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School CP - September 1967

Corpun file 16364


Time, New York, 8 September 1967


The Cane & the Strap

At least one quaint custom of British education has not changed since Tom Brown's Schooldays: the tradition of "six of the best" for misbehaving pupils. Although the cane and the strap are still essential equipment for every self-respecting headmaster, public indignation against corporal punishment is on the rise, and the Labor government would like to abolish it for good.

The outcry against caning stems largely from two recent cases involving brutality in the application of corporal punishment. In May, Headmaster William Michael Byrd of Britain's Cholderton College was sentenced to five years in prison for forcing schoolboys to lie naked across a bed, then beating them brutally with a stick. Last month Home Secretary Roy Jenkins ordered the closing of Court Lees in Surrey, a so-called "approved school," which handles potential juvenile delinquents, after its headmaster and an assistant were accused of caning boys "with excessive severity." Recently, the Royal Navy abolished its traditional caning of youthful sailors after a Parliamentary inquiry revealed that 69 under-18 tars had been beaten in a single year.

Ever alert to a lively controversy, British newspapers have turned up several other cases in which the rod was not spared. Two Southampton schoolboys were given 21 strokes because they incorrectly spelled "meringue." A teacher admitted beating a seven-year-old girl "red and raw" because she was "work-resistant." Three girls were caned because they forgot to bring semolina to a cooking class.

Never Naked. Although such clear cases of excessive beatings may be rare, there is no doubt that caning in British schools is almost as prevalent as it was during the 19th century. One survey by a London School of Economics professor turned up more than 350 beatings in just four schools last year; in one of them, the boys averaged two beatings each a year. The approved schools in England and Wales listed 2,968 beatings last year. Local education authorities have the legal right to inflict corporal punishment in Britain, and the Home Office even provides some rules on how it should be done. The cane must be a yard long and between 8 mm. and 10 mm. thick. A boy cannot be beaten with his trousers off or with his shirt tail pulled up. [Note by C. Farrell: These rules were for "approved schools" (reformatories), not ordinary LEA (local education authority) schools, which have nothing to do with the Home Office and for which there were no CP regulations at national level.]

Despite a recommendation by a national advisory council that corporal punishment be abolished in the state primary schools, many British educators stoutly defend the practice as essential to classroom decorum. Of 3,000 delegates at a National Head Teachers Conference this spring, only two voted against caning; only one delegate did so at a national conference of schoolmasters. And a Gallup poll showed that public protesters are still outnumbered by those who favor the cane and strap. When the new school term opens this fall, British buttocks again will burn.

Copyright 2005 Time Inc. All rights reserved.

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