Landmark ruling on slipper’s return to the classroom

THE idea of smacking your own children has been well-argued across Britain, with some people quick to pounce on those who choose to punish in this way.

But what about smacking other parents’ children if they’ve been misbehaving?

Well that’s an option one Worcester school hopes to be able to exercise if a landmark court ruling is made.

The River School in Droitwich Road, Fernhill Heath, is waiting to hear if corporal punishment will be making a return to the classroom.

Staff say it will be exercising parental rights within school.

“It’s about parental choice,” says headteacher Graham Coyle.

“Do they have the right to choose how children are educated? The Government says they do but in reality people complain that there’s very little choice.

“Whose responsibility are children, the parents or the state’s?

“I hope we still live in a society where it’s a parental responsibility.

“This issue could have been about anything but it just happens that we thought corporal punishment was an important issue to tackle.

“Until the law changed it was a sanction that was available.”

Smacking was outlawed in all schools in 1998.

But because The River School is not Government-funded it feels that it should not stick to all of its rules.

Should it be successful in its bid for smacking to be re-introduced then the slipper will be making a return to the classroom.

“It would be used for repetitive, serious misdemeanours,” said Mr Coyle.

“Deliberate disrespect and dishonesty where anything else wouldn’t be effective.

“It would be used on younger children but not on the older pupils – if you want to develop behaviour you want to see the need for changing.

“It’s to do with respect. If someone says this is something you shouldn’t do as a child you push that boundary.

“When you meet that boundary someone who cares for you says you must accept the consequence.

“It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it means they care enough to stop you becoming someone who lives outside the boundaries.

“It’s an effective deterrent. People are worried about extreme abuse of children and we don’t condone anything that’s abusive.

“If we can’t see the difference between what parents administer in a loving, controlled environment and someone who has lost control and is taking out their frustrations on a child, then that’s a serious comment on society.

“God gives children to parents and gives them the responsibility to bring them up.”

The school was set up by parents, 17 years ago, who wanted a Christian upbringing for their children.

It now teaches 200 children between the ages of three and 16 at two different sites.

The majority of children are from Christian families, but religion is not a barrier at the school.

“Around 40 per cent of our pupils are not churchgoers,” said Mr Coyle.

“We don’t select academically or financially, we just interview them to make sure they would fit in.

“We want to make sure they will be happy here. It’s important that the kids are happy. If they feel valued then they learn and grow as individuals.

“It’s their character that will get them through life.

“The school was set up to reflect the Christian faith.

“Even the church schools at that time weren’t overtly Christian. Education has changed since then but we felt it right to continue.

“In many respects it’s like a school but it has a homely feel to it.”

Mr Coyle has taught at the school for 15 years and has spent the last four as head. His two daughters, aged 11 and 14, are both pupils at the school.

“If I couldn’t endorse the school I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

“A lot of the teachers here have children here as well. It’s not a problem as it could be in other schools.

The school will find out today if it has been successful in its courtroom battle.

© Copyright 2002 Newsquest Media Group – A Gannett Company


Daily Telegraph, London, 15 May 2002

Christianity approves of smacking, says head

By Sarah Womack
Social Affairs Correspondent


The smacking of children is sanctioned by Christianity, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

Three senior judges heard a legal challenge brought by the headmaster of a fee-paying school who is seeking the right to use corporal punishment.

Phil Williamson, of the independent Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, said there was a “Biblical mandate” for smacking.

His case partly centres on the Book of Proverbs 23:13 which states: “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces its mother.”

However, one of the judges, Lord Justice Buxton, said: “I cannot accept that Christianity requires corporal punishment.”

Physical punishment was banned in state schools in 1986. Four years ago the ban was extended to the country’s 200-odd fee-paying schools.

Mr Williamson, supported by the Christian Schools Trust, lost a High Court fight last year for the right to inflict corporal punishment with the agreement of parents. He said yesterday: “The way forward is not to put police in classrooms or remove child benefit from parents for being unable to control their children.”

He advocates a single slap on the leg or hand of a child aged between four and 10 who repeatedly and knowingly misbehaves.

Boys at secondary school would be given one or two strokes on the bottom with a wide wooden ruler. Girls would be given the strap, once or twice on the hand.

Mr Williamson cited a party political broadcast last month in which Tony Blair said: “The biggest problem in the classroom is discipline.”

He accused the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children of running a campaign that put smacking in the same bracket as child abuse – “and it is scandalous”.

Paul Diamond, counsel for the school, said private Christian schools should be able to smack because it was part of a religious doctrine protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is a central tenet of the Christian religion that mankind is born with a heart inclined to all kinds of evil,” he said. “Discipline in the educational context is therefore vital.”

But Hugo Keith, for the Department for Education and Skills, said there was no violation of Convention rights by imposing the ban on smacking in schools.

“The act of corporal punishment does not express any religious principle whatsoever. It is simply, at its barest, the application of physical violence,” he said.

“That is not to belittle it. I express no views about the principle.”

Judgment was reserved to a later date.