Parents call for schools to bring back the cane

Educationalists say corporal punishment will not return despite support for move in new poll

By John Carvel, Education Editor

A majority of parents want corporal punishment to be reintroduced in schools to tackle what they perceive is an increasing problem of classroom disorder, according to a poll published yesterday.

It showed that two-thirds of parents think discipline has declined over the past 10 years, while only one in 10 believe it has improved. Almost a quarter think disruptive and badly behaved children are the biggest problem facing schools — a higher proportion than those blaming poor teaching, overcrowding or lack of parental support.

The opinion poll showed 51% of parents think reintroduction of corporal punishment is the answer to the problem. Among working class parents 60% are in favour, but the proportion falls to 40% among middle class parents.

Corporal punishment was abolished 14 years ago throughout all state schools and in the private sector last year.

Teachers’ leaders said there was no realistic chance of its reintroduction. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “Parents might want to bring back the cane, but it is not a feasible option. I don’t know any head or teachers who want it and it would be in contravention of the European convention on human rights.

“I’m not surprised parents identify bad behaviour in schools as a problem. But schools can only operate within the communities they serve. Indiscipline often results from factors outside the school. A lot of the blame lies not with teachers but with parents.”

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: “Corporal punishment is off the agenda. It never worked. The discipline problem is a comment on society rather than on schools. Schools work within the context of what happens outside. Children have become less biddable and keeping good discipline in schools has become much harder for teachers.”

The survey of 1,000 parents in England and Wales, conducted by FDS International for the Times Educational Supplement, also found that more than four in five parents think the government spends too little on schools.

David Moore, head of behaviour policy at Ofsted, told the North of England education conference in Wigan yesterday that primary schools expelled 300 children a year who were under the age of six. This was 20% of all permanent exclusions from primary schools. Most of these expulsions were for hitting other pupils, fighting or disrupting lessons.

Mr Moore said many of the infant troublemakers arrived at school without experience of dealing with any adults other than their own parents. They were likely to leave primary school with a reading age of seven or eight and then struggle to cope at secondary school. Boys were 10 times more likely to be expelled from primary school than girls. “There are some very damaged children in our schools,” he said.

About 24,000 children aged between two and 18 are receiving psychiatric treatment and 18% of them are in mainstream schools.

Discipline or arbitrary violence?


Sir Rhodes Boyson, a former Conservative MP for Brent North and former headteacher:

“I was caned two or three times when I was at school for minor offences — I took my punishment and it seemed fair.”

“As far as I am concerned, it is a good form of punishment for boys which instils a sense of discipline. Generally discipline in schools has deteriorated since it was taken away.

“If a boy gets away with violence at school he will continue to get away with it throughout his life unless he is punished.

“I think caning should be brought back to schools that want it so that parents can make up their own minds.”


Dick Davison, joint director of the Independent Schools Information Service:

“I was caned twice at school — more than 30 years ago — and I was struck by how arbitrary and unjust the whole thing was.

“I was caned at the age of 12 for a fairly serious misdemeanour committed by someone else. The headmaster decided to punish the class by quite literally decimating us.

“Like the Roman army, which punished disgraced regiments by executing the 10th person on the roll, our headteacher chose to cane every seventh person on the register.

“I was unfortunate to be number eight on the register, so I was beaten. At the time I was struck by the injustice, when I was punished for someone else’s misdemeanour. The second time was for a trivial offence at boarding school after lights out — which just seemed so pointless.”

Interviews by Helen Carter.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000

Corpun file 4950


BBC News Online, 8 January 2000

Talking Point

Should corporal punishment return to the classroom?

A survey suggests that half of parents would like to see the return of corporal punishment in schools in the UK – which was outlawed 14 years ago.

Union leaders make the point that parents routinely say this in opinion polls but that the proportion in favour has fallen in recent years. What seems to underlie it is a concern about declining discipline.

What do you think?

In particular, if there is no corporal punishment as a last recourse, how are teachers supposed to maintain order in a class with disruptive pupils?



The slipper and the cane are just an admission of defeat. “I can’t make you behave therefore I will beat you” is no solution. It will merely tell pupils that if all else fails then enter into physical violence to solve the problem.
James Williams, UK

I was brought up when doing something wrong meant physical punishment – both at school and at home. Unlike a lot of youngsters today, I, like my parents, have respect for other people and their property, and I have no violent tendencies. Sadly, like in adult life, wrong doers are given too much of an easy time.

A different perspective is put on your education if you think that your my teachers could be physically violent towards you.
Wendy, UK

The children who would once have had corporal punishment are the very same children that are demonised by the press when they behave as they do on the streets, yet when they misbehave in schools it is seen as the school’s fault. While corporal punishment is not the answer, expecting teachers to deal with the kind of behaviour which goes on in schools is naive.
Something needs to be done for the sake of the vast majority of children whose education is ruined by a minority. The Governments answer is to force schools to keep those pupils in the classroom when all concerned know that this merely perpetuates the problem and robs the majority of a better education.
Muiris Mag Ualghairg, Wales

I am in total agreement with re-introducing corporal punishment. I was smacked at home by my parents and once got the ruler across the palm of my hand at school — I deserved it — and I never got hit again — believe me it works. Children remember unpleasant experiences and unless there’s something seriously wrong with their brain box they don’t want to repeat pain too often.
Lori Davies, UK

You can get half the people to support almost any damn fool idea. That doesn’t make it right, nor does it make it valid way to determine public policy. Whether flogging school children or executing criminals, violence will beget violence.
R. Mcnaughton Phillips, USA

Although pop psychology says violence breeds violence — but through experience it is fair to say that the liberals have to compromise — as it just is not working children need to be aware that they cannot get away with socially detrimental behaviour. However how can we stop abuse of such authority by equally mindless teachers?
Steven, England

How many of us go to work each day and carry out our jobs under an ever present threat of abuse and violence? Teachers, Nurses, Doctors, Policemen and a myriad of other public servants all do on our behalf.
Teachers in particular have to do this on a daily basis, dealing with our “little angels” who themselves are fully aware that should the desire take them, they can almost get away with murder. I’m amazed by how easily many people commenting on this issue use the word barbaric. I can only assume that they would use the same adjective to describe the quite serious assaults that take place daily in our classrooms by pupils on defenceless teachers.
Counselling or a stiff talking to does not and never will stand up to the threat of violence, which after all is what corporal punishment is, when it comes to dealing with a violent and in specific cases an unruly child. The problem we have at the moment is that our children are no longer afraid to hit their teachers, steal our cars, vandalise our phone boxes and bus stops, beat to a pulp our elderly and infirm. They have nothing to fear. They can threaten the rest of us with violence and regularly carry out their threats, knowing that all society wields is the “threat” of a caution, community service or time off for good behaviour. We persistently shy away from this issue and meanwhile a growing minority of our youth runs riot in our towns and cities.
Cy Eze, England

I’m sorry but I think it’s really too late… The idea of a modern 15 year old being scared of a balding 54 year old History teacher with a slipper just doesn’t sit well in my head! The world and society has moved on…kids would probably be on their mobile phones whilst bending over!!! The only way to control modern kids is through their pocket thanks to the commercial society we’ve managed to create …fine them a months worth of phone credits!!!
Jonathan, Denmark

The people who are so strongly against corporal punishment seem at a loss to offer a working solution as to how violent and disruptive children should be handled. If corporal punishment is not the solution please give a “liberal” solution that will work and make classrooms safe again. It is the duty of parents to teach children right from wrong, should they fail, because they have been to lenient, then instead of inflicting corporal punishment on the children maybe the parents should face a hefty fine and jail sentence to compensate those people who are wronged by the off-spring of parents who couldn’t care in the first place.
Gretl Coudrille, UK

Agreed, corporal punishment is not an acceptable form of punishment. However in response to Chris Klein’s point, it is wrong to equate the way one treats a child with the way one treats an adult. I have never told one of my subordinates at work to “go to his bedroom and stay there until he has something nice to say” either but I’m sure that’s a reasonable chastisement for a kid.
Seriously the way forward is to restore the perceived authority of the teacher. These are degree educated professionals for goodness sake. Successive governments have reduced them to administrators — implementing a syllabus set by the government with minimal consultation. The whole concept of professional judgement has gone out of the same window as has public regard for the profession. No wonder kids take no notice of teachers — if the rest of society doesn’t respect how can we expect children to?
Richard, UK

I was at a relatively rough secondary modern school when corporal punishment was banned and classroom order went rapidly downhill within a matter of weeks. Even then, as I watched those in my class who couldn’t be bothered to do anything but throw chairs and books around (often at the teachers in later years), I thought how quickly the troublemakers would be brought into line with even just the threat of the cane.
It’s all very well bleating on about the rights of the child, but what about adults, or other children, who are in regular contact with vicious (and the word ‘vicious’ can be applied with alarming frequency these days) juveniles who will absolutely not respond to anything other than brute force. Kids have to be taught right and from wrong, that there is a type of behaviour that is just not acceptable and if they can’t understand that through simple reasoning, being treated like adults or empathy for those on the receiving end then why shouldn’t they be punished? If their parents won’t provide proper role models or values then the schools should.
Neil Halliday, England

The automatic assumption is that reintroduction of corporal punishment means severe beatings and caning. The problem is that the complete lack of discipline amongst many of today’s children demonstrates that no effective alternative has been found to what is a natural form of punishment. We kid ourselves that we live in a non-violent ‘civilised’ society but we are never more than a small step from behaviour that is described as barbaric. Therefore corporal punishment in measured amounts should be returned to schools as no alternative has been found and it would help stem the tide of evil behaviour that becomes crime and serious anti-social behaviour amongst adults.
James, UK

Corporal punishment wouldn’t be required in schools if parents did their job in the home. Unfortunately, too many parents are lazy and slipshod bringing up their children and leave it to the schools to teach values, respect and responsibility to their offspring. Clearly, these are the duties of parents.
Gerry B, Scotland

Children and young adults need to be guided. They need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and to make amends for any disruption and damage they might cause; i.e. vandals should clean up vandalism, bullies should run favours for their classmates. Corporal punishment may not be a good solution but unsociable behaviour shouldn’t be left unchecked.
Karen, UK

No, corporal punishment should not be brought back into schools. Corporal punishment is ineffective as it does not take into account why children are naughty, but just punishes the naughtiness. If we want to deal with disruptive pupils in the long term then we have to look to the reasons the child has been disruptive – are they having problems at home, are they being bullied at school? I have seen far too many nuns and priests in schools effectively torturing children under the guise of corporal punishment to have any faith that it can be useful as a method of discipline.
Grainne Phillips, Ireland

Corporal punishment should never have been outlawed in the first place. The problem as with capital punishment is that there are too many do-gooders, who fail miserably to come up with any alternative solutions. Maybe if there were less [sic] do-gooders around shouting loudly about human rights there would less [sic] victims in society.
ND, England

The use of corporal punishment in schools will not bring discipline back into the classroom. What is needed is more support for families in the home. Help with parenting skills and help when things start to go wrong.
Sue Auckland, England

The school I went to as a pre-teen, run by Benedictine monks, used the cane with excessive force. To this day I can not respect men of the cloth. BUT in the next school I went too, the cane was used as the last line of defence. In the 5 years I attended the school it was used only twice, both occasions for bullies; it’s still amazing to me that even the biggest bully could be reduced to a blubbering baby. Incidentally the bullies did cease their bullying.
I do believe a school needs the last resort punishment, but it should be just that the last resort. I do not believe in violence against my fellow man, but sometimes a little is needed to bring one into line.
Francis, USA, ex UK

When I was a teacher there were one or two ringleaders and many followers amongst disruptive pupils. Corporal punishment had little effect upon the ringleaders, but acted as a deterrent to the weaker followers. The result? I was able to teach the children who wanted to learn, who today are often the unheard victims of classroom disruption.
T. Phillips, Greece

Could the ‘upsurge’ in support for this barbaric practise just be the result of too many badly thought out liberal policies towards child discipline, that has lead some parents into believing that the beating of children will improve matters?
J Malcolm, UK

No of course it shouldn’t be brought back. This is a cruel, humiliating and barbaric way of punishing children. It is a pointless, act of violence, and we know too well that people who experience violence often become violent themselves. I doubt in any case, that it will alter children’s behaviour. There is no place for this in a civilised country.
Janet, UK

Discipline in schools can only come with the support of the parents. Corporal punishment is against the law just about everywhere in the US, because it was often abused and kids were sent home with bruises or even broken bones. Physically hitting the child is not necessary to maintain order in the classroom if a simple phone call home will solve the problem. The difficulty comes when the teacher calls the parent and gets no response, or worse, the parent supports the child over the teacher.
Chris, USA

Fighting or bullying is a common problem in schools. I’m not sure it is consistent to tell children that it is wrong to cause pain to their fellow pupils but it is okay for them to be physically punished for breaking rules. This only encourages children to believe that violence is a valid solution to life’s problems (rather than a last resort) or that violence is okay as long as you make the rules.
S Moore, Switzerland ex UK

No corporal punishment should not be brought back. For a start it just teaches the children that physically assaulting people is the best way to resolve a problem. Secondly, Why should it be legal to beat a child when it is illegal to do the same to an adult.
Many people have said that corporal punishment has not harmed them. Fine, I can accept that, but if the teaching staff felt the need to use it then the treat of a beating did not help to keep order in the class did it?
Carl Minns, England

In the past corporal punishment was carried out for very minor offences like not handing home work in which I do not agree with, there are other ways and means of getting round that, but in this day and age when some pupils think they can get away with anything, some sort of punishment is needed more than a removal from the class.
As a young child at primary school and high school, I was tortured and eventually had my leg broken in 2 places. The person who did this got no punishment because a story was made up and he got away with it. I was in pain for 5 months and he got away with it, that’s the sort of behaviour that needs proper punishment, not a don’t do it next time.
Teachers are sometimes subject to physical abuse from pupils but they can not do any thing to defend them selves because if they do, they are at fault!!! Some thing needs to be done and if this is the solution then so be it, but only for serious instances.
Rebecca, UK

No. I will not allow any person, including teachers, to physically assault my child.
KJD, England

No! My wife and I have six children and we never use physical violence to punish or coerce. If I struck one of my subordinates at work for allegedly unacceptable behaviour, I would quite rightly face prosecution for assault. Why should children be treated differently? Corporal punishment tells children that violence is an acceptable form of coercement; it isn’t.
Chris Klein, UK

I can’t believe that we are still having this discussion in the year 2000. It’s a barbaric futile exercise. 50% of people would like to see the return of public hanging but we’re not suggesting we bring that back, or are we?
Eddie, UK

There used to be a saying “spare the rod and spoil the child” I’m not saying children should be beaten but I do thing that the short sharp shock can work wonders. If children are taught right and wrong at an early age they turn into responsible adults. If they get away with everything as a child they’ll continue to expect this in adulthood.
I was smacked when I did wrong as a child and I still love my parents dearly and have a respect for authority and the rules of society.
Amanda, UK