Smacking loophole at part-time schools likely to be closed

22nd January 2010 at 00:00
Religious institutions will be hit by legal change

A legal loophole allowing teachers in part-time schools such as madrassas or institutions running religious evening classes to use corporal punishment on the children in their care looks likely to be closed.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has written to Sir Roger Singleton, the Government's chief adviser on the safety of children, to look into the ambiguity in the law that allows "physical punishment in part-time educational and learning settings".

Corporal punishment is prohibited under the Education Act 1996, but the ban does not extend to schools that provide up to 12.5 hours of lessons a week.

The right to smack a child is extended to those who take on the responsibility of parents, such as grandparents or other family members. However, teachers at part-time schools have been able to defend their use of corporal punishment by assuming the parental role.

In his letter, Mr Balls said: "It is the case that the defence of reasonable punishment may be available to those who teach in certain part-time educational and learning settings, for example religious instruction that children attend at the weekend.

"I am concerned to establish the key issues and whether this is an area in which we need to consider a change in the interests of strengthening safeguards for children."

He added: "We are keen to establish a clear understanding of the issues here, while mindful of the need to ensure we do not create any unintended problems."

Mr Balls highlighted concerns over the possibility of criminalising parents if the exemption afforded to parents is withdrawn.

The Schools Secretary was spurred into action after the legal loophole was raised during a Commons debate on the Children, Schools and Families Bill last week.

Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, called for a clause in the new bill to "limit the defence" of reasonable punishment that currently exists in the Children's Act 2004. Mrs Cryer said the defence "should not extend to teachers in madrassas or other religious schools".

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Balls said: "The important point to make is that there is not one rule for a child in a madrassa and another for a child in a school or in any other circumstance.

"The use of physical punishment against any child is wrong; it is outside the law and is not fair to children.

I do not think that we should tolerate any use of physical punishment in any school or learning setting in which trusted adults are supposed to be looking after children, not abusing them."

Schools minister Vernon Coaker has since written to Mrs Cryer stating that there should be no exemption from the ban on corporal punishment in such schools.

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