Letter: Non-violence alone will help schools

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The Independent Online
Sir: We write as children's doctors to express our disquiet over the backing by the Education Secretary for the re-establishment of corporal punishment in schools ("This hurts us more than it hurts you", 30 October).

Our experience of the increasing level of violence affecting children, both in the form of bullying and through adult-to-child abuse, leads us to believe that there is an urgent need to promote measures which are non-violent - as recommended by the recent Gulbenkian Commission.

There is no evidence that smacking or caning children at school either improves discipline or reduces behaviour problems, and it sets an example which would be unacceptable in any other area of society.

Corporal punishment involving implements such as canes may also have perverse sexual connotations which not only represent child abuse but may produce gratification in a minority of perpetrators, and possibly in some victims with long-lasting adverse psychological consequences.

We would like to draw attention to one of the principles outlined in the Gulbenkian Commission's checklist for a non-violent society: all discipline should be positive and children should be taught pro-social values and behaviour including in particular the non-violent resolution of problems.

We would agree with the commission's view that physical punishment is a direct exercise of violence on a child which teaches the child that violent solutions work. Being smacked or caned sets an example to the punished child of violence used by a more powerful person to impose their will on someone weaker, as well as arousing feelings of anger and humiliation that are liable to be released subsequently in aggression.

We are deeply concerned about the disorder currently prevailing in many UK schools. This is symptomatic of problems in society as well as in the education system and requires a strong response by government - one which provides support for teachers, pupils and their families rather than the imposition of an outdated measure of discipline which could only do more harm in the long term.

We suggest that more attention be paid to restricting violence on the television screen and to encouraging parents to become more involved with and supportive of their children when they are not in school.

Dr TONY WATERSTON

Dr BEATE KAMPMANN

Dr FRANK BAMFORD

Dr HARVEY MARCOVITCH

Prof COLIN SINCLAIR-SMITH

Dr DAVID SOUTHALL

Dr HUGH DAVIES

Prof ILLKA VALIMAKI

Dr MICHAEL PLUNKETT

Dr DAVID P JONES

Child Advocacy International

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

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