Sparing the rod has spoilt pupils and the profession

17th October 2008 at 01:00

I had one of the worst starts in life you could imagine: both my parents died of illness in the space of six months, when I was just six years of age. I was fostered to one aunt, my older brother to another. I was then sent away to boarding school, 150 miles away from "home".

From the moment I arrived, I was a nightmare for my teachers, and my behaviour went from bad to worse. Things reached a climax when my "reprehensible" behaviour reduced the director of music to tears. I was reported to my housemaster, who gave me six strokes of the cane across my backside. The pain of this "thrashing" taught me a real lesson; it set down firm parameters, leaving me in no doubt that being rude to a teacher would not be tolerated. As I left the housemaster's study, I told myself that I never again wanted to suffer such an experience. I amended my behaviour from that point on.

Richard Dilley, the housemaster, proved to be exactly the "dad" I needed, and he remains a friend to this day. It is difficult to express in words how grateful I am to him that, while always showing me kindness, he had the judgment and conviction necessary to keep me in check.

Ever since the abolition of corporal punishment in state schools in 1987, leading to its prohibition in all UK schools a decade ago, teachers have had to suffer increasing pupil misbehaviour and ever-diminishing respect for authority. The need for discipline is now at the top of our list of concerns, as confirmed in a recent TES poll, which found that one in five teachers would like to see the cane reintroduced.

I am not suggesting that we return to the 1950s, when children were told they "should be seen but not heard" and schools were often run by teachers for teachers. However, we must take steps to restore authority to those running our schools. The shift of "power" - from teachers to pupils - that has taken place since the mid-1980s has had a deleterious effect on the development of a growing number of children, many of whom end up living chaotic lives.

I often hear of the "irreversible damage" to the teacher-pupil relationship caused by corporal punishment; that caning a child reinforces in his or her mind the idea that problems can be solved via the perpetration of violence; that smacking or caning creates an increased risk of anxiety, alcohol abuse, or anti-social behaviour. In my experience, all of this is complete nonsense. The teachers at my school who used caning as a last resort seemed to be those who were most popular - they cared enough about us to have the interest to keep us on the straight and narrow, and they had the strength of character to do what they deemed necessary. Caning was used only when all other sanctions at their disposal had failed.

In an ideal world, of course, we should not have to inflict physical pain on a child. But what has been the outcome of banning the cane? What has been put in its place? Nothing. We now have to consider suspension, expulsion or even police involvement in cases that, 30 years ago, would have earned six strokes.

The reintroduction of caning should be considered for both practical and moral reasons. On a moral level, society has a duty to rear its children to become responsible adults, which we are palpably failing to do in a growing number of cases. We are failing because we are unable to set clear parameters within which children should operate. More and more pupils fail to flourish at school because they have been given, by years of unrestraint, an inflated sense of their own importance.

Corporal punishment, when administered as a last resort, by the head alone, could be enormously beneficial as a corrective measure when dealing with consistently problematic teenagers. Such a policy would provide the teaching profession with an effective sanction that it currently lacks. It certainly worked for me.

Simon Warr, Teacher of French and Latin at The Royal Hospital School in Ipswich, Suffolk. He played the housemaster in Channel 4's 'That'll Teach 'Em'.

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