Sifting Sanday

4th July 1997 at 01:00
Colin Scott Mackenzie, sheriff at Kirkwall, was nothing if not comprehensive in his Sanday school judgment. He had read widely, unearthing from his law books a teacher who in January 1700 had "been so unfortunate as to destroy his pupil by excessive correction of his person.

"(He) had three times ex incontinenti severely and cruelly lashed and whipped the defunct upon the back and hips, and in rage and fury did drag him from his desk . . . and beat him with heavy and sore strokes" so that the boy in his charge thereafter immediately expired.

The Sanday parents who took Orkney Islands Council to court over the exclusion of their two sons clearly do not know they are living. We hasten to make clear, however, that the good sheriff was not endorsing this 300-year-old practice. Sheriff Scott Mackenzie took more recent guidance from another impeccable source. "The facts merely in my view illustrate that the raising of boys has its own difficulties and that boys have to be watched. As an article in the London Times recently put it 'a lot of damage (can be) done by parents who have no idea how to combine love and reproof.'"

The sheriff's judgment did not spare any blushes in his microscopic sifting of the evidence. Nor could he, since the earliest incidents seem to have been sparked by who did or did not refer to a naked boy in a National Geographic magazine as having a "sausage dangling between his legs".

It was that kind of case, solemn legal observations keeping company with the language of the playground - as in recording the 1995 case of a pupil at an English school who was excluded because of his "lack of contrition". The boy himself is alleged to have put things less formally, which is why Sheriff Scott Mackenzie faithfully recorded his words: "Why don't you just fuck off?"

Schools have always been used to toughing it out against recalcitrant youngsters, as the sheriff reminds us when he cites the 1954 exclusion of a girl who was "persistently wearing slacks without a medical certificate".

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