Those who object to such punishment claim that it is unacceptable in a modern civilised country. However, all the evidence is that our society has become far more uncivilised since physical punishment in schools was abolished than in the preceding decades when it was practiced, and this is particularly true of the behaviour of children and young people. Liberals seems to subscribe to a rose tinted view of children, that they are naturally pure and innocent and will do no wrong once the corrupting influence of a disciplinary regime, underpinned by 'violence', is removed. Alas the reality is quite different, as previous generations recognised. Children, particularly boys, unless properly disciplined, can practice the most hurtful and cruel behaviour, as William Golding perceptively observed in his novel Lord of the Flies. In many schools physical punishment has now passed from teachers to bullies. Until recent years children were wary of offending adults, but now it is adults (particularly men) who fear children, since their reputation and career can be ruined by false allegations, which is the outcome in the overwhelming number of accusations made against teaching staff.
Children need to be given a clear understanding where the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour lie. Too many appear not to be receiving this guidance, either in the home or in schools, a matter about which children themselves have expressed concern. Although it is necessary that the option of physical punishment should be available as a means of enforcing discipline, it does not follow that the free for all that once existed in some schools, which discredited the whole process, should be restored. There can be no place in the education system for sadistic or brutal teachers, so there will need to be a few safeguards.
Physical punishment should form part of a wider disciplinary strategy and be limited to clear cases of persistent misbehaviour or bullying, and should be carried out by either the head teacher or a nominated deputy. The punishment should be recorded, together with the reason for it, and the parents notified. The method of chastisement should be the strap, on the hand, as formerly practiced in Scotland. It will be for each school to decide whether it wishes to reintroduce physical punishment, but those that fail to do so and continue to have disciplinary problems will have some questions to answer to the inspecting authorities, and also, one would hope, parents.
As a sizeable minority object to physical punishment in principle, a system of greater parental choice will make it more likely that their requirements are met, without interfering with the wishes of the majority of parents. As a further safeguard the reintroduction should be limited to a period of five years, during which time the impact would be assessed. Evidence of benefits to discipline will need to have been demonstrated for physical punishment to continue after that time. As the television programme That’ll Teach ‘Em has shown, imaginative forms of discipline can be introduced, falling short of actual physical chastisement, provided there is a willingness to enforce them.
Allowing schools to use physical punishment will return to children the right to be effectively disciplined at an early age, thus preventing many from far worse punishment later in life when their anti-social or destructive behaviour could become fixed and uncontrollable. It should also appreciably reduce the number of exclusions, a punishment of last resort, which by interrupting the education of the children concerned, has a seriously detrimental impact on their future attainment. For the most serious cases of indiscipline and habitual criminality a return to the system of approved schools may well offer the best means of instilling correct behaviour.