A highly vexed question
SPARE the rod and spoil the child is an old, and many would say outdated, saying. But corporal punishment, the use of the cane, slipper or strap is still legal in most of Britain's schools.
The extent to which corporal punishment is still used is open to debate. Most head-teachers claim they dislike the use of the cane and retain it only as an "ultimate deterrent". Most of the ten diocesan education commissions I spoke to this week said they did not know of a case of corporal punishment in a Catholic school in their area.
There is, however, a considerable weight of evidence to suggest that the use of the cane is not a dying practice. An Inner London Education Authority survey published in October reveale that of the 50 schools it questioned, more than half still used corporal punishment. In these caning schools the incidence of corporal punishment per 100 boys ranged from 0.23 per cent to 96.35 per cent. The highest caning school, a Church of England mixed comprehensive. also caned girls regularly.
Other research has revealed a similar pattern. The National Children's Bureau study of all children born in England and Wales in a certain week in 1958 showed that in 1977, 80 per cent of these children. then 16, were in schools where corporal punishment was still used.
In the London Borough of Croydon a survey in 1977 found that 22 of the area's 35 secondary schools still used the cane. Two Catholic voluntary aided schools in the borough had each used the cane on 27 occasions in the 1976 to 1977 academic year.
Shirley Williams: personally opposed There are many arguments for and against corporal punishment. Teachers and many parents argue that, while unpleasant, it is a necessary part of discipline to prevent a school descending into anarchy and chaos in a society where physical violence by teenagers is on the increase.
Abolitionists, on the other hand. point out that Britain and Eire are the only countries in Europe where corporal punishment is still legal. Poland formally abolished the cane in 1783, Holland in 1850, France waited until 1887, while it took Denmark until 1967 to get round to it.
Teachers in these countries, however, report no undue difficulty in controlling their pupils without the cane. France's largest teaching union said recently that it "could not accept the possibility of the reintroduction of corporal punishment; we are too concerned with respect for the dignity of human beings for this to be so."
Those in favour of the cane argue that corporal punishment is a deterrent and that a sharp physical reminder can prevent a pupil becoming involved in more serious trouble at a later date. The cane has generally been administered on a "for your own good" basis. Those who want to outlaw the practice point to the punishment books of schools using the cane as evidence that it is often the same pupils who are beaten on a number of occasions for the same offence, often spread over a period of years. Every school that uses corporal punishment is legally obliged to keep a punishment book in which must be entered the name, age and class of the pupil, the offence for which he is being punished, the number of strokes of the cane administered and to what part of the body, and the date. The book must also be signed by the teacher who did the . caning and by the headmaster.
A detailed survey by the ' Manchester Research Council has, however, concluded that there is an association "of undoubted significance" between social behavour, juvenile delinquency and corporal punishment. "Far from caning reducing delinquency it may well be in. creasing it ... the use of corporal punishment leading to the early appearance of `us' and 'them' attitudes and the development of hostility to authority in all forms," said the council.
The phrase "it never did me any harm" is often used in defence of corporal puni hment. but abolition organisations argue that it can psychologically damage a child. The British Paediatric Association has said that caning cannot be regarded as safe or effective and should therefore be abolished; the Royal College of Psychiatrists that there is nothing to support its continued use, while the Association of Educational Psychologists claims that children who are beaten tend in turn to beat and bully others. The Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment has also produced evidence to suggest that corporal punishment has unhealthy sexual overtones and has drawn attention to the existence of pornographic material exclusively devoted to corporal punishment, often in a school context.
"This proves that the sexual dimension of corporal punishment at school does exist for enough people to make it commercially worthwhile producing these items," says STOPP.
The right of teachers to cane pupils stems from their position in loco parentis'. The parents' right to punish physically a child in "a reasonable manner" and if he "honestly believes" that it is necessary for the good of the child has been established in law since '1888.
While a child is at school the parent is regarded as having delegated to the teacher part of his duty to care for the child. The teacher is therefore entitled to use the same amount of force that a reasonable father would honestly consider necessary to correct the child.
Parents and teachers arc in fact the only people in Britain who are allowed to punish others physically. Prison officers, for example, have no such right and the practice has been abolished in the Services.
Organisations campaigning for abolition, however, point to numerous cases where parents opposed to physical punishment have attempted to withdraw the right to cane their children from teachers and have failed.
For example, the parents of a seven-year old girl at a Catholic primary school in Kent wrote to the headmaster and stated that they did not delegate their parental authority to cane their daughter to any of the teachers in the school.
The headmaster replied that he could not accept conditions imposed by the parents on their daughter's education. The girl was eventually withdrawn from the school and sent to the local non-Catholic school.
Abolition organisations claim that such cases prove that parents have no legal rights whatever in relation to corporal punishment, except the normal redress against assault which applies only in cases of exceptional severity.
However, the extent to which parents themselves oppose corporal punishment is debatable. In a ballot of 130 of the 138 sets of parents taken by the headmaster at ..the same Catholic primary school, only five replies said that there should be no corporal punishment. The other 125 said that the method of discipline should be left to the school authorities and the headmaster.
The Plowden Report on Primary Education, published in 1967, revealed that while 52 per cent of parents thought that the cane was "very bad" for children, a full 75 per cent condoned its "occasional use". One quarter of the parents thought children needed smacking "quite often". The attitude of Catholic school authorities, head teachers and Catholic parent seems to vary little from the national view. Two Catholic head-teachers in London recently vigorously defended their use of the cane for bullying and other serious offences.
The official view of the National union of Teachers is: "Teachers should be allowed to use their professional judgment in determining whether corporal punishment is appropriate to the circumstances and is in the best interest of individual pupils and the school in general."
This also seems to be the opinion of diocesan education commissions. Of the 10 contacted, none had a formal policy on corporal punishment and all said that they left it to the discretion of the headmaster and governors of the individual school. Only one commission said that it had ever discussed the issue.
The Catholic Education Commission has studied the question, and gave evidence to an inquiry on corporal punishment set up last year by the Department or Education and Science. In its evidence the commission said that punishment in general should be used no more than necessary in schools, but that it seemed that punishment in some form could not be abolished if discipline was to be maintained.
Corporal punishment was being used less than in the past said the Commission. Without offering an opinion either for or Commission said it was necessary to consider whether it might not be necessary in some circumstances and evaluate the consequences of other forms of punishment. rsirsh i Mrs e y
Williams, Minister for Education and Science, is known to be personally opposed to corporal punishment, and at present the DES is conducting yet another inquiry into the use of the cane to which various organisations — although not, as far wass is known, any of them Catholic -are giving their vie
But in the long run it will be the attitude of parents and teachers which sways the issue. Perhaps before making a decision we should try to answer truthfully the question: "Is this hurting me more than it's hurting you?"