Eyebrows were raised in some quarters this week by the surprising news that nearly half of parents said they would like to see corporal punishment return to schools. The YouGov survey, carried out for the Times Educational Supplement, found that 49% of the two thousand parents surveyed would support the return of the cane to British education. With school discipline a rising problem, almost all survey participants agreed that teachers should be given the power to be “tougher” on children.
The survey revealed some surprisingly old-fashioned opinions about disciplining children, with 55% of parents in favour of encouraging teachers to maintain order by shouting at pupils; and though most drew the line at deliberately “embarrassing” children, a considerable 21% were even in favour of this controversial technique.
Political Correctness ‘Gone Mad’
Echoing recent fears voiced by Education Secretary Michael Gove, many parents (91%) were concerned that fears of legal repercussions tied teachers’ hands, and the same percentage expressed worries that teachers have actually become afraid of their own pupils. Teachers’ powers to intervene in physical fights and to discipline pupils have been increasingly restricted over the past decade as health and safety and child protection laws have reduced the means of intercession available to them. Gove promised a return to a fairer balance of power in the classroom, admitting that under the current system educational discipline is being compromised by “the twisting of rights by a minority who need to be taught an unambiguous lesson in who is boss.”
A further surprise from the YouGov survey was the news that 62% of pupils actually agreed that tougher discipline was needed in the classroom – and 19% even backed the return of corporal punishment too! This undermines the recent media-fuelled image of a ‘lost generation’ of universally rebellious youth, suggesting instead that many conscientious children are tired of being distracted and disrupted by a problematic few.
However, the National Union of Teachers stressed that increased managerial support for teachers was what was needed to improve discipline, “not the right to hit children”. It was pointed out that since the abolition of corporal punishment in education physical assaults on teaching staff have decreased dramatically and general classroom behaviour has actually improved. They also highlighted the fact that severe austerity cuts have hit behaviour support services, having an adverse effect on school discipline. Focussing on supporting these essential services and boosting teacher training on behavioural issues is likely to be a much more successful and non-confrontational way of improving life in the classroom, for teachers and pupils alike.