Did Corporal Punishment Really Return To British Schools?

By  | 

“Corporal Punishment Returning To British Schools” blares the headline over at The prose below the headline is just as breathless. “The use of force and other harsh penalties is now allowed by the British government. Yes, you read that correctly – according to [education secretary Michael Gove], the use of physical force will teach those rioters a lesson.”

I figured it would be worthwhile to see the actual words of this Gove character before stringing him up. The source for is a link to a website called The Voice of Russia. Now, why would you link to this web site for something that should be reported on the front page of the BBC, I wondered. Perhaps that’s because the rumors of corporal punishment are greatly exaggerated, to say the least. Or so it seems to me.

A link to the Guardian shows that what’s actually happened is that a rule strictly forbidding any physical touching of students has been rescinded. Gove says that it’s part of a wider move to “restore adult authority” in the wake of the riots in England.

What reason would a teacher have to touch a child other than corporal punishment? Plenty of reasons. They could restrain a child from beating the everliving daylights out of a classmate. They could help a child up who had fallen down. They could comfort a child whose parent just died. They could focus a child’s attention on a particular object. They could teach a child a new dance move or way to hold a musical instrument.

A strict rule of no physical contact is really weird, to be honest. I wrote a couple of months ago about a popular Canadian teacher who simply quit his job rather than acquiesce to a no-touching rule at his school.

The other thing about no-touching rules is what Gove points out — they give complete authority to children. If a child can literally do anything without any physical intervention, that could be a dangerous situation for English schools.

He said: “So let me be crystal clear, if any parent now hears a school say, ‘sorry, we can’t physically touch the students’, then that school is wrong. Plain wrong. The rules of the game have changed.”

Gove said men considering teaching were deterred by a fear of rules that made contact between adults and children “a legal minefield”.

Why is that important? Well, the Telegraph reported earlier this week about the gender makeup of British faculty:

Only 12.4 per cent of the primary school workforce is male. 27 per cent of primary schools in Britain are staffed entirely by women. And in secondary schools, only 37.5 per cent of teachers are male.

Anyway, back to Gove, who says:

Gove said there had been a slow erosion of adult authority, subverted by a culture in which young people felt able to ignore civilised boundaries. “The only way to reverse this dissolution of legitimate authority is step-by-step to move the ratchet back in favour of teachers.”

The article goes on to quote the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders who says that the use of physical restraint is very rarely required in schools but on the occasions where it is needed, faculty will have detailed guidance on how to follow everything to the letter.

I personally am opposed to corporal punishment in schools but there’s a difference between physical restraint and corporal punishment. Rules forbidding any touching of students cause more harm than they help. Young people need boundaries. Indeed, creativity thrives within boundaries. And they need teachers they can respect. I’m not saying this rule change will solve these problems, but they’re certainly better than what they were before.