A teacher’s touch

IAN BLAKELEY has been found “not guilty”, and this verdict will be widely welcomed. The former headteacher was accused of slapping a 10-year-old boy in class. The court found that he had only turned the boy’s head to face his work. It is a sign of the times that the boy in question found this so remarkably offensive that he made his allegation to his father who, in turn, reported it to the police. Thus was the bad behaviour of the schoolboy transformed into an allegation of abuse against a responsible teacher.

This is a rare case when it is possible to feel sympathy for the complaints of the teachers’ unions. In state schools, teachers find themselves increasingly up against children who are disruptive and violent. If one of the children attacks a teacher, there is precious little comeback. But if a teacher — perhaps after heavy provocation — errs an inch from the strict letter of the law, he is put in the hands of the police and his career may be ruined.

The case points to a profound change that has taken place in the way modern society feels about physical contact between adults and children. A touching taboo has developed. Teachers and practically everyone else, except a child’s close relations, now feel they must not touch a child at all lest this be construed as sexual abuse. Teachers are advised never to be alone with a child, in case they are accused of molestation. There is an unwillingness to believe that any adult, other than parents, can be trusted with a child. Yet something is lost here — lost to the child. A hug can be far more comforting to a child than any words. A friendly word in private can provide a great sense of self-worth to a child.

It is also right to acknowledge that the possibility of physical punishment, too, can benefit children. Of course, actual physical punishment should be used rarely, and it is a good thing that there is much less of it than in the past. But even the remote chance of it can assist a teacher to maintain order. The increase of violence by schoolchildren against teachers and each other is a symptom of the breakdown of school discipline which might have been maintained if the right to use corporal punishment had not been removed. Which would we prefer to see: the occasional use of corporal punishment or classes in which violence and disorder are increasingly the norm? Is physical pain such a uniquely dreadful thing that it cannot be compared with the damage caused by spoilt, useless lessons? Or with the waste of children who are expelled but might not have needed to be expelled if they had been disciplined?

It has long been held that physical contact has its dangers and therefore should be avoided altogether. But the lack of it carries a price tag, too — and it would be dishonest not to acknowledge the fact.

1997 � Telegraph Group Limited

Daily Telegraph, 15 November 1997

Couple send their son to Ghana for ‘proper British education’

By Caroline Davies

A COUPLE who believed that the education system was failing their 13-year-old son sent him to Ghana to receive a traditional “British Colonial-style” schooling.

Charlotte and Albert Nightingale feared that their son Deryl was becoming a “hooligan” who lacked the basics in numeracy and literacy skills because of a lack of discipline at his state school in Hampshire.

Mrs Nightingale, 48, a former midwife who now works as a counsellor, had been brought up and educated in Ghana. She was so appalled at her son’s spelling, grammar and his lack of interest in schoolwork that she dispatched him to Accra, the capital of the former British colony, a year ago.

Yesterday Mrs Nightingale said the �300-a-term fees and airfare were “worth every penny”. She and her 49-year-old husband, a sales engineer, intend to keep him at the Christian Home Preparatory School in Accra until he takes his O-levels.

Mrs Nightingale, of Hook, Hants said: “We felt he was an able boy, but he was not achieving in Britain at all. He lacked numeracy skills, he lacked literacy skills. He just wasn’t interested and his work was poor. His grammar was way out and his spelling was awful.

“But when I told him this, he said it was okay because his teacher thought he was one of the best in the class. That did it. I wanted him out of there. There was no discipline in his school, and he had no grasp of the three ‘Rs’. All he wanted to do was watch television, play video games, go out with his friends, and not do his homework.

“We made the decision that something would have to be done, and I have no doubt that the way he was going, without the discipline and without the education, he would have been a hooligan.”

The difference in her son one year later, she said, was astonishing. She said: “It’s all down to his schooling. In Ghana, the education is based on the British colonial system. There is a lot of focus on the three ‘Rs’, and discipline is second to none. You have to do what you’re told. If you misbehave you are likely to get the cane, which isn’t used too often because it acts as a deterrent. You are taught to have respect for your elders.”

Deryl is staying with his grandmother, aunt and uncle and regularly writes home. His parents have not seen him for more than a year. Mrs Nightingale, who moved to Britain more than 20 years ago said: “It’s hard, and I miss him. But when you’ve made a decision, you must stick to it. Before, if you asked Deryl to write a thank-you note to his godparents, or whatever, he struggled to put down more than four lines, and there were mistakes in every line.

“Within four weeks of being in Ghana, he was writing six-page letters home, with perfect spelling and perfect grammar. That in itself is proof that we did the right thing.”

When the time is right Deryl’s parents intend to bring him back to Britain because they believe that the British higher education system is far superior to that in Ghana.

At his new home in the Manprobi district of Accra, Deryl said: “I like it a lot. But there are some things which are very hard for me. They are very strict here. You can’t fool around at all or they will cane you. I’ve had the cane a couple of times.

“They are quite a few years ahead of us with their maths, and I have progressed a lot, although I have had to work very hard. I am happy because I know when I come back to England it will help me a lot. I think my parents did the right thing, although I miss them.

“The teachers are much stricter in Ghana. They don’t tolerate nonsense. In England I would fool around quite a lot. You could speak to the teachers anyway you liked and they wouldn’t punish you.”