Parents dust down the cane

Tough sanctions and tough teaching are in vogue, a poll finds

William Stewart

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It was banned from state schools nearly a quarter of a century ago, following decades of campaigning, amid claims of brutality and barbarism. As a result, many of today's teachers and parents will never have been in a classroom when reaching for the cane was a legal option.

But despite the penalty having long since followed free school milk and dunce caps down the ink-well of education history, a TES-commissioned YouGov poll shows that almost half of parents now want to see corporal punishment revived.

Even more surprisingly, nearly one in five (19 per cent) of pupils agree that this ultimate sanction should be available to teachers dealing with "very bad behaviour".

The majority of teachers are unlikely to be so keen - separate TES research in 2008 found 73 per cent opposed the re-introduction of corporal punishment even for "extreme cases".

The survey's findings will come as something of a surprise to many in education. Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Brian Lightman, for one, is shocked that so many parents back the cane's return.

"A lot of them might have said yes thinking it would be for other people's children," he said. "I wonder what they would say if it was for corporal punishment for their own?"

There are, however, plenty of positives for embattled school staff to take from today's YouGov survey. It shows that most parents want teachers' classroom powers bolstered and think the profession should have greater freedoms. Only 36 per cent of parents said that teachers' pensions and pay should be subject to cuts.

The poll comes in a month that has seen senior ministers call on parents to do more to support teachers. Nick Clegg argued that the profession was "desperate for parents' help".

"Parents need to do their bit, too," the deputy prime minister said. "The fact is, if you don't take an interest in your child's education, teachers cannot make up the shortfall."

In a speech on discipline following the summer's riots, Michael Gove emphasised the importance of the "right parenting".

"We need to make sure children arrive in school ready to learn," the education secretary said.

But the YouGov survey, of a representative sample of more than 2,000 parents, suggests that the vast majority are already very supportive of teachers.

An overwhelming 91 per cent of parents agreed that teachers should be allowed "to be tougher when it comes to discipline", but almost as many - 86 per cent - are concerned that teachers are "now more fearful of the parents of their pupils". This is not a message that is being echoed by many children's charities (see page 10).

Nearly two-thirds of parents thought it was unacceptable for parents to criticise teachers in front of other people and 93 per cent thought that "teachers need to have more authority in the classroom". Indeed, their views seem very much in line with those expressed in Mr Gove's response to the riots.

"The only way to reverse this dissolution of legitimate authority is step- by-step to move the ratchet back in favour of teachers," he said this month.

"We need to ensure, in everything we do, that we send a single, consistent, message that teachers are there to be respected, listened to, obeyed."

But where many parents part company with Mr Gove is on exactly what form this authority should take. The poll showed that 49 per cent of parents agree that: "Corporal punishment, such as the cane or slipper, should be reintroduced for very bad behaviour."

And a quarter of parents said they strongly agreed, putting them in direct conflict with the Government, which says it will never bring back the cane.

Children's rights campaigners are appalled. Peter Newell, co-ordinator of the Children are Unbeatable! Alliance, a coalition of around 1,000 groups including the major children's charities, said: "All European states have prohibited school corporal punishment, some more than a century ago.

"This is not an issue about parents' views - it's about children's protection."

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.

But wherever they are in the country, those who believe that hitting pupils will improve school discipline are likely to be disappointed.

Mr Newell argues that the UK's human-rights obligations make it a "dead issue", and Mr Lightman says "the days of corporal punishment are long gone".

And the response from a Department for Education spokesman suggests they are correct. "There is no intention of ever reintroducing corporal punishment," he said.

There is, it would seem, little chance that those campaigners from the Eighties are going to have to remobilise.

Under a spell? Harry Potter creator is pupils' perfect teacher

Two-fifths of pupils believe JK Rowling would make the perfect female teacher, with 36 per cent favouring the Harry Potter author's fictional headmaster Albus Dumbledore as her male counterpart.

Cheryl Cole was the second most popular woman, with a quarter of pupils believing the pop star would make the perfect teacher. A sample of 543 children were asked by YouGov to select their choices from a list of celebrities and fictional characters.

Jamie Oliver and Yoda, the Star Wars Jedi master, were the joint second most popular male teachers, with 26 per cent of pupils favouring them.

Stephen Fry attracted the most support from parents as the perfect male teacher, with two-fifths of them backing him.

Carol Vorderman, the Government's maths adviser, was the most popular female choice, selected by 48 per cent of parents.

Teachers inspire

Parents see an ability to inspire as the most important quality in a teacher, followed by a passion for their subject and an ability to command respect.

Children - of whom a representative sample of 543 were surveyed - rated a sense of humour and fun as the most important qualities in a teacher.

More than four-fifths of parents opposed cutting education spending, 71 per cent thought teachers should have a higher self-image when it came to their job, and 74 per cent thought teachers should have "more freedom to teach as they please".

Caning: Parental support

58% Men

40% Women

Other sanctions supported by parents

Sending pupils out of class 89%

After-school detentions 88%

Lunchtime detentions 87%

Writing lines 77%

Shouting 55%

Exclusions 84%

Embarrassment 21%

90% of parents fear teachers are worried by the threat of legal action when disciplining children

86% of parents think teachers need to gain more respect from their pupils to discipline them properly

Academic rigour

33% of parents and 15% of pupils see academic rigour as one of the most important teacher qualities.

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William Stewart

William Stewart

William Stewart is News editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @wstewarttes

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