Canes and caning

13th April 2001 at 01:00
Tropical stems were fashioned into the dreaded implements which blighted the schooldays of Mick Jagger and co

Start with a definition from Chambers' Dictionary The stem of one of the smaller palms (eg calamus or rattan, or the larger grasses eg bamboo or sugar-cane); wicker, rattan etc used to weave baskets or light furniture; a slender stick used as a support for plants.

Get on with it.

Oh, all right. A slender, flexible rod used for beating, eg as a school punishment; caning: a thrashing with a cane; a severe beating or defeat.

Hasn't it been banned?

Yes, but not that long ago. The 1999 School Standards and Framework Act finally made corporal punishment illegal. It ended in state schools in 1986, but rich kids could still enjoy the full panoply of belts, paddles, whips and canes in their private establishments.

Was the ban welcome?

Not really. The TES millennium poll found more than half of parents wanted corporal punishment reintroduced - around the same number who supported it in 1947. James Pawsey, Tory MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, and Gillian Shephard, then education secretary, supported an amendment to an education Bill to allow corporal punishment. However, the Bill was abandoned just before the last election.

The Christian Fellowship school in Liverpool, with 40 other independent Christian schools, argued they had a God-given right to aminister corporal punishment, at the European Court of Human Rights.

Any other supporters?

The Daily Telegraph lamented its passing, saying: "The younger generation will never know the advantages of blotting paper over the silk handkerchief stuffed down the pants ... Goodbye, whacker old thing."

Good grief, no wonder the French call it "le vice anglais" Indeed. Canes are still available at specialist shops in Soho.

That's enough Carry On nonsense. What was it really like?

Keen readers of The TES's "My Best Teacher" column will have noted that Mick Jagger and Richard Briers, among many others, had grim memories of the cane. Mick, a pupil at Dartford grammar, said: "We used to get caned. It was routine every day, with a line of boys standing outside the head's study. He was called 'Lofty' Herman and he was a classic short person. He was an iron-fisted disciplinarian: totally cold and unapproachable. I didn't like him at all."

Richard recalls his school days at Rokeby prep in Wimbledon: "She was terrifying. About five feet tall, Mrs Olive was a massive disciplinarian. I would turn to jelly every time she entered the room. She used to cane boys, on the hand, quite painfully."

So does the cane have a future?

Not in schools; but canes thrive in the furniture trade. You can have private lessons on repairing basketwork ...

Diane Spencer

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