Corporal Punishment

by Harry on March 11, 2021

Corporal punishment in state schools in the UK was made illegal in 1986. This is the story about how it was eliminated in one Local Education Authority, Oxfordshire, before that.

My dad became CEO of Oxfordshire in 1978. He was young, and opposed corporal punishment, but knew, as he puts it, that “in a time of cuts, if I went to the politicians and asked them for money for canes they’d ask me how many I wanted, and did I want the luxury versions”. So he didn’t talk to them about corporal punishment. Instead, he surveyed the schools on how often they caned pupils (caning was the only formal form of physical punishment, though I do remember witnessing some less formal physical punishment from particularly brutal teachers when I attended school in a different LEA). When the results were in, he gave each school a list, showing a league table, with the numbers of canings at each school, but the names of all other schools redacted. The head at the top of the list was shocked to see that his school accounted for 25% of all the canings in the LEA, but dad said something to the effect of “its ok, that’s the way you like to do things at your school; I hear the swish as I drive by” [honestly he might be making that bit up, though its quite believable if you know him]. The following year canings were down substantially, even at that school, but it was still at the top of the list, now accounting for 33% of all the canings. Again, he was reassuring. Within 2 years, the league table was empty — there were no canings.

When the government (a Tory government, remember!) proposed prohibiting corporal punishment in all schools, the politicians in Oxfordshire were distraught. “How are our schools going to keep order?”. Dad assured them there’d be no problem, because he’d been monitoring corporal punishment, and had discovered that none of the schools had been using it for some time.

It occurs to me that someone should interview my dad for some more of these stories before he goes doolally or kicks the bucket really.