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School CP - November 1996


The Times, London, 1 November 1996

The man who gave Major a thrashing says it did him good

By Damian Whitworth and Andrew Pierce

THE teacher who caned John Major said yesterday that he could not understand the Prime Minister's opposition to corporal punishment because it had done him good.

Hubert Walker, 83, recalled that he had dealt a single swish of the cane to Mr Major and 23 of his classmates when they refused to complete a homework assignment at Rutlish school, Wimbledon, in the mid-1950s. "I think they learnt their lesson," he said last night.

He denied that the boys had been given six strokes and insisted that they had received only one each. He added that, after the mass thrashing, the class of teenagers had behaved better. "I agree with corporal punishment," he said. "I think it should be brought back, not to be used willy-nilly, but rather via the headmaster in moderation."

Mr Walker came down firmly on the side of Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, who was rebuked by the Prime Minister on Tuesday for suggesting that state schools might reintroduce the cane in defiance of agreed Cabinet policy. The former geography teacher said: "Some sanction is necessary. When I stood in front of a class of 30 boys, if two decided to be a nuisance and disrupt the class, that was a waste of time for the other 28. I insisted on being firm. That was the whole basis of my career. They must be suppressed.

"At present there is no sanction. If people can murder a head teacher I'm afraid the whole country is going down the drain. In my day my wife and mother could go out and walk in the dark and now they couldn't."

Mr Walker, who taught at Rutlish for 30 years, retired in 1976 and lives in Raynes Park, southwest London, a short distance from the school. He is still in touch with many of the teachers and his former pupils, including some of those he caned. His educational mentor was J.R. Blenkinsop, the cane-wielding headmaster at Rutlish, who terrorised generations of boys including John Major, and was nicknamed Champion the Wonder Horse because of the size of his teeth.

Mr Walker said he hoped that Mr Major, who failed to show much leadership potential when he was his pupil at Rutlish, would bow to demands from the Tory Right and change his mind in the dispute with Mrs Shephard over corporal punishment.

He disputed that his caning had deterred Mr Major. "I've no idea why John Major is against it," he said. Many Tory MPs were equally puzzled yesterday after being reminded in The Times that, in 1986, Mr Major had sided with the Tory Right in a vote to keep the cane in schools with parental consent.

Mr Walker said that caning was more moderate than the discipline of his own childhood. "My grandfather had a strap hanging beside the fireplace and he was prepared to use it if you stepped out of line."

The humiliation of Mr Major was the talk of the bar at the Old Rutlishians Association last night. One contemporary of the Prime Minister said: "We used to wear a beating as a badge of honour. Most of us were caught at least once. John Major must have kept his head down if he only got caned once. It would have been much worse if old Blenkinsop had beaten him. He swished the cane much harder, as I can recall to my cost."

Mr Major's misery at Rutlish was such that he could not remember what the building looked like when he returned to the school in 1991 for a prizegiving. Peter Stokes, chairman of the association and another contemporary, said: "I am not surprised he has forgotten all about the beating and the school. The school failed him. He got on in life after he left."


Daily Telegraph, London, 1 November 1996

Can boys be beaten?

By Stephen Glover

BOYS ARE more violent than girls. I know there are supposedly gangs of girls roaming our inner cities. But they do not usually make us quake in our shoes. Girls do not threaten our schools with disorder as boys do. Among those allegedly wrecking The Ridings School in Halifax -- which was closed yesterday in chaotic circumstances -- boys are apparently in a majority. It is a boy, Matthew Wilson, who is judged by teachers in a junior school in Manton, Nottinghamshire, to be "unteachable", as other boys in other schools have been over recent months.

So when we talk about difficult children we should normally say boys. They are the problem. Most have a tendency towards aggression and violence which far exceeds the natural inclination of girls. If you have a son -- even a good son -- and a daughter -- even a bad daughter -- you will know what I mean. There is this thing about boys, and there always has been. They are more likely to hit, more likely to fight, more likely to inflict injury.

A report in this paper on Tuesday gave a glimpse of the favourite pastimes of boys at The Ridings School. They told stories of fights in the classroom, of teachers being bombarded with fireworks and spittle. One 14-year-old boy boasted that he had set fire to a window frame with a cigarette lighter. This is the sort of behaviour that has led teachers at the school to ask for the expulsion of 60 "hard-core" troublemakers -- about 10 per cent of the pupils.

As I read this report, I thought of Dr John Keate, who became headmaster of Eton in 1809 when there were about 170 boys in the school. They were at least as difficult to control as the unruly pupils at The Ridings School. But although Keate had to endure the smashing-up of his desk, the singing of rude songs about him and even the occasional rotten egg, he did not ask for the removal of 10 per cent of his pupils. He simply whacked them. On one day -- June 30, 1832 -- he beat 80 boys, and later regretted that he had not flogged them harder. Thus order was established. It is said that the boys loved him, and recognised his great kindness of spirit.

Dr Keate understood that boys are prone to violence and cruelty and disorder. His solution of beating them into submission is, however, not one that is likely to recommend itself to us. More attractive remedies were proposed by another headmaster, Thomas Arnold, at Rugby. Dr Arnold was certainly not opposed to beating bottoms but he placed greater faith than Keate in the idea of improving boys through moral example and exhortation, of turning them into Christian gentlemen. He believed, as Keate had done, that men are born sinful, but he saw, as Keate had not, how they could be inspired to virtue.

Some of our state schools face problems similar to those which Dr Arnold confronted nearly 170 years ago. The difference is that we don't have any sensible answers. The teachers at the schools in Halifax and Manton have shamefully capitulated. They are prepared to employ neither the methods of Dr Keate nor those of Dr Arnold. Bad boys must simply be taken off somewhere else, and treated as aberrational. I doubt many of them really are. They are just hard cases, extreme examples, who should not be dealt with as though they are beyond salvation. For all their theories about education, teachers don't know how to cope with such boys.

One way would be to beat them, which is surely preferable to casting them into educational outer darkness. So much nonsense is uttered about beating that it is difficult to know where to start. One objection is that it induces violence in its victims. Yet when there was corporal punishment in schools they were much better ordered than they are today. Young people were less violent. Beating usually worked. If I think back to my own school, the very rarely employed device of six of the best acted as a restraint on most of us, though there are always one or two desperados who positively seek out the cane.

Beating is surely preferable to the sort of smacking recently defended by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Tony Blair has said that he felt regret when he smacked his children. I have had the same feelings after occasionally smacking mine. The smack is usually delivered in anger. It may not be well aimed. It is an expression of exasperation, a loss of self-control. On two or three occasions during my childhood my father sent me to my room and came up some time later to administer a few whacks in what seemed a formal and judicious manner. A calm dispensing of justice is greatly to be preferred to the random smack.

In rejecting the re-introduction of corporal punishment so precipitately, John Major has demonstrated his fear of offending fashionable opinion. Beating should be discussed because we have a problem -- growing violence among young boys -- and Mr Major hasn't any other credible proposals for dealing with it. But, if there is a debate, arguments against beating may prove stronger than those in favour. It was wrong to throw it away as a last resort but, now that it has gone, cultural mores have so changed that it can't be easily revived. Modern children have come to see beating as an unbearable loss of dignity (which is why parents take refuge in the hasty slap) and they might only submit under a coercion that most of us would probably find intolerable.

Some people will say that young Matthew Wilson would benefit from a good hiding. I'm not so sure. His father died last year, his mother has had cancer. He must be in a state of confusion and despair, made worse by the refusal of his teachers to teach him. They have lost the Arnoldian vision, the belief that most boys are by nature quite wicked but can be improved by education. In another time, at a different school, he could have worked out his frustrations on the sports field, and, if he had had any success there, would have found self-respect. He would have been taught by teachers who believed in the transforming power of great ideas. As it is, his teachers at Manton junior schools have no ideas other than to get rid of him.


Daily Telegraph, London, 3 November 1996

Look who is teaching us morals

By Tom Baldwin and Catherine Elsworth

THEY were bullies and firework throwers, arsonists, truants and vandals. These days they hurl abuse at each other every day, they are out of control, sometimes even a law unto themselves: they are Members of Parliament.

Junior ministers vandalised college property or set fire to their schools; Michael Heseltine was "lunatic"; Labour frontbenchers got "gated" for playing with fireworks; Jack Straw is a self-confessed bully and Michael Portillo drove one teacher to distraction.

These men were often the products of the great public schools and universities. Many of them have felt the full force of corporal punishment.

And yet, as they stampede towards condemning the morality of modern youth, at least some of them may reflect that they have more in common than they would like their electors to remember with pupils of the Ridings School in Halifax or Manton Junior in Nottinghamshire.

Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, according to his mother, was "never any trouble". But at Shrewsbury School, B.L.H. Wilson, who was his study monitor, described him as "rebellious, objectionable, idle, imbecilic, inefficient, antagonising, untidy, lunatic, albino, conceited, inflated, impertinent, underhand, lazy and smug. But cheerful and probably rudimentarily good-natured".

That might sound familiar to some teachers in inner-city sink schools today, but it is nothing compared to the actions of the 13-year-old Gwilym Jones, now a Welsh Office minister, who set fire to his headmaster's study at Whitchurch High School, Cardiff.

The future MP for Cardiff North was placed on probation for two years and ordered to see a psychiatrist. He said recently: "It was wrong and I still bitterly regret it. It wrecked my school career. I left with little in the way of qualifications."

Philip Oppenheim, now a junior Treasury minister, badly vandalised a staircase when he was studying at Oriel College, Oxford, in the mid-1970s. Later he was in trouble again after taking a fellow student 15 miles out of the city and abandoning him there with a blackened face and the word "rapist" scrawled across his forehead.

John Major was thrashed for failing to do his homework at Rutlish Grammar School, an experience which his teacher still thinks did him some good

Michael Portillo managed to become a senior prefect at Harrow County School for Boys, but friends recall how he so exploited the weaknesses of one teacher that the man eventually snapped, bawled at the future Defence Secretary, and took a slipper to him in front of the entire class. The teacher then left to become a rabbi in Paris.

And youthful misdeeds were not confined just to Tory ministers. Two of the shadow cabinet's keenest advocates of discipline for young people can claim a certain empathy with the trouble-makers at The Ridings School.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, has confessed to being "gated" at the Royal Normal College at Rowton Castle, Sheffield, after letting off fireworks and being cheeky.

And Jack Straw, the shadow home secretary, has admitted bullying a fellow pupil at Brentwood Independent School, Essex. In a gang of seven others he picked on another boy in his dormitory because he was "different". The child became so miserable he was forced to quit the boarding house.

Mr Straw said: "It was only when I started to read about the mounting problem of bullying in our schools that I realised that's what it was. But I still feel a sense of shame about my part in all this."

Nor was bad behaviour just a qualification for a future frontbench post. Ken Livingstone, the Labour Leftwinger, used to change his bad reports on his way home from Tulse Hill Comprehensive. He has confessed to being "disruptive and always in trouble - I played truant". Some of his parliamentary colleagues might suggest little has changed.

And Rupert Allason, the backbench Tory MP for Torbay and thorn in the side of party whips, has boasted that he was a "fully-fledged rebel" who "responded very badly to being told to do things as opposed to being asked". He found himself spending "more time queuing outside headmaster's office than in lessons" as he waited for one of his regular thrashings.

Each of the three main party leaders also felt the cane at some point in their school career. Paddy Ashdown, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, revealed to The Sunday Telegraph last week that he had been caned by teachers at Bedford School, saying: "It didn't do me any harm, but I think the climate has probably now changed and while it is legitimate for parents to smack their kids, it is difficult territory when other people get involved."

John Major was thrashed for failing to do his homework at Rutlish Grammar School, an experience which his teacher still thinks did him some good, but which also appears to have prejudiced the Prime Minister against corporal punishment in later life.

And Tony Blair, usually described as a "charismatic rebel" during his time at school, was given "six of the best" by Bob Roberts, his house master at Fettes College, for persistently flouting the rules. "He was the most difficult boy I ever had to deal with," said Mr Roberts.

But perhaps significantly one of the few politicians who appears never to have been in trouble at all during school is Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, who was publicly rebuked last week by Mr Major for suggesting Britain's schools should bring back the cane to deal with difficult pupils.

She was top of the class at North Walsham High School for Girls and recently wrote: "When I look back I am struck by the fact that we were probably the last of the great conformers."

At least her parliamentary colleagues can content themselves with the thought that last week "teacher's pet" got her comeuppance when she received the political equivalent of six of the best from the Prime Minister.


The Straits Times, Singapore, 4 November 1996

Britons favour canings in schools: Polls

LONDON -- Worried by the breakdown of discipline in schools and order on streets, Britons support a return to caning, several newspaper polls showed.

Three polls conducted for Sunday newspapers showed two-thirds of people wanted corporal punishment reintroduced in schools.

A Mori poll for the Mail on Sunday found more than 600 of 1,002 adults questioned would like to see unruly children beaten once again in schools.

An NOP poll for the Sunday Express found 68 per cent of 720 people interviewed would favour caning as a last resort, while a telephone poll of 506 parents of children aged five to 16 by the People showed that 67 per cent supported it.

Discipline in schools has become a political issue after several high-profile cases of children attacking teachers or teachers threatening to strike over unruly pupils.

The Ridings School in Halifax was closed by the local authorities on Thursday after reports of assaults on teachers. Teachers voted overwhelmingly to strike.

Unions for the embattled teachers said a woman teacher was assaulted sexually while a male teacher was punched in the face. Prime Minister John Major entered the fray on Friday, promising to re-establish control at the school.

Cabinet ministers are debating publicly whether caning should be restored. Mr Major chided Education Secretary Gillian Shephard for telling a radio interviewer that there was strong public support for caning.

But on Friday night, Home Secretary Michael Howard said some situations called for extreme measures.

Corporal punishment could be useful, he said, "because I think that one of the things that we really need to instil in our children, parents and teachers . . . is a sense of discipline", he told BBC radio.

Liberal Democrat Party leader Paddy Ashdown admitted on Saturday that he had smacked his children.

"I don't object to parents hitting their kids," he said. "I don't like it when I've done it, but I have done it to my own kids from time to time and there are even occasions when I have done it when I shouldn't have done it."

Opposition Labour Party leader Tony Blair also confessed last week to striking his children.

Caning in state schools was outlawed by Parliament in 1986.

Punishment which is not "inhuman or degrading" is still permitted in private schools, where generations of boys were flogged routinely as part of their training as "leaders of men". -- Reuter.


Daily Telegraph, London, 9 November 1996

MPs get a free vote on caning

By George Jones, Political Editor

JOHN MAJOR sought last night to avert a growing Tory revolt over corporal punishment by offering his backbench MPs a free vote on whether to bring back the cane in state schools. But he is insisting that all ministers should oppose the move.

Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, and Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, believe that caning can play a role in maintaining discipline. Right-wing Tories plan to table an amendment to the Education Bill to allow schools to bring back the cane with parental approval.

The Prime Minister, who voted for the cane during the abolition debate 10 years ago, wants to allow backbenchers the "safety valve" of a free vote. But he is determined that ministers and their unpaid parliamentary private secretaries should enter the "no" lobby. He has told colleagues that he does not want to preside over a Government that brings back corporal punishment in schools.

It is a move that is certain to split the Tory Party down the middle. Right-wingers forecast that at least 100 backbenchers would vote for corporal punishment, which they believe has strong public support at a time of growing concern over indiscipline in schools.

However, there is little prospect of the MPs winning such a vote in the New Year. They face certain defeat from Labour MPs - almost certainly on a three-line whip - and the 116-strong "payroll" vote of ministers and parliamentary private secretaries.

The offer of a free vote for backbench Tories is clearly timed to prevent a revolt in the Commons on Monday at the end of the second reading of the Education Bill. The introduction of the Bill has been overshadowed by the row over corporal punishment. It gives schools more power to select pupils by ability or aptitude, as well as tackling indiscipline with stronger powers of detention and allowing schools to exclude pupils for up to 45 days in any year.

Mr Major faced the anger of Tory MPs after he publicly repudiated a recent suggestion by Mrs Shephard that the Government would support a return to corporal punishment - which was outlawed after a European court ruling - if it were sought by teachers and governors. He rebuked her publicly and ordered her to make clear that there was no question of the Government changing its "settled policy" against caning.

Mrs Shephard later reaffirmed her "personal view" that it could be a useful deterrent to bad behaviour in schools. She was backed by her deputy, Robin Squire, as well as Mr Howard, who said his personal view was that caning should be used in extreme circumstances.

Right-wing Tories have accused Mr Major of being out of touch with the mood in the party and the country. An opinion poll this week showed two-thirds of those questioned in favour of teachers having the right to use corporal punishment and even more saying that heads should have the right.

James Pawsey, MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, is to table an amendment seeking to include caning in the Education Bill. He wants parents to be able to elect for their children to face corporal punishment as an alternative to exclusion. The amendment is expected to come before the Commons in February.

blob Follow-up: 29 January 1997 - 90 Tory MPs defy government line in school caning vote


The Times, London, 15 November 1996

The cane was once a useful deterrent

Andrew Collier on an effective, but now dated, punishment

The horror on a boy's face the other day, when he heard that I had used the cane, clinched my position in the debate on corporal punishment.

I did indeed use it, or the slipper, as those then in authority did, on rare and, I suspect, not very painful occasions. I would not have abolished its use, but I do not believe we can bring it back in the present climate. To argue for it in certain quarters would label me merely a backwoodsman. But to be seen as a monster is something different, and the misunderstandings in this view are too deep-rooted for restoration to be a practical option.

What today's pupils cannot understand is that it was as well understood a sanction as today's politically correct, properly agreed equivalents. Probably better. It was the known punishment for certain offences where something short and sharp seemed appropriate. This was unlikely to include bullying, the problems of which always were more serious and deep-rooted. Similarly, theft and dishonesty were usually too complex for so blunt a response.

It was usually used to punish unacceptable behaviour and rule-breaking, which needed dealing with and forgetting. Today's everyday obscenities were then quite unacceptable, and in that climate, a "quick six" was preferable to suspension.

I believe the boys I beat knew the risks they took and what to expect. I did not shake hands or offer the so easily ridiculed "it hurts me as much as it does you" line, although I always ensured afterwards that the intention to "put it behind us" had worked.

I also know that it gave me no pleasure and allowed my reluctance to resort to this sanction to impose a moment of critical reflection into the business of the day. This seriousness, coupled with its rarity, made it a real deterrent and symbol of authority and right.

As today's history books describe a horrifyingly frequent use of cane, ruler or slipper in the inevitably "bad old days", it is unlikely that today's pupils will understand. I am also conscious that my experience, as teacher and pupil, was mild. I only inherited stories of regimes where the cane was in daily use, although I have met those who feel that their schooldays were blighted by it. They are to be taken more seriously than any of the "it never did me any harm" clichés, because their feelings are real.

I believe they are the exception, but there is no doubt that a number of heads and teachers did cane excessively, with little thought and, sometimes, with excessive delight. To them we owe the abolition and the horror which makes it irreversible. But I think it is important to understand that historically it was not always, and theoretically need not be, the obscene scandal now usually portrayed.

I also think it important to expose some of the glibber arguments against corporal punishment, not least the often repeated variations on "How can one condemn violence in general while condoning it as punishment?" To adapt, one might as well say that we cannot tell the thief that because he took someone's possessions we intend to dispossess (fine, stop pocket money) him. Punishment is only so defined if it is unpleasant and comes from and with authority; anything else is immoral or kinky.

Anyway, we cannot at this time restore corporal punishment. First, because public attitudes and perceptions have moved on. Opponents (and some practitioners) have succeeded in giving the cane such a horrific image that the old understandings are no longer possible. Today's children know their rights, understand the term "abuse" (although happily most, still, have never witnessed it), and have been taught to question all authority. We all recognise the pluses in this, but there is a price. And, while changed attitudes mean that some find the notion of corporal punishment sinister and scandalously unacceptable, there are significant problems at the other end of the mood change -- violence against teachers is a relatively new phenomenon, at least at a serious level.

How would the cane-wielding teacher fare against the thugs and gangs resolved to defend or avenge their cronies? Do we want to fuel further playground wars and draw schools deeper into the confused area of condemning violence in any form?

Secondly, although corporal punishment was not illegal in independent schools, most abandoned it when it became unacceptable to some parents. You cannot run a fair system with double standards, punishing the same offence differently because of parental attitudes. This problem would now be insuperable; even a Cabinet full of Gillian Shephards would be unlikely to refuse parents a right to opt out.

Finally, the case against restoration wins because most schools have proved they can cope without it. Discipline has not broken down everywhere. Yes, standards have changed, probably slipped, and attitudes to authority are not what they were. But there are a thousand reasons for this and most children still strive to avoid punishment. I believe the caning issue is an irrelevance. A political distraction and an election red herring.

The writer is a former head teacher.

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