John V Lloyd: Crime and punishment no longer fit for purpose

The school belt, or tawse in Scotland. Picture: Phil Wikinson

The school belt, or tawse in Scotland. Picture: Phil Wikinson

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It was in the 1960s that I had my first day in a Fife high school. My register teacher told us all the penalties for misbehaviour in the school. To misspell meant one of the belt.Not doing homework was two. Swearing was three.

This went all the way up to fighting or truancy which merited six in front of the entire school assembly.This had parallels to the scenes at the French guillotine and was a much-looked-forward to Friday event.

By the time my three children went to high shool in the 1980s, the belt had gone. The game was up after the Campbell and Cosans Case v The UK.

The case was not about the right of children not to be belted; the case focused on the UK failing to respect a parent’s wish that the child should not be belted. No matter, as Mrs Thatcher was delayed, the vote got through the House Of Commons and by 1987 the belt was gone.

You can google Hansard and read the Commons debate on the school belt – it is a series of anecdotes by MPs on their experiences at school. T

The reality was that most teachers, COSLA, unions, parents and politicians were very concerned at the development.

In the debates there was naive talk of having far more teachers, smaller class sizes, enhanced guidance, special units and a more pleasant atmosphere in classrooms.

In The Scotsman, Letters to the Editor at this time showed there were already concerns at the prospect of low-level disruption, homework not being done, answering back, swearing, fighting, truancy, bullying,a decline in spelling, rudeness, not doing punishment exercises, not doing lines or detention, arriving late, eating in class etc.

It was an innocent age.

Today you can tick all those boxes. You now have to add pupils arriving drunk or on drugs, carrying a weapon, serious disruption, using a mobile in class, bullying, cyber-bullying, arson, damage to property, physical and verbal assaults on staff, and an increasing number of staff wanting to wear body cameras like the police.

Many children not feeling feel safe, stressed-out teachers and many leaving the profession.

No wonder they are trying to entice retired staff back to the chalk face.

The abolitionists pointed to a whole array of ammunition which could replace the belt. These included lines, detention, punnies,local safety net,super safety net,loss of privileges, off-site special units, more parental involvement.

There was the slight problem that the tough fatherless child from the deprived housing estate was not going to do any of this and thus created a paper bureaucracy 
unequalled since Imperial China.

We should have emulated those countries which stop benefits for a week when a pupil is suspended and put the ball back in the parent’s court.

An unpopular suggestion, maybe, but how long until the UK Government twigs that, freed of European 
Legislation, they could take a retrograde step in schools?

John V Lloyd is an author. He lives in Dunfermline

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