Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 16 September 2011

Don't spare the rod....

A surprise, perhaps, this morning for our liberal times :

Nearly half of parents of secondary school children say corporal punishment such as the cane or slipper should be reintroduced, a survey suggests. Nearly all surveyed thought teachers should be able to be tougher on pupils.

Support for tougher discipline will, of course, be music to the ears of many teachers, not - in case you were wondering - because they have a repressed sadistic desire to beat their charges but because the matter does need to be addressed; it is clear that the existing deterrents simply do not work.

As a recent court case shows, a pupil with a long history of disruptive, abusive and aggressive behaviour is given repeated 'second chances' and is still able to destroy the career of a well-respected teacher with false allegations and walk away scot-free.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "The right every child deserves to be taught properly is currently undermined by the twisting of rights by a minority who need to be taught an unambiguous lesson in who is boss."

Well said! False allegations of assault are a powerful weapon in the armoury of pupils caught out in seriously bad behaviour; the Head is obliged by regulations to take them at face value - however ridiculous - and act on them. If investigation proves the teacher innocent, no action is taken against the pupil and - significantly - the original misdemeanour also goes unpunished, obscured by subsequent events.

Support remained high for most traditional punishments, including sending children out of class (89%), after-school detentions (88%), lunch time detentions (87%), expelling or suspending children (84%), and making them write lines (77%).

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted something odd here. If these figures provide anything like an accurate representation, then some 10-15% of parents do not support the use of sending a pupil out of the rooom, detention or suspension as punishments.

So what do these parents advocate? How do they suggest a teacher deals with an unruly, disruptive or downright aggressive pupil? And what sort of parents are they? There's an easy answer to that one - the parents who object to discipline are precisely those whose children are most likely to need it, the ones who march in and confront the teacher at the slightest excuse.

Whether it's the Yummy Mummy who rolls up in her SUV to complain about a telling-off - 'Jacintha never joins a queue; the other children should have let her go first!' - or the thug who punches his son's female teacher in the face for giving the boy a detention (true story - I took over the class afterwards), a minority of parents condone their child's misbehaviour and undermine every attempt to curb it.

What is needed - Michael Gove, please note - is not just full support for teachers in enforcing high standards of work and behaviour but protection against the 10% of parents who are no more capable than their immature offspring of understanding the need for everyone to cooperate if the best possible results are to be achieved.


  1. Good luck with that one. He's got an uphill battle with the likes of Ken 'Prison Doesn't Work' Clarke.

    Without any consequences, these 'adults' are free to do as they please.

  2. School disipline is one of those problems where you feel there is an answer out there if you could only grasp all the factors involved and consolidate them - a bit like the Unified Field Theory in Physics.

    I'm not sure there is anyone out there who can do it, but Michael Gove is the best hope we have at present.

    One of the main difficulties is that, as you point out, the 'adults' in the lives of many children are themselves badly-behaved emotional juveniles.