare bottoms "indecent", at any rate in the schoolroom. And the British Empire around that time was finding ready sources of rattan cane in the more tropical bits of the world. The thin, flexible cane, if applied with sufficient vigour, can be very effective even through two layers of clothing.

Oddly enough, the mainstay of that Empire -- the Royal Navy -- only introduced birching for its boy seamen in the 1860s, shortly before some schools started abandoning it. Previously, Navy boys had been punished with a junior version of the cat-o'-nine-tails. But that too had always been inflicted on the bare seat (unlike the adult version), so this change did not mark a major shift in naval culture.

Still, it took a long time for the birch to disappear altogether. I believe Eton College last used it in 1963. The last birching of boys in the Navy was in 1936, although as a general day-to-day punishment it had been replaced by the cane in 1906. In reformatory schools (later known as "Approved Schools") the changeover to cane or tawse was completed by the middle 1920s. In the judicial system, the birch lasted until 1948. The last prison birching was in 1962.

(Dec 1999, revised Feb 2003)

Why are you so dismissive of research studies showing that the majority of violent criminals were subject to corporal punishment as children and that therefore CP of children should be avoided?

Because the majority of people, males anyway, were subject to CP as children. It is an elementary logical fallacy (what philosophers call "the fallacy of the undistributed middle" -- as in "all cats have paws, my dog has paws, therefore my dog is a cat") to deduce that it was the CP that made them criminals. To put it the other way round: just consider how many have received CP and not become criminals.

Also, I'm suspicious about how these studies defined CP. I think they may have taken it as including "subject to random casual parental violence", e.g. clouting around the head or indiscriminate bad-tempered thumping, which I believe is fairly classic in (especially) many less well-educated families in many cultures, and is not, in my view, at all the same thing as a calm, considered spanking, paddling or caning (either by parents or at school) for a specific and stated reason delivered to a particular place, which is what we mean by CP for the purposes of this website.

I could well believe that random casual violence, particularly in the context of inconsistent and unpredictable parenting, might increase the likelihood of the child growing up to be violent and lawless. Other studies have repeatedly shown that a major predictor for dysfunctional families and adolescent delinquency is neither an excessively strict nor an excessively lax upbringing, but one which lurches inconsistently between the two -- which is apparently one of the most distinctive features of the typical inadequate parent. On this view, whether or not you spank is far less significant than that you should give kids a consistent and structured framework, in which they understand what is expected of them, what is unacceptable, and what are the consequences for disobedience.

It has long been my experience that the active opponents of CP, like most avid campaigners for a narrow and specific cause, are inclined to massage the facts to suit their case -- in this instance, by deliberately not defining their terms accurately. They often lump together so many disparate phenomena and call them all "corporal punishment" that the results are surely meaningless.

Anyway, why look in such obscure and unpersuasive places for the causes of violent crime when much more obvious and plausible causes are staring us in the face? One, particularly in the USA, is surely the gun-worshipping culture. Compare the US capital with the capital of Europe. The murder rate per head of population in Washington DC, according to some statistics I saw recently, is an almost unbelievable 70 times the rate in Brussels, where it is not normal to possess a gun and is, as far as I know, quite difficult to obtain one. (There has been no formal CP for decades past in either city, in schools at least, so that can't be a factor either way.)

(Dec 1999, revised Oct 2002)

My query is about the police administering CP. Was this considered a normal, everyday part of a policeman's duties in cases where judicial CP was unaccompanied by a custodial sentence? Did he sign up to it, as it were, when he joined the force?

In the UK, police were responsible for birching boys up until the end of JCP in 1948 (and likewise in the Isle of Man until 1976). This had not always been the case; at one time offenders were taken off to prison to be flogged, even if they weren't being sent to prison anyway. At some point in the latter part of the 19th century the job gradually came to be given to the police, who at first didn't want it. Somewhere I have a copy of a letter from a police force complaining to the Home Office about magistrates' courts designating a policeman as bircher. But evidently the Home Office and the magistrates soon got their way.

Although there were several hundred juvenile birchings a year, it can't ever have accounted for more than a tiny proportion of any individual policeman's life, and I doubt if there were ever so many in any one place that a policeman would be consciously signing up for it on joining the force, but my impression from talking in 1965 to a retired policeman in Yorkshire was that any officer called upon to do it would be expected to take it in his stride. (He hadn't been so called upon, but recalled being accidentally present in an outer office on one occasion when two culprits emerged tearful and visibly chastened from their ordeal in an inner sanctum. He had found this an excellent advertisement for the merits of JCP and was still quite annoyed that it had been abolished.)

I've never heard of the (very many fewer) whippings of adults in the UK being done by anyone other than prison staff.

In the Isle of Man, by contrast, it being a very small place, I'm sure anyone joining the police force would have been entirely aware of the probability that they would at some point be required to witness, and possibly even administer, a birching, and of course there, after 1960, it was for any age up to 21.

In Jersey and Guernsey it was always done in prison, never by the police; the form there, by the 1950s, was for the offender to be sentenced to prison for the remainder of that day (or "until 4 o'clock", etc.), and there to be thrashed before being released.

The situation in South Africa for juveniles (up to 21) may have been somewhat similar to the UK in that the caning was most often not accompanied by a prison term. The passage in the "Jail Diary of Albie Sachs" where he hears the whackings through the wall of his cell seems to suggest that the boys were fetched to the local prison to be caned, but that it was the police who were doing the fetching and by implication the caning. Of course, since Sachs couldn't actually see what was going on, he might have been mistaken about this.

The short-lived experiment of judicial caning for young males during the Cyprus emergency (1956) was apparently also based on UK practice in this respect, although the first batch, at least, of such offenders were taken to a military camp for the purpose. See "First canings", Cyprus Mail, 16 January 1956, in The Archive.

Subject to further research, I am not aware of any other past or present JCP countries where the job is or was given to anyone other than prison officers. However, I am not certain about the procedure in certain African countries. In Singapore and Brunei, and apparently also in Trinidad, JCP is invariably accompanied by a prison sentence anyway and is rarely ordered for juveniles. The same is true of Malaysia, with the exception of the (apparently rather rare) discretionary canings of juveniles by local courts. In these latter cases, the court may order the boy's parent or guardian to do it -- see "Man ordered to cane son in court over stolen bike", The Straits Times, 6 December 1997, in The Archive. (May 1999, revised July 1999, Oct 1999)

How did school CP come to vanish so fast in the UK? What was the European Union's role?

I think everyone was taken by surprise at the speed with which it happened, even those who were campaigning for just such an outcome. The cane, slipper or strap were still in fairly full swing in a majority of British schools at the beginning of the 1980s, yet by mid-1987, in state schools at least, they were gone forever.

However, this is not to say that nobody thought abolition would happen sooner or later. There was a widespread perception (wholly erroneous, as we know now) even in the 1960s when I was at school that corporal punishment was already dying out in most schools. "Progressive" people had been railing against it for decades, and the general assumption, both within and outside the teaching profession, was that it was only a matter of time before it faded away.

The raising of the minimum school leaving age (to 16) in the early 1970s then sent the trend in the opposite direction because there were suddenly a lot more bored and fractious adolescent boys in school, and I feel pretty certain that if we could analyse all the punishment books (which nobody has ever done) it would show there was at least as much whacking going on in the middle 1970s as in the middle 1960s, if not more.

But meanwhile, all through the 1960s and 1970s there was determined campaigning by a small group of anti-CP activists within the teachers' trade unions and the Labour party, which (for reasons to do with Britain's highly eccentric and undemocratic voting system) controlled most of the urban local education authorities (LEAs). For a long time this activism behind the scenes remained largely invisible to the outside world, but it all came to fruition, more rapidly than anyone expected, in the 1980s. A small number of the most radical Labour-controlled LEAs began to abolish the cane -- usually in the face of the expressed wishes of most teachers and parents, and amidst great controversy in the local press -- at the beginning of the 1980s.

Then the European dimension came into play. It is one of the great media myths that abolition was "all the fault of Europe". The first thing to get clear is that none of this has anything whatsoever to do with the European Community (now the European Union), which the UK joined in 1972. The EC then had, and the EU still has now, no jurisdiction in matters of this kind. Thus, all journalists, politicians, judges and other ill-informed persons who blame "Brussels bureaucrats" for the disappearance of the cane are barking up completely the wrong tree.

But there is also the little-known Council of Europe, an entirely different body with a much larger number of countries in membership, which came into being after World War II and to which Britain belonged from the outset. Long before the EC had even been thought of, the Council of Europe brought into being the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK signed up in 1952. To monitor it, the European Commission on Human Rights (nothing to do with the European Commission, which administers the EU) and the European Court of Human Rights (nothing to do with the European Court of Justice, an EU institution) were set up. The Court consists of judges appointed from all the signatory countries. Since the Convention is an international treaty convention like any other, member countries are bound by the Court's rulings as long as they remain signatories. And since the UK has no written constitution, the European Court of Human Rights was at the time the nearest thing it has to a Supreme Court to which citizens, once they have exhausted all domestic avenues of legal redress, may take their complaints against a member country, provided the Human Rights Convention can be interpreted as having some bearing on the case.

Taking cases to the Human Rights Court was just one of the many tactics of the anti-caning campaigners in the UK. It did help them a lot in the end, but it must be remembered that the court ruling only condemned CP inflicted against parental wishes. What the Court was dealing with was parents' right to choose what kind of education their children have, under the part of the Convention that deals with freedom of philosophical belief. Contrary to popular myth, the Court has never found against school corporal punishment as such.

But when the Court ruled that parents did have the right, if they so chose, to insist that their offspring must not be physically punished at school, the effect was that of pushing at an open door in the UK because the minority of anti-CP teachers and parents had been banging loudly on about the subject for years. A lot of people were sick and tired of hearing about it by this time, and relatively few felt strongly enough about it to go to the last ditch in defence of the cane.

Politicians of the ruling Conservative Party at Westminster mostly remained in favour of CP, but they eventually caved in when opponents argued -- quite wrongly, in my view -- that it would not be practicable to have some kids getting whacked when others in the same class were unwhackable because their parents had signed a form. (In fact some schools had already successfully introduced such a system, and it also works perfectly well in quite a few US schools. Students whose parents won't let them be paddled get suspended instead.) Matters were not helped by the fact that the several different teachers' unions were deeply divided on the issue amongst themselves, and unfortunately most of the pro-CP ones as well as the anti-CP ones foolishly endorsed the "impracticability" argument, without coming up with any fresh compromise that might have saved the day.

Even so, it was a "damned close-run thing", one of those poignant quirks of fate on which great historical events sometimes hang: for in the end, on 22 July 1986, the House of Commons voted for total abolition by 231 votes to 230 -- a majority of one single vote. There happened to be a royal wedding that afternoon in London; twelve MPs, stuck in the resulting traffic jam on their way to Parliament, arrived too late. History does not record which way they would have voted.

(Feb 1998)

Which US states still permit corporal punishment in schools and which have banned it?

The information that was previously here has now been incorporated into United States: School CP in Country files.

I've heard mention of something called an Eton pop-tanning. What is or was this?

Eton is of course the UK's top elite private boys' school, and Pop is the elite of the elite - the group of senior Eton students who are said to be more powerful than most of the masters. It's the equivalent in many ways of prefects at ordinary schools, except that membership is by invitation from Pop itself, so it is a self-perpetuating oligarchy.

Whether it plays the key disciplinary and "judicial" role now that it used to, I'm not sure; but until the practice was shamed out of existence around 1970, a "Pop tanning" was a highly formalised and very serious punishment administered by the President of Pop, on behalf of, and on the decision of, Pop as a whole. One gathers this was relatively rare, making it all the more dramatic when it was ordered.

It was ceremonially witnessed by all the other members of Pop, who stood lining the walls of the room, and involved an exceptionally large number of strokes delivered with the absolute maximum of force and power.

A nice touch: the offending boy was made to put his head out the sash window and the window then lowered on to the back of his neck, serving the dual purpose of keeping him bent over in place while the punishment proceeded, and insulating those inside to some extent from his ear-splitting screams. I suppose it must also have provided some "entertainment" for anyone who happened to be outside at the time.

Those who know about these things always claim that Pop tannings were much the most severe of all forms of CP at Eton, in physical terms far more to be feared even than a headmaster's birching.

Another nice touch: the miscreant youth was not told in so many words that Pop had sentenced him to a tanning, he was merely summoned to attend at the appointed hour wearing a pair of old trousers (because the cane would cut the trousers seat to shreds) and that was how he knew what was in store.

My main source is a book called "Eton Microcosm", which includes a drawing of a Pop-tanning in progress. Thanks to a kind reader, this long-lost picture (by Edward Pagram) is now to hand, and has been reproduced here.

(Sep 1997, revised Aug 1998, Dec 1998, link to picture added Oct 2001)

(Eton Microcosm, edited by Anthony Cheetham and Derek Parfit; London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1964.)

I have to write an essay / speak in a debate about corporal punishment. Can you send me a full information pack as soon as possible?

Sorry, but I have neither the time nor the resources to deal with general requests of this kind. I am sometimes able to answer brief questions on specific points of fact, if I happen to have a relevant information source to hand, but you need to be clear what it is you want to know before you contact me. For various arguments in favour of or against CP in particular circumstances, see some of the websites mentioned on my external links pages.

(Oct 1997)  Main menu page

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