The theorem that whacked Patten

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The Independent Online
JOHN PATTEN recalled last week how in his school days he had been 'flogged' by Jesuit priests, and implied that it had done him no harm, writes Jason Bennetto.

While the Government does not advocate the return of corporal punishment, it appears the Secretary of State for Education regrets its demise. But for what offence was he beaten at Wimbledon College, London?

At the launch of new government guidelines on school discipline, he said: 'The Jesuits flogged me from time to time . . . . it started because I had difficulties with the proof of the second theorem. . . .'

Apparently he still has. A Department for Education press officer, asked what her boss meant, said: 'It's a mathematical theorem, that's all we can tell you.' Later she added: 'We have not been able to clarify which theory the Secretary of State was talking about. It was an off-the-cuff remark that he made to illustrate a point.'

Father Michael Smith, the headmaster of his old college, formerly a grammar school, is also puzzled by Mr Patten's comments. 'The term flogging is totally inappropriate, quite a bizarre thing to say. They used three or four strokes on the hand with a short leather strap and it would only have been given for serious misbehaviour or laziness.' Did Father Michael know what Mr Patten meant about the second theorem? 'I haven't the foggiest idea.'

Mr Patten's 'flogging' would have been with a 'ferula', a 1ft-long, leather-covered rubber strap. Anthony Poole in A History of Wimbledon College wrote: 'Punishment was dealt out at two set times during breaks. A short (occasionally long) queue of boys gathered outside the respective master's study door, the wiser ones warming their hands on the central heating pipes, and one by one they knocked and were invited in. It was then their part to ask 'Please may I have (x number of) ferulas?' The details noted in the punishment book, his hands duly whacked with stunning report, the poor unfortunate duly had to say 'Thank You'.'

Corporal punishment was abolished at the college in 1985.

For Mr Patten and anyone else who needs reminding: the proof of the second theorem, part of Euclid's principles of geometry, states: 'The ratios of the lengths of corresponding sides of equiangular right-

angled triangles are equal.'

Leading article, page 18