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'One little smack would do the trick'

The cane did not create respect, James Pinder says, but it did engender fear. The 77-year-old former Tameside physics teacher only used it twice in 30 years . The first time was punishing three truants; the second was meted out to two boys pretending to run over a younger pupil with a lawn roller.

"I was actually opposed to corporal punishment," he says, "though the kids didn't know I was. It was there as a deterrent."

Other members of staff were less sparing, says Mr Pinder. "Some would have a bad temper on one day, so would go into class, pick a few boys and cane them.

"But corporal punishment didn't create respect. It created resentment. If pupils had respect for you, they would do what you said, anyway."

Gloria Turner disagrees. As a primary teacher in Bromley, south-east London, she occasionally smacked misbehaving pupils. "Never the cane or a slipper," she says. "You realise how hard your hand will feel, and therefore what the child would feel. With a slipper, you could use undue force."

She was careful not to use it when children were inattentive. And it would have an effect on the rest, too: they would see the consequences of misbehaviour.

"These days, children know they can get away with a great deal," she says.

"You try it all: nagging, praising. But sometimes you think, one little smack would do the trick."

Reg Foster, who retired as head of a Warwickshire secondary in 1981, also feels that there is little to be gained from sparing the rod.

"There was a code about it, you know," the 89-year-old said. "There was a mutual understanding, and they accepted it as a badge of honour. They preferred being beaten to being set extra work. At least it was over quick."

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