Corpun file 13993
The Times, London, 13 September 2004
20somethings say 'six of the best' would curb unruly pupils
By Alexandra Frean
Social Affairs Correspondent
FOR generations of school children the threat of receiving
"six of the best" from the headmaster's cane
unleashed an emotional tidal wave of resentment and fear. But now
the generation that has been spared the rod wants it back for its
Seventeen years after beatings were banned in state schools
and five years after private schools were brought into line, 47
per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds, who were never caned or slippered
at school themselves, say they think that society would benefit
from the reintroduction of the cane as a "punishment of last
The survey found a big gender gap on attitudes to corporal
punishment amongst both genders and classes. 54 per cent of men
support its reintroduction compared to 39 per cent of women.
Having children appeared to make no difference to the views
held. 46 per cent of those with children were in favour of
corporal punishment compared with 47 per cent of those without.
The proposal has found support in some surprising areas. Ralph
Woodling, 26, who has just started a teaching course at Cambridge
University said the cane "certainly has its place".
"I think it should be used as a preventative
measure," he said. "Not just for someone who
hasn't done his homework, he needs encouragement for that,
but if he's done something naughty then it should be used.
"I was given the slipper seven times as a boy and I feel
that those who didn't get it are a little bit
"I also think it shouldn't be just for the young but
it should be used up to the age of 18," he added.
The finding was greeted with surprise by teaching unions, who
insisted the notion would find no support among policy makers or
But most accepted that the level of support for the return of
the cane and the slipper was a reflection of widespread anxiety
about deteriorating levels of behaviour within and outside the
Teachers now cite poor behaviour as the biggest single
obstacle to their work, according to research published last week
by the Times Educational Supplement. Separate research
published by the Government shows that 62,000 pupils were
permanently or temporarily excluded from school during the summer
term of 2003, 17,000 of whom were disciplined for attacking
teachers or fellow pupils.
Phil Williamson, head of the Christian Fellowship School in
Liverpool, whose legal challenge to bring back the cane in his school will reach the House of Lords in December, said: "A
lot of those who want corporal punishment reintroduced will have
been in a situation where the unruly pupils in their class really
have ruled the roost and spoiled it for the majority of the
others who want to get on with their learning," he said.
The alternatives of excluding or suspending unruly pupils did
not work, Mr Williamson said. "They merely shift the problem
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of
Head Teachers, said that the poll finding reflected the fact that
the younger generations were thoroughly fed up with bad behaviour
and indiscipline and were casting about for solutions: "The
younger generation is saying what you might expect the older
generation to day," he said.
Jonathan Dunford general secretary of the Secondary Heads
Association, said that corporal punishment clearly did not work.
"When I became a headteacher I found an old punishment book
and the first thing I noticed was the frequency with which the
same names cropped up in it. It obviously did not act as a
deterrent," he said.
Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Corpun file 14269
The Times, London, 16 September 2004
The cane is not the issue
Twentysomethings want the cane back, but that won't solve any problems, says Mick Hume
The most unexpected result of this week's Times Populus survey
of young adults was that almost half support the reintroduction
of corporal punishment in schools -- a striking change in attitude
among a generation who must have been happy that they never
experienced it themselves.
I was caned at school. It did not ruin my life, and I have no
plans to sue for compensation. Nor did it build my character. To
me, it was just a pain in the backside. To other people, however,
corporal punishment has seemed to symbolise the bad old days in
With fellow parents a while ago, I mentioned that I had been
caned several times at grammar school. One woman looked at me in
"Caned for NOTHING, I suppose!" she cried, and others
nodded in sympathy.
No, I pointed out, on the contrary, we were caned for fighting,
bullying, persistent smoking, vandalism, petty theft, and obscene
insolence -- you know, all of the usual adolescent pastimes. But
still they looked at me as if I were a victim of child abuse.
The demand to "bring back the cane!" has traditionally
been the preserve of grumpy old men. This week, however, we
learnt that it has suddenly become popular among twentysomething
trendsetters. In the Times survey of the iGeneration -- aged 18 to
30 -- 47 per cent supported the reintroduction of corporal
punishment in schools.
Among men, support for the cane soared to 54 per cent, 39 per
cent of women agreed. And 46 per cent of young parents were in
favour of corporal punishment.
Most of these people could never have been caned at school. They
are the generation who got away from the successors to Wackford
Squires, after corporal punishment was abolished in state schools
back in 1987 (private schools were brought into line five years
ago). Yet now, many 18 to 30-year-olds are apparently so worried
about teenagers behaving badly that they are keen to visit the
joys of the cane on younger generations. The news-talgia that
already has twentysomethings looking up their not-very-old mates
on Friends Reunited, and dancing to Eighties/Nineties music at
school disco clubs, now extends to wishing they could turn the
school clock back to a time when they were still in nappies.
It seems as if these young people are already scared of younger
people. In the words of one teachers' union leader: "The
younger generation is saying what you might expect the older
generation to say."
They see alarmist reports of violence in schools, culminating in
a horror story such as the alleged rape of a London teacher by a
15- year old pupil last week.
They worry about new generations of scallies and Chavs, coming
out of school and on to their streets with no sense of discipline
or self-control. In response, they told the Times survey that
society would benefit from reintroducing the cane as a
"punishment of last resort".
That's what it was when I was at grammar school in the Seventies.
By then, only our headmaster was allowed to administer the cane.
Which was just as well, given the state of mind of certain other
teachers, such as the little sadist in stack heels who made
miscreants taller than him get on their knees and crawl to the
front of class, so that he could look down on them while issuing
The headmaster used a piece of bamboo about a yard long and
sharpened at one end, like a big novelty pencil. He was kind
enough usually to deliver strokes with a straight arm, so
reducing the impact a little. Boys to whom he took a particular
dislike received the full bent-elbowed whiplash. He tended to
gather a few boys in his office to be punished together, to make
you sweat and watch each other get it.
This also had the effect of making you want to tough it out in
front of your mates, trying to walk out as straight and
nonchalantly as you could on shaking legs. The exception was the
boy whom I recall running out holding his backside as if it was
on fire, and going to the changing rooms to sit in a sink, while
making hissing noises with his mouth.
Some other state schools were keener on corporal punishment than
ours (not to mention what went on in the private ones). One
friend of mine, just old enough to have received the leather
strap at a Catholic boys' school, recalls the relish with which
certain teachers doled out beatings, especially the games teacher
who enjoyed whacking boys on the behind with a cricket bat, and
the bitter disappointment with which they greeted the abolition
of CP. On the whole, schoolchildren may well have been better
behaved back then (although I wouldn't overdo that point). But
what is often forgotten is that the cane was used in schools like
ours as part of a system of discipline. There were clear rules to
keep and lines to stay within -- although we sometimes broke and
crossed them, we always knew where they were and what the
consequences were likely to be. Good, tough teachers tended to
have our grudging respect, and we got on with it.
Today the situation inside many schools seems very different. The
wider breakdown of parental and adult authority has created real
uncertainty about where to draw the line with young people and
how to discipline them in school. There are paranoid concerns
about possible child abuse -- or at least, allegations of abuse --
and about vetting every adult who works in a classroom. Teachers
often feel unable to apply a plaster to a child's knee, never
mind a cane to his backside. As David Perks, head of physics at
one South London school, has noted: "It is a regular
occurrence to hear youngsters remind teachers that they will sue
them if they so much as touch them."
Anything to do with classroom discipline is now fraught with
pitfalls and insecurities. One response in recent years has been
a boom in exclusions (what used to be called expulsions), to try
to make the bad boys simply disappear. But that is a way of
sidestepping authority problems rather than addressing them, and
anyway is now frowned upon by the Government's social inclusion
The new wave of support for the cane as a "last resort"
looks to me like similar groping for an at-a-stroke substitute
for proper classroom discipline.
All of this, however, surely misses the point about discipline in
By the time we are panicking about reports of rape and assault,
it is too late to solve problems with corporal or any other sort
We need to instil a culture of discipline in the education system
from the start.
And as any good school knows, that has more to do with pedagogy --
how we teach children -- than with how we punish them. Discipline
begins with children understanding why they are in school, and
being inspired to study and learn. As Roger Ascham observed in
his classic The Schoolmaster in 1570, children "were sooner
allured by love, than driven by beating, to attain good
learning". That love of learning seems too often absent from
The support for the cane in that Times survey suggests that young
adults are looking to schools to solve our society's wider
problems of adult authority and socialising children. Unsure of
how to raise kids "the right way", they want the
education system somehow to do the job for them. That is wishful
thinking -- and burdening teachers with all our problems can only
make matters worse.
Of course, when moves are afoot to ban parents from smacking
their children, there is no possibility of corporal punishment
being reintroduced. The demand to bring back the cane seems less
like a practical proposal than a sign of panic and surrender
among adults -- even those who have only just acquired that
status. We would do better to forget about re-running the old
debates on corporal punishment, and start a new one about how
best we can free teachers to teach and parents to parent.
The headmaster's sharpened cane left no scars on either my arse
or on my soul. But nor did it beat me into shape. The cane may
not be an instrument of medieval torture. But it is certainly no
magic wand to make our child-raising problems disappear.
Copyright (c) Times Newspapers Limited 2004