Heads to challenge smacking ban

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The Independent Online
HEADMASTERS FROM up to 40 independent schools are to begin a challenge at the European Court of Human Rights against laws forbidding corporal punishment.

The schools will argue that their pupils' parents should be able to select a school that smacks children - a right that the School Standards and Framework Bill will remove.

The Christian Schools' Trust, of which many of the 40 are members, met in Derbyshire yesterday and heard that its application may be filed in Strasbourg this month.

The number of schools in the lobby has doubled in the past three months, but they will need to move quickly. A ban was agreed in a free House of Lords vote last year, has Royal Assent, and is effective from September.

The school leading the challenge, Edge Hill Christian Fellowship in Liverpool, punishes its boys with an 18in ruler and its girls with a strap. Consistent disruption, fighting, bullying, deception or lies might all qualify children for the punishment, which will generally be applied at the school no more than three times a month.

The head, Paul Williamson, insists that standards of behaviour in American schools have fallen since a ban was introduced there and says there can be a place for corporal punishment within strong teacher-child relationships.

"This is a reminder to children that they have taken a wrong step," said Mr Williamson. "It lasts one or two seconds and we insure that children know the system is fair."

If the group fails in its legal challenge, it is ready to circumvent the ban by inviting parents into school to apply the punishment themselves.

"The Government's philosophy is that children are inherently good. Ours is the Judaic view: that children will go wrong if left to their own devices," Mr Williamson said.

Corporal punishment was banned in state schools in the 1980s. The broadening of the ban to include private schools is backed by the Independent Schools Council.

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