corpunWorld Corporal Punishment Research   :  Archive   :  1998   :  UK Schools Mar 1998


School CP - March 1998


The Daily Telegraph, London, 11 March 1998

MPs set to ban cane in public schools

By Robert Shrimsley
Chief Political Correspondent

THE last vestige of punishment in schools looks likely to be swept away in a Commons vote to outlaw caning in public schools.

Although it has been banned in state schools for more than 10 years, it still remains legal in private schools, although very few establishments use the cane.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, has tabled an amendment to the Schools Bill which would extend the ban to private schools. The Government has promised a free vote when it is debated later this month.

Government sources said they were confident that the measure would be carried although it is likely to face substantial opposition from Tory and Ulster Unionist MPs.

In the last Commons vote on corporal punishment in January 1997, David Blunkett, now Education Secretary, was among those voting against an attempt to reintroduce caning in state schools.

Mr Foster said the ban was necessary to end what he called a breach of "fundamental human rights" and which others have likened to child abuse.

He added that Britain remained the only country in the European Union that still allowed corporal punishment in any of its schools and that it was time to bring the independent sector into line with state schools.

The ban is unlikely to attract much opposition from the private schools themselves. The Independent Schools Council said it welcomed the move because it "reflects current opinion and practice" in the schools.

David Woodhead, national director of the Independent Schools Information Service, said the 1,300 schools in the council accounted for 80 per cent of the children educated in the private sector and none used corporal punishment. All the major public schools have abandoned the use of the cane.

There are around 1,000 private schools outside the council and some of them still use corporal punishment. Of the small minority that have retained the right, the best known is St James, a boys' school in Twickenham, Middlesex, where staff and pupils practise meditation.

According to the prospectus, the cane is "rarely used and reserved for grave offences". Parents have to give their written consent.

Last year police were called to a private special school in Essex after complaints about corporal punishment incidents. The headmaster and three teachers were suspended by the governing body.

Eight teachers at the Moat House special school in Basildon were reported to the police for using excessive and unwarranted corporal punishment. Two were charged by the Crown Prosecution Service with wilful mistreatment of children. The charges were later dropped.

The amendment is likely to encounter vociferous Tory opposition although Stephen Dorrell, the education spokesman, conceded that the measure would be carried.

He said Tory MPs would have a free vote but that he would oppose the ban and anticipated that the majority of his colleagues would do the same.

He was happy to leave the cane option to those teachers who wished to use it and to those parents prepared to let their children be disciplined in that way.

Last night he said: "I expect it will pass but I regret the fact. I think it is a matter that should be left to teachers."

When the Conservatives were in power, John Major was severely embarrassed when nearly 100 of his MPs backed a move to restore corporal punishment in state schools.

Those who supported the move included a number of those now on the Tory front bench, including John Redwood and Iain Duncan-Smith.

Gillian Shephard, then education secretary, also indicated her support, but was ordered along with all Tory ministers to vote against the proposal.

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BBC News Online, London, 24 March 1998

Move to ban 'six of the best'

Opponents say caning degrades children and teachers

Click to enlarge

An attempt to extend the ban on corporal punishment to independent schools is being made in parliament.

The House of Commons is due to debate an amendment tabled by a group of Labour MPs to the School Standards and Framework Bill which seeks to outlaw the cane from all classrooms.

Britain is unique in Europe because it retains corporal punishment in some schools.

The use of the cane, slipper and other forms of corporal punishment has been illegal in state schools since 1986.

The ban followed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that pupils could not be hit against their parents` wishes.

A 'ludicrous' situation

David Hinchliffe, one of the Labour MPs, who want the ban extended, said it was "frankly ludicrous" that teachers in private schools could still beat children.

He said "a significant number of the better private schools" wanted the ban extended.

The Liberal Democrat Education Spokesman, Don Foster, also said he supported the move.

The prospect of a ban has prompted at least one independent school to take pre-emptive action.

Nicholas Debenham, headmaster at the St James School in Middlesex recently suspended the use of corporal punishment until the law is clarified.

He says he makes no apologies for his belief in the effectiveness of caning a persistently indisciplined child. For years many in the teaching profession agreed with him.

Classroom anarchy

In the 1970s when individual education authorities started to ban the cane many teachers thought the result would be classroom anarchy.

In 1979, commenting on the abolition of the cane in London schools, a senior member of one teaching union said: "Corporal punishment is one of the tools necessary for the job. Abolition is like a Ford worker having his spanner taken away."

BBC correspondents say so few private schools still use physical punishment that the impact of the ban would mostly be symbolic.

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The Independent, London, 25 March 1998

Last vestiges of caning swept away

By Colin Brown
Chief Political Correspondent

A LIBERAL Democrat MP last night spoke of his "shame" at caning children as MPs voted to sweep away the last vestiges of corporal punishment in independent schools.

Former secondary school teacher, Phil Willis, the MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said: "Whenever I caned a child, I felt demeaned by it. Quite frankly, I felt quite ashamed later in life to feel that for many years I supported the use of corporal punishment."

Caning is banned in state schools but a handful of independent schools, some with strong religious connections, still administer corporal punishment. MPs were give a free vote by the Government to extend the ban in the independent schools during the final Commons stages of the School Standards Bill.

Eton, Harrow and the major public schools have all banned caning, and the Independent Schools Council welcomed the extension of the ban on all corporal punishment.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education, challenged Tory backwoodsmen who defended "spanking" on the grounds that it did children no harm. "How do they know?" he said. "I have been caned. It did me harm."

Mr Willis said there was a need to use a degree of force, sometimes to protect pupils, but caning was an admission of failure in discipline in schools. The ban will also stop punishment with a slipper or a ruler. It will still allow parents to smack their children, and smacking by child minders with the approval of parents.

Corporal punishment in prisons and borstals was prohibited in 1967 -- the same year that the Plowden report "Children and their Primary Schools" recommended banning corporal punishment in schools.


Daily Telegraph, London, 26 March 1998

Mad about beating the boy

By Kwasi Kwarteng

I AM not going to shed any tears over the official death of corporal punishment, but an era closed on Tuesday, when the Commons banned it in public schools. One sphere in which the English could unequivocally claim to be world leaders has been the physical chastisement of unruly young boys -- thrashings and beatings; the French actually call sado-masochistic practice le vice Anglais.

However, beatings at school have had their day, and corporal punishment at home is unfashionable. Our legal system long ago discarded this drastic form of correction. So what, if anything, can be said in its favour?

The faith in beating does not stem from sado-masochism. It derives, in part, from a strand of Christianity expressed most articulately by St Augustine, and later by John Calvin.

According to this view, mankind is incorrigibly wicked. Only strong discipline can save man from the pitfalls of his own vicious nature. The young are especially wicked because they have no self-control; they need the most correction. This view influenced schoolmasters in the past, such as the famous Dr Keate of Eton. "So young and so wicked," he used to say about his boys. This was a widely held view. George III's standing question when he met Eton boys was: "Have you had a rebellion lately, eh, eh?"

If you are a pessimist about human nature, your impulse would be to support physical repression. If, as in Dr Keate's case, your pupils are actually rebelling, then flogging could be a good idea. This approach is not fool-proof. "If you were not so bloodthirsty, the boys might not actually rebel," it could be argued.

The main objection to corporal punishment does not, however, tackle the premise that children are naturally evil and respond best to the threat of physical force. The most common objection is that corporal punishment leads directly to "abuse", hence its being banned in schools.

IN OUR post-Freudian way, we all recognise "abuse". The most casual anecdote reeks of it. Lord Curzon, a viceroy of India, remembered the second master of his private school with fond affection: "He was a master of spanking, though he used to say that it hurt him nearly as much as it did us.

"I remember that it was about the 15th blow that it really began to hurt and from then the pain increased in geometrical progression. At about the 28th blow, one began to howl. The largest number of smacks I ever received was, I think, 42."

In these instances, you cannot avoid the suspicion that the punishment is not for the benefit of the delinquent, but for the pleasure of the schoolmaster. The problem with these disciplinarians was that they displayed, in Sir Charles Oman's words, "that same pleasure in inflicting pain which inspired the too-celebrated Marquis de Sade". This understates the case; we would call them perverts.

If you remain an advocate of corporal punishment, you could then move on to the retributive theory, which is based on the desire that those who do wrong should be made to suffer. This theory is pre-Christian - "an eye for an eye", etc. It raises the difficult question; why should the delinquent suffer bodily harm?

If you are desperate, you could talk of a "deterrent". The deterrent gambit is usually the last-ditch argument. The psychologist Cyril Burt gave a clear account of this view in his book The Young Delinquent; "I can, in fact, cite more than one example of an older lad, too strong for his father to thrash, where the same penalty, informally applied by a burly policeman, has had a final and deterrent result." This raises the same question, why does the deterrent have to be a physical one?

I do not think that many people seriously believe in corporal punishment on intellectual grounds. Most advocates support beating for sentimental reasons - "It worked for me", "That'll teach the brat", etc.

Corporal punishment has an amazing capacity for engaging its victims on an emotional level, and they, in turn, often end up being its most fervent advocates; it is no accident that Dr Keate was one of Eton's most popular headmasters.

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The Daily Telegraph, London, 28 March 1998

The week in the Gallery

Cane mutiny boosts Tories

By Quentin Letts

LATE sittings have made a return to the Commons in the last month. This week the Tories forced an all-night debate on the School Standards Bill. It meant that the much-anticipated ban on corporal punishment did not happen until after 5.30am - just in time for a cold bath before breakfast.

Labour MPs complain that all-nighters are puerile and a historical leftover, but for Tory MPs they are a morale booster. They remind the Government that despite its large majority it must talk its proposals through Parliament. The tactics also generate a fighting spirit among Opposition MPs.

The awkwardness of the hour meant that the Liberal Democrat-sponsored caning debate went unreported in many newspapers, owing to production deadlines. A few highlights, therefore:

Don Foster (Lib-Dem, Bath), who proposed the ban, noted that "in 1948 birching as a judicial punishment was abolished in the United Kingdom, in 1957 flogging was abolished in the Navy, in 1967 corporal punishment in prisons and Borstals was abolished. In that year the Plowden Report recommended the abolition of corporal punishment in both state and independent schools". Mr Foster called corporal punishment "barbaric and inhuman . . . wrong in practice, because there is no evidence whatever that it is an effective deterrent" from bad behaviour.

When Patrick Nicholls (Con, Teignbridge) sought "a distinction between the ritualised flogging that I want outlawed and the teacher who slaps a child" he was heckled by Labour MPs. Mr Nicholls was unapologetic. "Some parents who are completely against ritualised beating would be concerned if a teacher could not lightly slap a child," he said.

Julian Lewis (Con, New Forest E) agreed. If Mr Foster thought it "barbaric for a teacher to slap an unruly child is it also barbaric for a parent to do the same?" Mr Foster: "My personal view is that corporal punishment by a parent is wrong, but my clause does not in any way infringe the rights of individual parents to inflict such punishment."

Another boon from the ban, said Mr Foster, was that it would bring Britain "into line with all other European countries, both east and west".

The Tory frontbencher Angela Browning, a former teacher and a mother of two, opposed the caning ban. "I have slapped a lot of little legs and I can see a lot of little legs that need slapping tonight," she told Labour MPs. "Line up in the corner and see me afterwards."

Mrs Browning did not believe smacking a child was "necessarily akin to child abuse or violence with long-lasting psychological effects". She countered Mr Foster's European argument by noting: "The European Court of Human Rights has consistently ruled that there is nothing inherently inhuman or degrading about physical correction."

She added: "When a child of two or three tries to run into the road you can point out the dangers to him, but there comes a point at which a slap on the leg prevents the child coming into danger."

David Hinchliffe (Lab, Wakefield) recalled his days as a lad and recommended that pro-caning MPs look at his old school's corporal punishment ledger. "The same names appeared week in and week out - the same boys and the same girls.

That is the most obvious evidence that caning does not work."

Mr Hinchliffe claimed that other nations regarded Britain as "an anachronistic regime living in a time warp" because it still allowed caning.

Mr Nicholls: "We are having a debate in Westminster, in our own sovereign Parliament; we should make up our own minds, one way or the other, for better or for worse, about how we feel about this issue. The idea that we should cravenly follow Europe is one that I find demeaning and insulting."

He added: "It is frankly ludicrous to say that one can persuade a two-and-a-half-year-old child not to run out into the road simply by saying 'We're going to reason with you and discuss other forms of disciplinary sanction with you'."

But Mr Nicholls deplored the way that his former schoolmates, when aged 10, 11 or 12, would be excessively beaten and be left "bruised, cut and bleeding in a way that even I find utterly unacceptable".

Gerald Howarth (Con, Aldershot) observed: "One of the endearing features of the Liberals is that, on many issues, they display a substantial degree of illiberality." There was a principle at stake here, he argued: "The right of a parent to decide how to deal with his children." And yet only 200 independent schools were still using the cane. "Using the law of the land to deal with 200 schools is rather pathetic," said Mr Howarth. "I have a suspicion that this is the first step towards Parliament and the law of the land telling parents what they may do in their own homes."

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