Sex discrimination laws prevented ban on the belt for girls, reveal archives

EARLY moves to ban teachers from giving girls the belt at school were thwarted by sex discrimination laws, newly released government papers reveal.

National Archives of Scotland documents also show Scottish education officials feared a move to ban the belt altogether would be met with “violent opposition” from teachers.

The documents, dating from the late 1970s — ten years before the belt was banned — were kept secret for 30 years and reveal that sex discrimination laws of the time prevented a reprieve from corporal punishment for girls.

The leather strap, also known as the Tawse, or the “Lochgelly” after the town in which it was manufactured, was regularly administered to the palms of pupils, and thousands suffered the indignity of a whack from the teacher in front of the class.

Although it was eventually banned in 1987, early moves to outlaw the punishment more than a decade earlier met with massive opposition from Government officials.

A possible ban was proposed in a House of Lords private members bill.

However, despite the fact that the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Bruce Millan, believed it was not an appropriate punishment for girls, new sex discrimination legislation of the time prevented ministers from changing the law.

A letter from the Scottish Education Department dated July 8, 1977 explains the problem: “The Secretary of State felt that girls should not receive corporal punishment. Education authorities must comply with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. When these provisions were being enacted, ministers did not want to have the subject of corporal punishment in schools raised in debate and therefore decided that rules relating to the corporal punishment of children should not be exempted.

“Any rules which provide that boys should receive corporal punishment where girls do not would be illegal.

“The Secretary of State for Scotland did not agree with corporal punishment for girls but could not say so because of the Sex Discrimination Act. The Secretary of State felt strongly that girls of any age should not receive corporal punishment.”

An earlier memo from the Scottish Education Department, dated November 19, 1973, states the Government’s view on corporal punishment in general.

It says: “There does not appear to be any good reason for a switch of policy in this matter. The desirability of eventually eliminating corporal punishment is generally accepted and there has been a gradual reduction in its use.

“But there is no evidence of a widespread demand among education authorities, parents or others that it should be summarily stopped before alternative measures to help keep discipline in the worst cases are available, and there would undoubtedly be violent opposition from the teachers’ associations.”

The exchange of correspondence was in response to a Protection of Minors Bill which had just been introduced to the House of Lords by Lady Wootton of Abinger. Had it been successful, it would have meant the abolition of corporal punishment in schools and children’s homes.

During its reign the belt was a commonly used weapon to keep order in classrooms. In 1980, a study by Edinburgh University’s Centre for Educational Sociology, conducted among 40,000 school-leavers, showed that only one in 20 boys went through secondary school without getting the Tawse.

The Tawse used in Scottish classrooms was produced by Lochgelly saddler John Dick, which was the sole supplier to schools.

It came in an array of sizes, including light, medium, heavy and extra-heavy, with the two-tail heavy being the most popular among teachers.