Half the nation's parents would like to see a return to corporal punishment in schools, according to a survey out today.
A poll of more than 2,000 parents revealed that 49 per cent of them wanted to see a return to the days when smacking and caning were allowed in schools. A separate poll of 530 children currently at secondary school revealed nearly one in five of them (19 per cent) would like to see its return to bring more discipline to the classroom.
The polls, commissioned by the Times Educational Supplement, come at a time when the Education Secretary Michael Gove is launching a crusade to improve discipline in schools on the theme that children have to know "who's boss".
The parents agree with him on the need for more discipline in schools – 93 per cent believed teachers should be given powers to demonstrate more authority in schools as did 68 per cent of the pupils.
Under Mr Gove's reforms, teachers will be told they have a carte blanche to use physical restraint in schools and to confiscate items such as knives, mobile phones and drugs.
However, both Mr Gove and Labour's Education spokesman Andy Burnham stopped short of endorsing a return to corporal punishment in their reactions to the survey. Mr Gove said: "As well as signalling to teachers they are freer to use their own judgement, we are taking every step to back up the exercise of their authority."
Mr Burnham added: "Teachers need the authority to maintain disciple and promote excellent standards of behaviour in our schools."
He accused Mr Gove, however, of undermining their status by allowing free schools and academies to employ unqualified teachers.
Corporal punishment was banned in state schools in 1984 after its use was ruled as degrading for pupils by European human rights legislation.
Its abolition was agreed by MPs by just one vote when the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was famously delayed on her way to the Commons and denied the opportunity to vote. Private schools were also advised to outlaw its use.
Teachers' leaders opposed any return to corporal punishment. "In a civilised society, no one should be advocating hitting children with sticks as a means of improving behaviour," said Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers.