Stop caning now --order to Church schools
by Jonathan Petre CANING should be stopped in Catholic schools, and where it is continued, its use should be infrequent and strictly governed, according to the Catholic Education Council.
Mr Richard Cunningham, Secretary of the Council, the Church's senior body responsible for education policy, said this week that the Council's position was reached after examining the implications of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last year.
But he emphasised that the Council's recommendations, which are contained in a letter which has been sent to all diocesan schools' commissioners in England and Wales, are only guidelines to schools, and are in no way binding.
"All matters of discipline are in the hands of the governors of individual schools," he said.
The Council actually took the decision at a meeting in May, after discussions with educationalists and teachers. It was carried by a majority decision.
But the news was only released at the weekend, after a meeting between the Council and the school commissioners.
The decision was based on a paper prepared for the Council which noted that the interpretation likely to be placed on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, made in the spring of last year, was that parents had the right to refuse to let their children be beaten.
"This would mean that a school using cor oral punishment might be able to use it in the case of some pupils, but not others, depending on the attitude of their parents," the Council's letter said.
The six judges in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg decided in March 1982 that the British Government was in contravention of the European Convention of Human Rights if it allowed corporal punishment to be used in British schools.
This was because, according to the charter, parents had the right to have their children educated "in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions." The Court ruled that the philosophical convictions of parents extended to a right to decide whether their child should be subjected to corporal punishment.
But Mr Cunningham said that the Council had gone further than the European Court in that it was recommending that corporal punishment should be phased out entirely. He said that this conclusion was reached after the Council had heard evidence from teachers at schools where beating no longer took place.
The letter said: "The available evidence suggests that while some schools did not use it, of those which did some used it only infrequently, others more frequently.
"There was reason to think that the more frequent use reflected greater readiness to use corporal punishment.
"After discussion the Council resolved by a majority that diocesan schools commissioners should be informed that the Council was of the view that corporal punishment should be phased out and that, where it continued, its use should be infrequent and governed by strict procedures."
The Church has been lobbied on the issue since 1981 by Stoop, the anti-caning group. Representatives of the group gave their views to the Council after the group's Secretary, Mr Tom Scott, had sent Cardinal Basil Hume a letter calling for the end of caning in Catholic schools.
In a statement issued this week welcoming the Council's decision, Stopp said: "The Roman Catholic Church's decision means that most large and important "establishment" organisations have taken a stand against child-beating."
• The Government had an opportunity to restate its policy on the "historic share" principle this week during questions in the House of Commons.
Mr Harry Greenway, Conservative MP for Ealing North, asked a Supplementary Question, whether the Government had any plans to further reduce the number of teacher training places in Church colleges.
A junior minister from the Department of Education and Science replied that although the voluntary sector had an "important role" the Government could no longer acknowledge a fixed proportion of training places within any denomination.