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Punishment Book

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Regulations made under section 2 of this Act and section 48B of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 shall provide that in schools where a register is maintained for the purposes of the administration of corporal punishment, a punishment book shall be kept in which shall be recorded all incidents of corporal punishment and all other punishments administered by the school to be equivalent to corporal punishment, to those pupils not on the register. '.—[Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 52, in schedule page 10, line 10, at end insert

'Maintenance of punishment book to record incidents of corporal punishment etc.'.

New clause 4 is an attempt to probe the Government about their intentions over the use of punishment books in schools when the regulations come into force. At present schools where corporal punishment is practised have a statutory duty to ensure that all acts of corporal punishment are recorded in the punishment book. That seems to be a sensible practice. In that way the governors can consider how frequently corporal punishment is administered. It records which punishments are given so that the governors can discuss the wider issues of the ethos of the school. The book provides an opportunity for an individual teacher to record that a punishment has taken place in case there should be a future court action. It also enables one to examine the punishment record of an individual pupil and to weigh up whether the school is the appropriate place for him and whether he is being appropriately dealt with. A head who sees the name of a pupil frequently entered in the punishment book must consider carefully whether the school is dealing with that pupil correctly. The punishment book serves a useful function in informing governors and in safeguarding teachers' and pupils' rights.

Will the Minister tell us how he envisages the punishment book developing under the dual system of punishment which is to operate in schools under this legislation? Some children will remain subject to corporal punishment because of their parents' agreement to it, and other pupils will not be subject to it because of their parents' objections to it. It would be completely unreasonable and unfair if only one set of names were entered in the punishment book for the same offence. It would be logical, where a school retains corporal punishment but does not use it on particular pupils, if two pupils committed a similar offence for which their names would be entered in a punishment book had they been subject to corporal punishment, that their names should be entered in the book with the alternative punishment recorded.

I would have thought that the Government could accept this amendment. The Minister may be able to convince us that it is unnecessary. However, I hope that the practice of recording serious offences will continue. I hope that schools will not administer corporal punishment if the offence is not serious. That way over a period of time governing bodies can consider the style and ethos of punishments in the school. There will also be safeguards for the teaching staff, and the opportunity for heads and senior teachers, especially in secondary schools, to review the way in which the school is dealing with a particular pupil and to decide whether the punishments being meted out are leading to a change in the pupil's behaviour or reinforcing his misbehaviour undesirably. I hope that the Minister will look with sympathy at an amendment along these lines or introduce a Government amendment in the other place.

7.15 pm

I have always contended that this is a bad, unworkable Bill, which is why I have been unable to get worked up about opposing it. New clause 4 is a good idea. It is desirable to have as much information about school discipline and punishment as possible. The Department of Education and Science does not know the number or racial composition of children who are suspended from schools. I know that because I asked a question and was told so. I do not know how the Department can formulate a policy from a position of complete ignorance, but it has.

It is not the end of the story for parents to opt into corporal punishment because they may approve in theory but change their minds when they find that their child's school uses the cane often or harshly. Parents must have information before they make the choice. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) wants incidents of discipline that are considered to be so serious as to merit corporal punishment to be recorded. He wishes to ensure, where corporal punishment is not administered because a child is exempt from it, that where a caned child's name appears frequently in the book, he will not be branded a trouble-maker if he is not doing anything worse than a child who is not caned. The amendment therefore relates to equality.

Since I have known the Minister, and certainly during the passage of the Bill, his most uplifting remark was during the last group of amendments when he said that there was no need to stipulate precisely how these things are done. That should be the working title of this Bill—"There is no need to stipulate precisely how these things are done." I hope that when the Bill goes to another place and when, in future, educationists read our discussions, people will bear in mind that new clause 4 is a good idea. Its provisions should be carried out in practice. Even if it is not enshrined in law, the keeping of a register and the amassing of proper concrete information will always be helpful to education.

On consideration of the amendment I have come to the conclusion that it is bad and that we would be wrong to accept it. The part of the new clause that leads me to that decision states that in a punishment book shall be recorded.

"all other punishments administered by the school to be equivalent to corporal punishment, to those pupils not on the register."
It is hard enough to define corporal punishment. In reading the responses to the large number of letters that I received from headmasters in my constituency—I received more than 40 about the Bill—I conclude that for all its faults the Bill will be welcomed.

However, I wish to draw attention to the problem of defining what is meant by corporal punishment. I shall give two examples. I received a letter from a headmistress of a primary school. She said that some months ago she had occasion to punish a group of boys aged between seven and nine who were fighting during break and disobeying the requests of the school dinner ladies. I remind the House that we are dealing with the practical problems of running schools. When the boys were brought before the head teacher she happened to be using a ruler to complete a diagram. She decided that a quick tap with the ruler on the hand was the best course of punishment. She had never used the ruler prior to that occasion and had rarely smacked a child. She thought no more of the incident, which had the desired effect. The young men were so shocked — not hurt — that they behaved beautifully for the rest of the day. That evening the head teacher received a phone call from a parent who asked what had happened and whether the head teacher had the right to punish the pupils. The parent reported the action to county hall and the governors, and the head teacher had a distressing week while the parent deliberated whether to sue her for assault. The parent insisted that the head teacher apologise to the child, which the head teacher refused to do. However, she apologised to the parent for misreading "cane" to mean "ruler" — no cane being available—in local education authority instructions. The governors decided not to pursue the matter with the authority, but the head teacher has now received a letter stating that that child must not, in any circumstances, be punished physically. That is on record for all the staff to see.

Another head teacher in my constituency wrote to me saying that, in 14 years as a headmaster, he had neither needed nor used the cane at any time, and that the standard of discipline and behaviour in his school was considered excellent and that the control of children was administered fairly to all at all times. He is sure that most parents would support him in retaining the right, in loco parentis, to smack a child for such offences as telling lies, using bad language or being rude to an adult.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman wishes to get on record the letters from head teachers in his constituency. I do not blame him for that, but he is trying to criticise my new clause on this basis. Is it not the Bill that presents the problem of definition? The Minister made it clear that the Bill included the smack. Although I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for making it clear that there are problems of definition, I hope that he will use that as criticism of the Bill, not of the new clause.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making my point for me. I am trying to point out that there is a problem of definition. If we cannot define, and if it is not generally appreciated by head teachers, what is meant by corporal punishment, it is ludicrous to expect a head teacher or anyone else to decide an equivalent to corporal punishment, as the new clause suggests. On those grounds, I shall oppose the new clause.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) said that statistics are necessary to formulate policy. I should tell him that my Department does not formulate policy without information from a variety of sources, including surveys conducted with local education authorities, what people tell us in the House and elsewhere and HMI reports, on which we rely heavily. We are not entirely without the knowledge at which he hinted in his remarks.

Punishment books are kept by and in schools because of paragraph 6 of DES administrative memorandum 531, which everyone knows is dated 10 May 1956—a very good year for several things.

If the hon. Gentleman has the time and patience, I will name many things that happened in 1956, including my 10th birthday.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was right about the definition of equivalents or alternatives. I can imagine much debate continuing in education authorities, in rooms in which school government is discussed and maintained, about what is an equivalent. The mind races a little at the prospect of a star system, with two brown stars or three red stars being awarded for offences. The child can build up something like a green shield stamp book—a passport to infamy, and possibly expulsion and suspension. I do not believe that that was in the mind of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish. One can imagine the bureaucracy that would be involved in the creation of a bible of definitions for use by those responsible for the control of children in school.

There should be no difficulty about keeping a record of all cases of corporal punishment, because such a requirement has been carried out since 1956. Schools do that now, and to that extent the new clause is unnecessary. However, the amendment goes further than that in an extremely selective way. It extends the record-keeping which schools would have to do. Although the hon. Gentleman was concerned earlier about the growth of bureaucracy, his new clause seeks to increase it. I note that, as the new clause is framed, schools not using corporal punishment would be free from the new burden. That seems to make it an extra chore, or an additional penalty to be imposed on schools that dare to apply corporal punishment.

But even if that were not the case, I would oppose the new clause. The extra records might be interesting, but they would not be essential to the life of the school, and for a large secondary school there would be practical difficulties. In any one day, many sorts of disciplinary sanctions might be used, and the school would have to devise a method of collecting all the information and deciding which punishments were equivalent to corporal punishment so that entries could be made in the punishment book. Whereas a corporal punishment register is an essential part of an exemptions scheme, this punishment book clearly is not and would not be essential.

Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the new clause to a Division.

I am disappointed by the Minister's response because he does not seem to consider natural justice. Let us assume that two pupils are caught smoking behind the cycle sheds. One is on the register and the other is not. I do not say that either of them should have to suffer corporal punishment for smoking, but I am aware that in some schools it is still a fairly regular punishment. The pupil who is on the register will be given corporal punishment, and the punishment book will record that he was given one or two strokes of the cane or the strap for smoking behind the bicycle shed. Nothing will be recorded for the other pupil. Whatever alternative punishment the head decides is appropriate for that pupil, there is no requirement to record it. Therefore, in 10 years' time, someone can look through the punishment book and see that the first pupil was caned, but the other pupil will have no record.

That is unfair and not good for the school's administration, because over a period there will be a tendency to examine the punishment book and see that the names of some pupils occur fairly frequently. The pupils whose parents have insisted that they should not be subject to corporal punishment may have been punished in alternative ways, yet their names will not be in the book. In terms of natural justice between the two pupils, it must be logical to record both names.

I accept that, as the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said, there are problems of definition, but they relate to the Bill, not to the new clause. The hon. Gentleman will have to explain to the head teachers in his constituency that, whatever his view of corporal punishment and whatever their view, once the Bill is implemented, even a smack will count as corporal punishment and can, therefore, be administered only to pupils whose names are on the register. Since it will count as corporal punishment, it will also have to be recorded in the punishment book. Teachers will have to take those matters into account as a result of the definition of corporal punishment chosen by the Minister.

The hon. Gentleman gives an example of two pupils caught smoking behind the bicycle sheds and of one receiving punishment, but the other receiving a different punishment because he was exempted. We must not forget that the head teacher and staff have some say in the punishment applied other than corporal punishment, and they must apply a judgment as to what appears to be fair to the children. Additionally, the difficulty that I outlined of collecting information at the end of the day, week or month and then recording it, is an insuperable point. However, if a school wished to have two books —a corporal punishment book and an equivalents book —there is no reason why it should not do so, if it can afford the time and the bureaucracy to make such a book work.

There is a strong argument for keeping a record of serious punishment. Most teachers at schools where serious punishment is meted out probably believe that a record is necessary. Indeed, I hope that corporal punishment is used only for serious cases. An overall record should be kept of what is happening in a school so that people can judge whether the sanctions are working. A secondary school would be ill-administered if there was not some attempt to record information about punishments meted out to a pupil who was, perhaps, not as co-operative as he might be. It is obvious that at this stage I cannot persuade the Minister to accept new clause 4. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.