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School CP - March 2005
The Age, Melbourne, 16 March 2005
School of hard knocks
Corporal punishment is still used in at least one Victorian school, bringing troubled boys back from the brink of disaster. But is it that simple? Education editor Shane Green investigates.
Boys at the Frank Dando Sports Academy get accustomed to success through sports such as abseiling.Photo: Angela Wylie
Jack, a smiling 13-year-old, is recalling how he used to be. "I was like a terror," he says.
"I use to try to punch holes in the wall, hit my head against the wall, throw my stuff around the room." "Now," he goes on, "about the only thing I have to do is clean it up, because I usually just build stuff with Lego."
At the Frank Dando Sports Academy, the teenager has taken a break from his English class to explain what life is like since he came to the school, one of Victoria's most unconventional and contentious.
The private school, established by teacher and judo expert Frank Dando 25 years ago, challenges many of the assumptions about education, as it pursues its mission of taking young boys on the edge with behavioural problems and putting them back in the mainstream.
It works on the theory of first having the boys experience success in physical education and sport. Success in maths and English follows, the foundations upon which the rest of learning can then occur.
The school is also different -- very different -- in that it openly admits to using corporal punishment, banned in Victoria's government and Catholic schools two decades ago. As the school puts it, boys deemed to be a danger to themselves or others can still feel the sting of the cane on their buttocks -- although the school says it is used only in "extreme cases", only once or twice a year.
Just how long the cane continues to be administered at the Frank Dando Sports Academy is a moot point.
Education Minister Lynne Kosky is about to rewrite the Education Act, and, as part of a new set of standards and conditions for private schools, a ban on corporal punishment is a real possibility.
How many private schools would be affected by the ban is unclear. The Association of Independent Schools of Victoria guesses that only a handful still use corporal punishment, although identifying them is hard. What is unusual about the Frank Dando school is that it publicly acknowledges the use of the cane.
In a rare move, the school agreed to open its doors to The Age, to talk not only about corporal punishment, but its unconventional approach.
Tucked away in an unassuming pocket of the eastern suburbs, the school is barely noticeable, fronted by a house like any other in this middle- Melbourne street. The character quickly changes as you move through the house, to a classroom-cum-sports room out the back, a place where the teachers look like gym instructors.
Achieving at sports such as judo, helps boys at the Frank Dando Sports Academy with their studies.
This is where Frank Dando, a 74- year-old teacher and judo expert, has delivered his own brand of education for the past 25 years, the result of a personal journey through the worlds of struggling children and physical education. As Dando tells it, he was let loose on country schools as a "bloody hopeless" 19-year-old graduate teacher, learning on the job and being brought up to scratch by school inspectors.
He returned three years later, working in schools in Housing Commission areas, where an interest in struggling children was fired. A year spent in Japan studying judo led him to explore the connection between physical co-ordination and cognitive ability.
Dando completed further study and research on his return to Australia, resulting in the establishment of a groundbreaking program at Clayton Tech. He set up an annexe at the local pool to help year 7 and 8 students struggling with reading and maths. "It worked like a bloody charm," says Dando. "The kids thought it was terrific. They did an hour's phys ed, an hour's maths and an hour's reading. Essential stuff. You didn't have to convince the kids it was pretty important. They knew it."
He says the program was a success, but that even then the concept generated some heat. He decided to get out when he was "getting a bit too much flak in the background". Dando then began his school on the same model.
The school has a maximum enrolment of 20 boys, students who have struggled elsewhere because of behavioural problems such as attention deficit disorder. The boys, who stay at the school for an average of two years, must have an above-average IQ. "We move at a pretty fast rate with our maths and English," says principal Ziad "Zach" Zacharia. "And if the kid hasn't got the cognitive ability, they'll fail again."
The first rule is that no junk food is allowed. "That's an important factor," says Zacharia. "Any chocolate, chips, lollies, anything like that I look upon it as an evil . . . They can eat as much as they like, provided it's wholegrain, vegetables, lean meats."
The school claims a 98 per cent success rate -- including a boy who came facing an armed robbery charge who is now getting top marks doing his VCE. Another boy had been expelled from 12 schools. Dando has a no-expulsion rule. If the boys didn't come to the school, says Zacharia, their probable futures would be "jail, juvenile detention".
And then there is corporal punishment. "If there is a danger being brought on to the group or to (an) individual and that child is caught, the corporal punishment would be used, and that is with utility and not abuse," says Zacharia. The punishment -- one stroke of the cane -- is used only in "extreme cases", and only immediately after an incident has occurred.
When a boy is enrolled in the school, parents are informed that the cane is used and they sign a consent form. Once the cane is administered, it is entered in a corporal punishment register. The book can be viewed at any time by the Registered Schools Board, and the school sends it in once a year.
The school has been singled out for criticism, but according to Dando, "you don't get too much from classroom teachers, because classroom teachers are forced into reality".
"You get it more from psychologists and administrators who have forgotten what it's all about." That said, the school says it has boys referred to it by psychologists. The critics include Tony Keenan, who heads the Victorian Independent Education Union. "While some of their programs are good," says Keenan, "we don't believe that the corporal punishment is necessary."
Keenan adds that the union doesn't believe any employee of the college can administer corporal punishment and be legally protected, regardless of what parents have signed.
Michelle Green, who heads the Association of Independent Schools, says the records show that corporal punishment at the school is not universally applied. "It's not like people's experience of corporal punishment 25 years ago or 35 years ago," she says.
"It is something that is understood by the parents and understood by the boys."
As Green notes, finding a school willing to admit it is used is difficult.
While this may reflect a reluctance to talk publicly about the subject, she says it is more likely there are simply very few schools that use corporal punishment.
If corporal punishment is banned, the Dando school says it is not concerned. "The fact is we don't really like using corporal punishment," says Zacharia.
Jack, the 13-year-old who now makes a mess with Lego rather than holes in the wall, knows what it's like to experience it.
Asked about whether he has been hit with the cane, he reddens slightly. He says he's received it several times in his four years at the school. And what does he think about it? "It hurts sometimes."
Copyright © 2005. The Age Company Ltd.
The Age, Melbourne, 16 March 2005
How the cane was canned
By Shane Green
In [sic] a Sunday in 1973, a teacher rose to her feet at the annual conference of the Technical Teachers Association of Victoria and spoke passionately about how corporal punishment was being abused by some of her colleagues.
Margaret Herron spoke of students at some techs being "sadistically and maliciously" beaten for misbehaving. She told of one student being knocked to the ground and beaten around the legs after refusing corporal punishment.
While she won the support of the conference for a motion calling for a ban on corporal punishment, she was also accused of slurring the teaching profession.
Yet her public declarations reflected a growing community concern over the use of the strap and the cane. Until then, corporal punishment was a mainstay in Victoria's government, Catholic and independent schools. For many students, the "cuts" were a part of daily school life, often dependent on the temper of teachers and their inability to manage a class.
By the early '80s, there was an intense campaign by parent groups and teacher unions to have the strap banned from Victorian schools.
In 1981, they failed to convince the then Liberal government, which declared the strap was needed "as a last resort, when all else fails".
The "last resort" could only be used on boys, in cases of "grave misconduct" and only inflicted on the palm.
The strap was finally banned in Victoria's government schools in 1983, in one of the early education policy decisions of the newly elected Cain Labor government.
The Catholic system soon followed, but the use of corporal punishment still remains legal in Victoria's independent schools.
While the Frank Dando Sports Academy still uses it, the peak independent schools body believes it is among only a handful.
There has been a gradual phasing out of corporal punishment in Victoria's independent schools.
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