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rainbow ruler   :  Archive   :  2004   :  UK Schools Sep 2004


School CP - September 2004

Corpun file 13993


The Times, London, 13 September 2004

20somethings say 'six of the best' would curb unruly pupils

By Alexandra Frean
Social Affairs Correspondent

FOR generations of school children the threat of receiving "six of the best" from the headmaster's cane unleashed an emotional tidal wave of resentment and fear. But now the generation that has been spared the rod wants it back for its own children.

Seventeen years after beatings were banned in state schools and five years after private schools were brought into line, 47 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds, who were never caned or slippered at school themselves, say they think that society would benefit from the reintroduction of the cane as a "punishment of last resort".

The survey found a big gender gap on attitudes to corporal punishment amongst both genders and classes. 54 per cent of men support its reintroduction compared to 39 per cent of women.

Having children appeared to make no difference to the views held. 46 per cent of those with children were in favour of corporal punishment compared with 47 per cent of those without.

The proposal has found support in some surprising areas. Ralph Woodling, 26, who has just started a teaching course at Cambridge University said the cane "certainly has its place".

"I think it should be used as a preventative measure," he said. "Not just for someone who hasn't done his homework, he needs encouragement for that, but if he's done something naughty then it should be used.

"I was given the slipper seven times as a boy and I feel that those who didn't get it are a little bit cheekier."

"I also think it shouldn't be just for the young but it should be used up to the age of 18," he added.

The finding was greeted with surprise by teaching unions, who insisted the notion would find no support among policy makers or teachers.

But most accepted that the level of support for the return of the cane and the slipper was a reflection of widespread anxiety about deteriorating levels of behaviour within and outside the school gates.

Teachers now cite poor behaviour as the biggest single obstacle to their work, according to research published last week by the Times Educational Supplement. Separate research published by the Government shows that 62,000 pupils were permanently or temporarily excluded from school during the summer term of 2003, 17,000 of whom were disciplined for attacking teachers or fellow pupils.

Phil Williamson, head of the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, whose legal challenge to bring back the cane in his school will reach the House of Lords in December, said: "A lot of those who want corporal punishment reintroduced will have been in a situation where the unruly pupils in their class really have ruled the roost and spoiled it for the majority of the others who want to get on with their learning," he said.

The alternatives of excluding or suspending unruly pupils did not work, Mr Williamson said. "They merely shift the problem elsewhere."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that the poll finding reflected the fact that the younger generations were thoroughly fed up with bad behaviour and indiscipline and were casting about for solutions: "The younger generation is saying what you might expect the older generation to day," he said.

Jonathan Dunford general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said that corporal punishment clearly did not work. "When I became a headteacher I found an old punishment book and the first thing I noticed was the frequency with which the same names cropped up in it. It obviously did not act as a deterrent," he said.

Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Corpun file 14269


The Times, London, 16 September 2004

The cane is not the issue

Twentysomethings want the cane back, but that won't solve any problems, says Mick Hume

The most unexpected result of this week's Times Populus survey of young adults was that almost half support the reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools -- a striking change in attitude among a generation who must have been happy that they never experienced it themselves.

I was caned at school. It did not ruin my life, and I have no plans to sue for compensation. Nor did it build my character. To me, it was just a pain in the backside. To other people, however, corporal punishment has seemed to symbolise the bad old days in Britain's schools.

With fellow parents a while ago, I mentioned that I had been caned several times at grammar school. One woman looked at me in horror.

"Caned for NOTHING, I suppose!" she cried, and others nodded in sympathy.

No, I pointed out, on the contrary, we were caned for fighting, bullying, persistent smoking, vandalism, petty theft, and obscene insolence -- you know, all of the usual adolescent pastimes. But still they looked at me as if I were a victim of child abuse.

The demand to "bring back the cane!" has traditionally been the preserve of grumpy old men. This week, however, we learnt that it has suddenly become popular among twentysomething trendsetters. In the Times survey of the iGeneration -- aged 18 to 30 -- 47 per cent supported the reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools.

Among men, support for the cane soared to 54 per cent, 39 per cent of women agreed. And 46 per cent of young parents were in favour of corporal punishment.

Most of these people could never have been caned at school. They are the generation who got away from the successors to Wackford Squeers, after corporal punishment was abolished in state schools back in 1987 (private schools were brought into line five years ago). Yet now, many 18 to 30-year-olds are apparently so worried about teenagers behaving badly that they are keen to visit the joys of the cane on younger generations. The nostalgia that already has twentysomethings looking up their not-very-old mates on Friends Reunited, and dancing to Eighties/Nineties music at school disco clubs, now extends to wishing they could turn the school clock back to a time when they were still in nappies.

It seems as if these young people are already scared of younger people. In the words of one teachers' union leader: "The younger generation is saying what you might expect the older generation to say."

They see alarmist reports of violence in schools, culminating in a horror story such as the alleged rape of a London teacher by a 15- year old pupil last week.

They worry about new generations of scallies and Chavs, coming out of school and on to their streets with no sense of discipline or self-control. In response, they told the Times survey that society would benefit from reintroducing the cane as a "punishment of last resort".

That's what it was when I was at grammar school in the Seventies. By then, only our headmaster was allowed to administer the cane. Which was just as well, given the state of mind of certain other teachers, such as the little sadist in stack heels who made miscreants taller than him get on their knees and crawl to the front of class, so that he could look down on them while issuing detentions.

The headmaster used a piece of bamboo about a yard long and sharpened at one end, like a big novelty pencil. He was kind enough usually to deliver strokes with a straight arm, so reducing the impact a little. Boys to whom he took a particular dislike received the full bent-elbowed whiplash. He tended to gather a few boys in his office to be punished together, to make you sweat and watch each other get it.

This also had the effect of making you want to tough it out in front of your mates, trying to walk out as straight and nonchalantly as you could on shaking legs. The exception was the boy whom I recall running out holding his backside as if it was on fire, and going to the changing rooms to sit in a sink, while making hissing noises with his mouth.

Some other state schools were keener on corporal punishment than ours (not to mention what went on in the private ones). One friend of mine, just old enough to have received the leather strap at a Catholic boys' school, recalls the relish with which certain teachers doled out beatings, especially the games teacher who enjoyed whacking boys on the behind with a cricket bat, and the bitter disappointment with which they greeted the abolition of CP. On the whole, schoolchildren may well have been better behaved back then (although I wouldn't overdo that point). But what is often forgotten is that the cane was used in schools like ours as part of a system of discipline. There were clear rules to keep and lines to stay within -- although we sometimes broke and crossed them, we always knew where they were and what the consequences were likely to be. Good, tough teachers tended to have our grudging respect, and we got on with it.

Today the situation inside many schools seems very different. The wider breakdown of parental and adult authority has created real uncertainty about where to draw the line with young people and how to discipline them in school. There are paranoid concerns about possible child abuse -- or at least, allegations of abuse -- and about vetting every adult who works in a classroom. Teachers often feel unable to apply a plaster to a child's knee, never mind a cane to his backside. As David Perks, head of physics at one South London school, has noted: "It is a regular occurrence to hear youngsters remind teachers that they will sue them if they so much as touch them."

Anything to do with classroom discipline is now fraught with pitfalls and insecurities. One response in recent years has been a boom in exclusions (what used to be called expulsions), to try to make the bad boys simply disappear. But that is a way of sidestepping authority problems rather than addressing them, and anyway is now frowned upon by the Government's social inclusion police.

The new wave of support for the cane as a "last resort" looks to me like similar groping for an at-a-stroke substitute for proper classroom discipline.

All of this, however, surely misses the point about discipline in schools.

By the time we are panicking about reports of rape and assault, it is too late to solve problems with corporal or any other sort of punishment.

We need to instil a culture of discipline in the education system from the start.

And as any good school knows, that has more to do with pedagogy -- how we teach children -- than with how we punish them. Discipline begins with children understanding why they are in school, and being inspired to study and learn. As Roger Ascham observed in his classic The Schoolmaster in 1570, children "were sooner allured by love, than driven by beating, to attain good learning". That love of learning seems too often absent from schools today.

The support for the cane in that Times survey suggests that young adults are looking to schools to solve our society's wider problems of adult authority and socialising children. Unsure of how to raise kids "the right way", they want the education system somehow to do the job for them. That is wishful thinking -- and burdening teachers with all our problems can only make matters worse.

Of course, when moves are afoot to ban parents from smacking their children, there is no possibility of corporal punishment being reintroduced. The demand to bring back the cane seems less like a practical proposal than a sign of panic and surrender among adults -- even those who have only just acquired that status. We would do better to forget about re-running the old debates on corporal punishment, and start a new one about how best we can free teachers to teach and parents to parent.

The headmaster's sharpened cane left no scars on either my arse or on my soul. But nor did it beat me into shape. The cane may not be an instrument of medieval torture. But it is certainly no magic wand to make our child-raising problems disappear.

Copyright © Times Newspapers Limited 2004

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