A new survey conducted by the Times Educational Supplement has discovered apparently that half of parents want to bring back the cane. As a teacher, I can only say that I feel dismayed if this is really true; I would be interested to see the nature of the questions and the cross section of parents asked. It’s interesting to see that men believe in corporal punishment more than women; parental support for the cane is higher among men, at 58 per cent, than women, at 40 per cent. There are also regional variations, with support highest in Yorkshire, where the return of corporal punishment is backed by 56 per cent of parents, compared with just 32 per cent in the north of Scotland.
This information is troubling on a number of counts. Firstly, it indicates that the whole “discipline” debate has scarcely moved on in fifty years amongst the public. In countries where corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed for nearly a century and there are parental bans on it– such as some Scandinavian countries — the language used about children is very different; there is very little discourse about “controlling children by fear”, and a general focus upon examining the reasons why children are not behaving and addressing them directly rather than punishing them.
Secondly, this survey suggests that many parents feel quite erroneously that our classrooms are generally in a state of uproar. Nothing could be further from the truth; as Ofsted noted in its last annual report, behaviour is good or better in 86% of schools. Furthermore, other surveys show that parents are, by and large, happy with their children’s schools. Thirdly, it gives the impression that many parents condone what amounts to child abuse; hitting children is just plain morally wrong and is child abuse. That’s why it’s illegal! The NSPCC has run some good campaigns about this issue and their advice is well worth reading.
We desperately need to raise the level of debate about this issue in this country and look beyond these knee-jerk reactions. The general public needs to be aware of the damage that hitting children does; they need to learn that hitting children is actually “anti-learning” in that hitting them causes a “flight or fight” response in the brain, inducing panic rather than helping them think rationally. Personally, I’ve found that I only genuinely help children who have behavioural issues when they are relatively calm; shouting at them when they’re angry is often pointless and counter-productive. Hitting them certainly wouldn’t help and, if it were a sanction available to teachers now, would almost certainly lead to greater violence in our schools. Good discipline is about children understanding the reasons why they need to behave, about encouraging them to “self-regulate”, that’s what good education is about. Corporal punishment is simply not rational.
I appeared on Daybreak talking about this issue with a teacher Simon Warr, who gave a very guarded defence of corporal punishment, but much preferred to slag off state schools generally instead. Surprise, surprise, he teaches in a private school.
Please read Unicef’s important report on this if you remain unconvinced.