Pupil behaviour worse since abolition of caning, warn teachers

Corporal punishment should not be reintroduced but ministers have failed to suggest a deterrent as effective, conference hears

Children’s behaviour has grown considerably worse since the abolition of corporal punishment 25 years ago, teachers have warned.

Successive governments have failed to introduce an effective way to deal with misbehaviour since striking pupils with a cane or slipper was outlawed in 1987, the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) heard.

Teachers said detentions fail to deter pupils, while exclusions and suspensions are only handed out in the most serious cases because inspectors take a dim view of schools that regularly exclude children.

“The forms of discipline currently available to teachers for dealing with inappropriate behaviour remain totally inadequate,” Julian Perfect, a London teacher told the conference.

Perfect said while he did not support the reintroduction of corporal punishment, it was worth noting there had been “no attempt to introduce any new method of sanction into schools — that has the same effect as a deterrent for inappropriate behaviour as corporal punishment had.”

Children’s behaviour has deteriorated further over the past few years, he said.

“Persistent, low-level rudeness and disruption seems to have become a fact of life in education today and no longer raises eyebrows or seems to merit special attention,” Perfect said, quoting a secondary school teacher who did not want to be named.

Ministers — past and present — have failed to suggest “any novel methods for disciplining pupils” that give teachers “meaningful authority”, Perfect said.

The Education Act 2011 gives teachers the right to search pupils for banned items, such as mobile phones. The law also removed a requirement to give parents a day’s notice if their child was handed a detention.

Mary Bousted, ATL’s general secretary, warned that pupils were becoming spoilt “little Buddhas”.

She said parents were failing to define boundaries for their children. “Far too many children are waited on hand and foot. They don’t make their beds or do the Hoovering,” she said. “It doesn’t do them any favours if you make them little Buddhas. It certainly doesn’t help them in school because they end up not understanding their responsibilities to other children.”

She added that children had begun to believe their teachers were there to “serve them”.

A poll of 814 teachers, conducted by ATL and published last week, found a third had been hit or kicked by a student in the last academic year.