30 years ago - How use of the cane suffered its final blows

18th December 2009 at 00:00
The use of corporal punishment in schools continued to be a dominating and controversial issue in government circles during 1979- 80

But it was not just schools which provoked anxiety. The presence of the tawse in List D schools (the holding pens for the worst young offenders) and children's homes proved to be just as contentious.

In July 1979, the department's Mrs E.C.G. Craghill penned a memo: "Since the question of corporal punishment generally is so thorny and since there is a dearth of suggestions for acceptable alternatives . I have had reservations about (writing) to List D schools, even as a contribution to International Year of the Child."

Educational institutions at the time were operating under a 1968 "code of practice" governing the use of corporal punishment, although the official line from successive governments was that they were committed to eventual abolition once "acceptable alternatives" were agreed.

At the same time, the European Commission on Human Rights had found the UK Government in contravention of that charter by permitting the punishment of children, in a case brought by two Scottish mothers. The Government appealed, but it lost in a judgment by the European Court in 1982.

As late as August 1981, the Scottish Education Department continued to maintain that "teachers have a right to administer reasonable corporal punishment to children and that this right extends to teachers in List D schools."

Strathclyde Region was made of sterner stuff and in 1979 became the first Scottish council to ban corporal punishment in its residential children's centres, which included two List D schools - at least in the form of "the belt, the cane and the slipper".

Officials and councillors felt that "smacking" was more of a grey area, but the die was cast.

That was a watershed year: a study by the noted educationist Michael Rutter concluded that schools which had the highest levels of corporal punishment also had the worst-behaved pupils.

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