Education Quandary: 'If so many teachers say they want caning brought back as a school punishment, surely there must be good reasons for it?'

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

There can never be a good reason for adults to inflict violence on children, and especially not this kind of formalised and premeditated punishment. After all, many of the pupils who would be in line for a caning are exactly the same children who suffer abuse at home. Can more of the same ever help?

As a mother who occasionally sank to smacking her own children, I pray that children can forgive, or at least comprehend, a sudden explosion of violence in the face of danger (running into the road) or provocation (doing for the 10th time what they have been repeatedly told not to do). But any sort of school beating seems to me quite different. This is ritualised, and almost certainly unproductive, bullying by powerful adults over vulnerable and powerless children. All it can ultimately foster is hatred and resentment.

Yet one in five teachers hankers for the return or corporal punishment. Why? Because teachers struggle every day with often outrageous behaviour and long for something that might check the hardest nuts in their classes who know no boundaries.

But the best schools and teachers know that the basis of good behaviour must always be mutual respect, constant encouragement, firm rules and clear sanctions. For the toughest cases, exclusion from the classroom and remedial behaviour modification programmes need to be available.

Of course, teachers would not have these problems if parents did their job at home. That is where the seeds of good behaviour are sown. The cane can only ever be a cruel and outdated irrelevance.

Readers' advice

It's beyond comprehension that anyone in my profession could want to inflict violence on children. If I swear at my pupils, how can I mind if they swear at me? If I hit them, how can I discipline them for fighting and hitting each other? What I think is at fault here is our initial teacher training system, which does not help new teachers to learn classroom control.

Adele Garcia, Manchester

We were often beaten at prep school and it taught us useful life lessons. We learnt that life isn't fair, and adults are no better than children; the people beside the head and deputy who beat us were the older boys. We learnt to work out who enjoyed inflicting punishments and who didn't, and how to turn our wounds into battle scars. All fantastic for surviving corporate life!

Peter Marley, Hertfordshire

When I was a head, in the 1970s, I had a local authority-issued cane which stood in the corner of my study. I used it only twice, but greatly valued its symbolic power. When pupils were sent to me I could see them eyeing it as I read the riot act. I am sure that the knowledge that I had the power to use it over them, if I so chose, helped to maintain calm and discipline in the school. I feel sorry for my colleagues today who are always expected to "build rapport" with children.

Henry Challington, Northamptonshire

Next Week's Quandary

I'm worried that the Government is saying it wants schools to boost competitive team sports. My daughter is going to secondary school next year, and I know she will hate that culture. But she is already putting on weight and needs to be encouraged to exercise. Shouldn't the Government be telling schools to think about pupils like her?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com where they can be searched by topic.

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