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Caning set to go the way of all flesh

Frances Rafferty reports on the imminent end of corporal punishment

The last icon of pre-millennium education is to go, when a vote to abolish caning in all British schools is expected to be passed later this month.

Ministers have said they will give a free vote on the ending of corporal punishment, and with the exception of a few Conservatives, MPs are highly unlikely to vote against. Corporal punishment is no longer legal in state schools, or those which receive state funding.

Dick Davison, joint director of the Independent Schools Information Service, which represents 80 per cent of private schools, said he knew of only one of his members that retained the option of the cane.

Last year, however, police were called to a private special school in Essex over corporal punishment incidents. Although charges were dropped, several teachers were suspended by the governing body.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, who has proposed the ban, told the standing committee of the School Standards and Framework Bill that while he was against caning morally, evidence also showed it did not work.

Last time the issue was raised, it was a Conservative backbencher's attempt to reintroduce the cane to all schools when John Major publicly rebuked education secretary Gillian Shephard for her support. Then Tory MPs regaled each other with tales of bloodied buttocks, and the "it never did me no harm" argument had a fulsome airing. This time it was harrowing tales from the victims, and bizarre accounts of those forced to mete it out.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said that on his first appointment as a teacher in 1963 he was told by the headteacher that corporal punishment was used to keep order.

"He then put on a cricket glove and asked me to cane him (on the hand). Although it was a bizarre experience, I caned him because I desperately needed the job. However, he told me I would not remain at the school unless I could use the cane properly.

"He then asked me to put on the cricket glove and proceeded to show me how it was done. I have never forgotten being caned by the headteacher for doing nothing - just applying for the job," he said.

He said when Leeds City Council banned corporal punishment, the staff at the school where he was head were horrified. But he said it was the beginning of a new relationship between teachers and their pupils.

Tony McNulty, Labour MP for Harrow East, said: "At my Catholic grammar school, there was a particularly perverse PE teacher who took great delight in giving the slipper . . . By the time we were 15 or 16 many of us were minded to give him the slipper back. He was a short runt. I shall remember him until my dying day, not because he put me in order through corporal punishment, but because I have wanted to meet him in a dark alley one day to give him some back."

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