Private schools fight cane ban in the courts

By Simon Trump

PRIVATE schools are using human rights legislation to try to reintroduce corporal punishment just two years after it was banned. They have won a judicial review of the ban that could, if successful, see the return of the cane and the slipper this year.

An alliance of almost 50 mainly Christian schools has been granted a review of the School Standards and Framework Act which brought independent schools into line with the state sector, where beatings were outlawed in 1987.

Phil Williamson, head of the 200-pupil Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, said the action was intended to “prick the conscience of the nation”. He added: “The ending of corporal punishment in schools is partly to blame for a widespread moral decline. The education department only talks about raising academic standards but we need to put moral standards into our children.”

The move follows a petition in the European courts by families who said their human rights were infringed because they cannot delegate the discipline of their children to a teacher.

The court ruled that the British legislation banned teachers only from making their own decision to punish a child for their actions. This view is opposed by the Department for Education and Skills, hence the judicial review.

John Friel, a barrister specialising in government law and children’s rights and who is representing the alliance, said: “A number of people have expressed dismay at my having taken this case but everyone is entitled to justice. This group are no exception.

“They have a right to follow honestly held beliefs unhindered by the state whose actions have been incongruous in trying to prevent teachers administering discipline while allowing arguably less qualified parties, such as grandparents or childminders, to do so.”

Private schools in Britain suspended corporal punishment after the government warned that teachers who administered it would be placed on a list with other “abusers” deemed unfit to work with children.

Williamson said: “We do not want a return to Dickensian times where children were wantonly hit. It is the context of the discipline which is important. Children need boundaries and all we are trying to do is set those.”

The pressure group End Physical Punishment of Children said: “Parliament has made clear its wishes on this subject.”

The education department said: “We will be contesting the claim.”