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School CP - October 1981

Evening Post, Wellington, 15 October 1981

Touch-toes college boys videotaped

About 25 boys have been videotaped in a caning experiment at Rongotai College to see why experienced teachers often "miss the target" and leave boys with embarrassing marks on their lower buttocks.

The experiment was undertaken with the boys' consent, by the principal, Mr Noel Mackay, over a three-week period with boys who were due to be caned for offences.

The matter of the experiment was raised at a board meeting last week by a member Mr Ross Martin.

An unconfirmed minute from the meeting showed that the board had no prior knowledge of the videotaping, and asked that the practice be discontinued and the tapes erased.


The board chairman, Mr Arnold Wilson, confirmed today that Mr Mackay had offered his resignation, to be effective from January 31 next year, or at a date suitable for the board.

The board has still to decide whether to accept it.

Principals wishing to resign earlier than the required six months' notice period have to seek the authority of the director-general of education.

Mr Wilson said he would like to see Mr Mackay remain as principal. He was 65 and had given 18 years' service to Rongotai.

Speaking highly of Mr Mackay's contribution to Rongotai, Mr Wilson said that videotaping often went on at Rongotai for a number of things and the principal did not necessarily consult the board.

Several parents phoned the "Post" to complain about the experiment, which they called a violation of their sons' rights. They did not approach the principal.

Mr Mackay was willing today to disclose the purpose of the videotaping.

He said his resignation was in no way connected with the experiment.

"From time to time teachers have missed the target, and boys have been left with embarrassing marks below the level of a bathing suit," he said.

"What concerned me was how a sportsman, a teacher who was normally accurate, could miss often to a considerable extent."

Mr Mackay said this had never been looked at before, but now that 20th-century methods, such as videotaping, made an examination possible, he had decided to try to find out the reasons.

By playing the videotape back in slow motion he could follow the movement of the cane.

He pointed to his experience as an aeronautics engineer and said he was accustomed to experiments of wind-tunnel movement and natural forces.

"The film showed that if the cane was too flexible, or used with too much vigour, it tended to flutter up and down -- and that's when a miss occurred," said Mr Mackay.

"As you realise, I don't normally miss, so I had to do 20 or 30 different boys to see what the difference was between the canes."

Asked why he did not consult the board before conducting the experiment, Mr Mackay said because he, as principal, was responsible for the boys' health and welfare.

He said the experiment had now been stopped.

Evening Post, Wellington, 16 October 1981

Video-caning head lashed, defended

Statements of both support and criticism for the Rongotai College principal, Mr Noel Mackay, reached the "Post" today, following yesterday's disclosure of a videotaped caning experiment.

Mr Mackay videotaped boys being caned, because he was concerned that teachers were often missing the target and leaving boys with embarrassing marks.

The experiment was conducted for his own research purposes, by him, in private, and with the boys' consent. The boys were due to be caned for offences.

Mr Mackay has offered his resignation to the board, but stressed that it was nothing to do with the experiment.

Mrs Joan L Hobman, president of the Rongotai Ladies Auxiliary which represents mothers or guardians of boys at the school, today defended Mr Mackay.

She reported that her phone was "running hot" last night with parents' calls for support for the principal.

The ladies auxiliary was strongly in support of Mr Mackay and "aware of his great strength in the college."

"Look out, anyone who has anything to say against him," she said.

Discipline was fairly given and parents were well aware of the measures taken.

Also coming to the principal's defence was the Rongotai Parents' Association.

"The parents offer their full confidence in the way he is running the school," said the president, Mrs Paddianne Neely.

She would not comment on the videotaping matter.

Several parents, who did not wish to be named, today condemned Mr Mackay's action.

"Mr Mackay's explanation of the videotaping must surely be meant to be funny. It certainly doesn't sound plausible as none of the sportsmasters who 'miss the target' have been videotaped caning the boys," said one.

Another parent doubted that the "health and welfare" of the Rongotai boys would have benefited from the experiment, and said many parents would not have agreed to their boys being used as guinea pigs.

Meanwhile, the Campaign Against Violence in Education (Cave) – a 500-strong collective of parents and teachers, will call a special meeting in Auckland this weekend to consider the Rongotai experiment.

A Cave spokesman, Mr Ian Mitchell, from Auckland's Hillary College, today expressed shock at the experiment's disclosure.

Mr Mitchell said the Rongotai case confirmed their fears of the sort of abuse they had suspected went on in schools.


"I find it rather creepy. The act of beating a young person is nasty in itself – photographing that nastiness is almost obscene," said Mr Mitchell.

Mr Mitchell thought the Rongotai case would provide further evidence for Cave's campaign for the abolition of corporal punishment.

The Education Department today had nothing to say about the Rongotai experiment, believing the matter was strictly between the board and the principal.

This was in line with the department's lack of any policy on corporal punishment. It follows the administration and employment regulations governing schools which say that principals are responsible for discipline, subject to the directive of their board.

The Post Primary Teachers' Association has a policy of active discouragement of corporal punishment through the introduction of alternative forms of punishment.

Evening Post, Wellington, 17 October 1981

684 Rongotai boys sign petition supporting head

Rongotai College principal Mr Noel Mackay, who videotaped the caning of about 25 boys, has received a petition of support signed by 684 of his pupils.

This is about 80 per cent of the school's enrolment.

Fewer than 10 boys declined to sign, according to the seventh-formers who organised the petition. They say they did not have time to canvass the whole school.

Mr Mackay also got a petition of support from his staff, and a standing ovation from the boys.

Mr Mackay has been both defended and criticised since his disclosure to the "Post" on Thursday of the videotaping experiment carried out with the caned boys' consent.


The experiment was prompted by Mr Mackay's concern that teachers were often missing the target, leaving boys with embarrassing marks.

Yesterday, Mr Mackay won overwhelming demonstrations of school support.

His day began with a standing ovation from boys in morning assembly and ended with a mass demonstration of support in the school ground, with a seventh-former on a megaphone urging all boys to roll up.

It was spontaneous.

One or two rules were bent, with the approval of a senior master, Mr Robin Oliver, who turned a blind eye when a handful of seventh-formers skipped afternoon class to bring the boys' petition to the "Post".

The boys, Euan McCabe, Markus Blum (prefect), Mark Petty, Mike Winton, and Sean Neely (prefect) had gathered 684 signatures of support in a whirlwind tour of the classrooms in the morning.

The boys' petition noted their regret that the media had linked Mr Mackay's offer of resignation to the experiment and urged that he remain at the school.

The pupils' petition read:

"That the pupils regret that the resignation of the headmaster has been linked by the media to the experiment, and that the pupils wished to record support for his continued service."


Mr Mackay has made it clear that his resignation offer had nothing to do with the videotaping.

"The short answer to why I offered my resignation is that I am 65 and eligible for a pension. I felt the board should have the opportunity to consider the matter," he said.

Mr Mackay said after his resignation was offered, the board could then consider whether they wanted a younger man for the job.

The "Post" accompanied the boys to Rongotai to see the formal presentation of their petition to Mr Mackay.

Mr Mackay was taken by surprise in a moving scene in his office, just before the final bell. He shook each of the boys' hands in turn, thanked them and quipped that "it (the petition, presumably) was against the rules."

After expressing his appreciation, Mr Mackay told the boys he had received a petition of support, signed by all the staff members.

He also expressed his concern that "two or three" people were trying to damage the school's reputation.


The petition was criticised by two callers to the "Post" today.

One, who said he was a pupil, and the other, who said she was the mother of a pupil, said Mr Mackay had made a long address to the school yesterday morning and they felt this could have influenced people to sign the petition.

There was the suggestion, too, that some pupils may not have made themselves fully aware of the exact content of the petition.

However, Markus Blum said that everybody who signed it had the conditions of the petition fully explained to them.

He said there was no way nearly 700 pupils could have signed it without knowing what was in it.

Mr Ross Martin, the member of the board who brought the experiment to the board's attention, said today the board's condemnation of the incident had been unanimous.

Mr Mackay said today the idea of a petition had been nothing to do with him.

He said his talk would have been for about "two or three minutes".

"Even if it was longer, so what?" he said.

Mr Mackay said he had the total support of the board, teachers, and pupils.

He said he was "thoroughly brassed off with the whole thing" and believed the incident and the publicity was doing the school harm.

Evening Post, Wellington, 17 October 1981

Standing by their principal

Noel Mackay receives a bid of confidenceFlanked by seventh-former Mark Petty (left) and supporters, the Rongotai College principal, Mr Noel Mackay, receives a spontaneous bid of confidence in the school grounds. Out of camera range, the school buses had their engines idling, waiting for boys who yesterday were more interested in their head than any weekend excursions.

Evening Post, Wellington, 19 October 1981


Does sparing the rod spoil the child?

THE AGE-OLD punishment of a cane swishing – or fluttering – against a serge-covered posterior still creates just as much dissension among the ranks of those concerned with education as it ever did.

The Rongotai incident can be seen as another chapter in the great caning debate, admittedly slightly more colourful than most. Such an airing of the issue emerges with almost as much novelty as the 1977 incident in Auckland where an angry father harangued more than 1100 Mt Albert Grammar School boys at their morning assembly, accusing the school of wanting to cane his third-form son.

Rongotai's principal, Mr Mackay, who videotaped the caning of about 25 boys, was condemned by the school's board, but found he had the support of his teachers and of a large proportion of his pupils. A deputation of students eloquently expressed their loyalty to him on a visit to our office.

The whole incident shows the issue is just as contentious as ever, the arguments for and against just as divided.

The Education Department has no rules on caning. The Post Primary Teachers' Association brings the subject up almost as a hardy annual at its conferences without formulating any sort of definitive policy. At last year's conference the question of retaining caning rated a regional ballot, a rarely-used provision of the PPTA constitution. The result was a marginal triumph for the whack-to-learn brigade with 5417 in favour of abolition, 6177 against and 220 abstentions.

Anti-cane advocates Professor Jim Ritchie of Waikato University and his wife Dr Jane Ritchie believe that the greatest single thing that can be done to reduce violence in New Zealand is to eliminate [it] in schools and homes. It is not so much the "smack" they fight against [as] the model of a powerful person attempting to control a less powerful person by physical force.

No one doubts that discipline in schools is just as essential as it is in the wider community. While the primary responsibility for discipline still rests on parents, teachers must play a role too. The question is whether or not to spare the rod is to spoil the child.

We feel that parent representatives on school boards have a responsibility to make their feelings known so that the direction taken is not just a traditional one, but one that reflects the wishes of the community.

Evening Post, Wellington, 19 October 1981


"There goes Smithers -- doesn't want us to forget that he was one of the stars of the video-caning production."

Evening Post, Wellington, 19 October 1981

Parent praises petition wipers

A Rongotai College parent, Mr Peter Street, today commended the "guts" of the few boys who declined to sign a petition of support for their principal, Mr Noel Mackay.

Mr Street, whose own sixth-former was among them, had nothing but praise for Rongotai's academic achievements, but expressed concern about the videotaped caning experiment.

The boys' petition followed disclosures last week about the experiment conducted by the principal, Mr Noel Mackay, arising from his concern that experienced teachers were often missing the target and leaving boys with embarrassing marks on their buttocks.


Mr Mackay said the film showed the movement of the cane. If too flexible, or used with too much vigour, it tended to flutter and so a miss occurred.

He recalled his experience as an aeronautics engineer and said he was accustomed to experiments of wind tunnel movements and natural forces.

"Are landing wheels [sic] on Rongotai buttocks a necessary contribution in the search for an anti-flutter cane?" Mr Street asked.

As far as the college board is concerned, the issue was closed with its directive that the videotaping cease.

The board is to meet next month to consider a separate matter: whether to accept Mr Mackay's offer of resignation.

However, Mr Street does not consider the matter closed and said today that he would pursue it, until he received satisfactory answers on whom the research was intended for.

There have been suggestions that the tapes were destined for an American research project. Mr Mackay has rejected that, and said the tapes were for his own purposes only.


Mr Street said the parents' approach to the "Post" last week highlighted a serious lack of communication between the parents and the school authorities.

The board chairman, Mr A Wilson, had claimed that one parent only had approached him about the videotaped canings. "That several rang up the 'Post' is surely an indictment of the Rongotai set-up," Mr Street said.

In his view this showed that the parents had more confidence in the "Post" representing their concerns than the board chairman, the principal, the Ladies Auxiliary and the Parents' Association.

Evening Post, Wellington, 20 October 1981

'Civil war' at college as sequel to video caning

By education reporter Lindsay Hayes

Violence has broken out among boys at Rongotai College, following the issue by senior pupils of lapel stickers supporting the principal.

The principal, Mr Noel Mackay, who carried out the videotaped caning experiment which prompted the badges of support, today issued a directive that all stickers be removed.

He said he considered the stickers divisive and pointed out that they were not part of the uniform.

A fourth-former, David Martin, who was not wearing a badge, was yesterday attacked by a fellow pupil of the school and his brother, Graeme Martin, was today threatened with physical violence.

Both are the sons of Mr Ross Martin, one of Rongotai College Board's newest members, and the member who first raised parents' concern about Mr Mackay's experiment with the board.

David remained home from school today because he wanted to be sure he could participate in tomorrow's interschool roadrunner race around Kilbirnie. He told the "Post" that he was told he would have no legs to run with.

Mr Martin went to the school early this morning to investigate yesterday's attack on his son. He said he was delighted with the response he received from a senior master, Mr Robin Oliver, who was to investigate the incident.

Mr Martin said he had since been phoned by his other son, Graeme, from the school, to say he had been threatened. Mr Martin told him to go to Mr Oliver.

There seemed every likelihood that Graeme also would spend the rest of the day at home with his brother.

The stickers saying simply "We support our boss," with Rongotai College written underneath, were printed at the weekend by senior boys who intended to take up a collection to pay for them.

A supportive parent, pleased with the boys' initiative, paid the $98 printing charge.

The stickers, distributed yesterday, were worn by some members of staff to demonstrate their support for their principal, not for the videotaping.

The division is certainly not restricted to the boys. Several teachers appeared hostile this morning towards the "Post", which had the authority of the principal, deputy principal and senior master to talk to several boys and photograph them on condition that their names were not used.

At one stage, a teacher appeared and dismissed the boys. This tactic was later unsuccessfully attempted by a second teacher.

Mr Mackay told the "Post" that his instruction to the boys asked them to remove the badges, but if they wanted to keep the badges as a "souvenir of a nasty period" in Rongotai's history, they may stick them on a piece of paper.

He said no badges were allowed without special permission such as for religious purposes or other matters of conscience.

He did not want anything that could create a source of persecution for the boys.

Evening Post, Wellington, 20 October 1981

Forbidden badges

Schoolboys wearing badges

Thrusting chests of support for their principal, Mr Noel Mackay, are these two Rongotai College boys, who the "Post" agreed not to name as a condition of taking the photograph.

As from today the stickers will not be worn, following a directive from Mr Mackay, who is concerned that they are causing a division among the pupils and could spark off persecution of some boys.

Badges are not allowed at Rongotai, apart from poppies on "poppy day", without prior permission.

Evening Post, Wellington, 21 October 1981

Video caning explanation appalls: parent goes to board

By education reporter Lindsay Hayes

THE Rongotai College board will hold a special meeting tomorrow, with the principal excluded, to discuss a parent's complaint against him, following his videotaped caning experiment.

The complaint is conveyed in a letter to the board secretary, Mr A J C Edwards, from the father of a sixth-former, Mr Peter Street.

In his letter, Mr Street said that he had approached the board chairman, Mr Alan Wilson and several board members late in August to express his concern about information from his son about videotaped canings at the school.

"I had placed my faith in the board to sort this out without the necessity for me to take further action," he wrote in his letter.

Mr Street said he was appalled to read in the newspaper last Thursday that the videotaping was to study the aerodynamic characteristics of the cane in flight, which was a completely different reason from the one given to him earlier.

The earlier answer cited by Mr Street, from Mr Wilson, was that the experiment was in connection with a research project being conducted in conjunction with researchers in America.

Mr Mackay has rejected this possibility and said that he had erased the tapes.

Mr Edwards who, together with board members, tried to gain the board chairman's approval for a special meeting after the experiment was disclosed in the "Post" last week, today said the original meeting date, requested but declined at the time, was now reinstated.


The meeting will take place in committee at the Wellington Secondary Schools Council office in Manners St at 5.30.

Mr Edwards said the only item on the agenda was the parent's complaint concerning the videotaped experiment.

He said the principal, Mr Noel Mackay, was excluded from the meeting under section 198(2) of the Education Act 1964, which made provision for the exclusion of a principal at a meeting in which a formal complaint against that principal was considered.

Mr Edwards said a board's use of this provision was very rare. He did not think it had ever been used by the Rongotai board.

Asked why he changed his mind and agreed to the special meeting, the chairman, Mr Wilson, said it was because the board had received a formal complaint.

Mr Wilson considered the videotaping a "small matter" which the media had blown up.

The board had already dealt with the matter and considered it closed.

Mr Wilson took issue with the "Post" headline on a Rongotai story yesterday and "the report that things were 'chaotic'."

"There is still discipline at the college," said Mr Wilson.

Meanwhile, Mr Ross Martin, one of four board members who have been trying to force a board meeting, today confirmed that his sons David and Graeme would remain away from school until "the dust settled."

His fourth-form son, David, is said to have been attacked by a fellow pupil at the school on Monday and his elder son, Graeme, to have been threatened with violence.

The incidents followed the issue by senior boys of lapel stickers in support of the principal. Mr Mackay has since instructed that all stickers be removed.

The boys' readiness to take matters into their own hands has concerned parents.

There are also strong indications of a split among Rongotai teachers, as well as board members.

Evening Post, Wellington, 22 October 1981

Letters to the editor


SIR, In the "Post" of October 15, I noticed an item of news about the headmaster of Rongotai College having trouble with a problem known as "cane flutter". Although people may be cynical, this problem is very serious throughout New Zealand secondary schools, and steps should be taken to solve this problem.

Through independent research, I have found that "cane flutter" (the lateral movement of the cane before contact), can be stopped by altering the atmosphere of the classroom. By making the room more humid, the extra H20 molecules in the atmosphere will provide such a force as to stop "cane flutter". I'm sure that if this method is employed, it will save many pupils and teachers possible embarrassment.


The Times Educational Supplement, London, 23 October 1981

"Take 27"


Evening Post, Wellington, 28 October 1981

Most schools use cane on an infrequent basis


By education reporter Lindsay Hayes

MOST STATE secondary schools in the Wellington area use corporal punishment "infrequently" but not always as a last resort.

Those using it favour the cane to the strap, apart from Heretaunga College and Wellington College, the latter using both.

In most cases only male teachers are permitted to administer this type of punishment and to boys only.

These facts were shown in a "Post" survey of 18 Wellington and Hutt Valley secondary schools.

All principals with the exception of Mr E Flaws, of Tawa College, readily responded to the survey. Several sought clearance from their board on their answers to "Post" questions. Two schools did not reply by press time.

The only schools not using the cane are Onslow College and Aotea College, both co-educational, and the two single-sex girls' schools, Wellington East Girls' College and Wellington Girls' College.

They have employed alternative disciplinary measures such as detentions and counselling networks, with a preventative early detection emphasis.

Those using corporal punishment are: Heretaunga College, Upper Hutt College, Wainuiomata College, Parkway College, Taita College, Naenae College, Hutt Valley Memorial Technical College, Hutt Valley High School, Newlands College, Porirua College, Mana College, Wellington College, Wellington High School, and Rongotai College.


Two common aspects emerged (in most cases) -- the stated "infrequent" use and the principals' unwillingness to define infrequent in terms of numbers.

With few exceptions, the corporal punishment was witnessed and recorded in accordance with Education Department recommendations.

The Secondary School Boards' Association national secretary, Mr Jerry Barnard, confirmed that there was no legal requirement for this, but said the recommendations were there as a safeguard in case of legal action.


Citing the reference department's manual to the Crimes Act 1961, Mr Barnard also exploded the misconception that it was illegal to cane girls.

Some boards have stated in their regulations -- sometimes in a by-law -- that corporal punishment must not be administered to girls.

Asked for the association's view on corporal punishment, Mr Barnard said members were split on the issue. The SCBA had no overall policy.


Personally, Mr Barnard was "not happy" about corporal punishment, but thought it might be necessary in schools "in some areas". He did not define the areas.

One of the most response to the "Post" survey was Taita College principal, Mr I P Wah, who said the cane was largely confined to the "hoodlum element," for offences of intimidation and violence.

He said 10 boys had been caned this year and, referring to his punishment register, said three were for assault and the others for vandalism-type offences.

The cane was only used as a last resort. The register was kept by the deputy principal which automatically imposed an administrative control over its use.

Only male teachers were authorised to use the cane. Asked why women were not, Mr Wah said because of sexual connotations.

Asked why women could not cane girls, for instance, Mr Wah said because the practice of caning girls was totally unacceptable. "Not just physiologically, but morally and ethically," he said.

The "Post" raised the possibility of discrimination, having been told by one principal that girls often fared worse in the punishment stakes because they were not caned.

Mr Wah did not think the practice of only caning boys was discriminatory, because corporal punishment was "all but phased out."


The Hutt Valley Memorial Technical College principal, Mr F J K Knowles, said "reason" was the operative word at the school.

If a child was reasonable, it was possible to use other measures, such as appealing to reason, dean's reports and so on.

"The cane is used as a last resort and sparingly," said Mr Knowles.

He would [not?] like to see corporal punishment abolished. It often had a "salutary" effect on the bully.


Staff ratio

The Naenae College principal, Mr Bruce Murray, said he could count on half a hand the number of boys he had caned this year.

He said any staff member was authorised to use the cane, but the school had a number of regulations governing how and when it was to be used.

He did not wish to disclose these.

The last boy he caned had been in a running battle with a senior teacher for most of the year. Despite opportunities to behave, he had not come around to allowing the teacher to teach and the rest of the class to learn.

As a result of the punishment, his behaviour had been transformed and he had become a "totally co-operative young gentleman".

He stressed that most pupils would have every opportunity to toe the line before the cane was administered as a punishment.

The Wainuiomata College principal, Mr T W Langley, said boys were caned no more than once or twice a year. He preferred to use every other method of discipline first.

The cane should never be used alongside emotion and never straight away, he said.

Also using the cane infrequently is Mana College, Porirua, but unlike some of the other schools, not as the ultimate punishment.

The principal, Mr D Day, said senior staff were authorised to use the cane. It was used probably up to twice a term and not related to the seriousness of the misdemeanour.

Evening Post, Wellington, 30 October 1981

Letters to the editor

Cane flutter phenomenon

SIR, Your correspondent Helpful's explanation ("Post", Oct 22) is somewhat errant.

Cane flutter is yet another example of aerolastic excitation of thin cylinders, the same effect which spectacularly destroyed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the Brighton chain pier and the Ferrybridge Power Station cooling towers.

The headmaster could have saved himself embarrassment by some solitary research in the school library. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of aerodynamics knows that cane flutter is caused by the phenomenon of vortex shedding in the rear wake of the cane.

It can be avoided, assuming the strouhal number remains constant, by altering the velocity of the stroke or alternatively by selecting a cane of higher natural frequency.

Another alternative is the addition of helical strakes to the tip of the cane as spoilers. This solution has not proved popular as the side effects are not only real, but apparent.


This saga continues in November 1981 ...

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