The real victims in all this are not just the teachers. They are the other kids whose education is being wrecked by a minority of badly behaved children
All we need is the politicians to have the guts to take on the bullying parents, the supine education authorities, and the crazed culture of health and safety
Teachers need the law on their side
We need a politician with the guts to stand up for reasonable discipline in our schools, argues Boris Johnson
Let's be clear. I am not calling for the return of the cane. I do not want to bring back the great British thrashing. It seems amazing that in our lifetimes otherwise humane teachers would roll up their sleeves, flex the Malacca and – with or without a pervy Terry-Thomas glint in the eye – administer violent corporal punishment to the children they were supposed to be instructing.
My memory of an otherwise idyllic 1970s English prep school is that masters used virtually any weapon of discipline they could lay their hands on. There was the blackboard rubber, a heavy chalky object that teachers would hurl with great force if they saw you staring vacantly during maths. There was the ruler, which could be brought down so hard on the back of the hand that a friend of mine had a contusion that lasted for years. There was the jokari bat, for those who forgot their construe. There was the cricket bat for seriously argumentative types and also, I kid you not, the handle of a nine iron golf club. And then there was the cane. I remember being so enraged at being whacked for talking at the wrong moment that it has probably given me a lifelong distrust of authority.
Boris Johnson does not want to turn the clock back to a school system that allowed regular beating of children by adults but wonders whether the pendulum has swung too far the other way: "Classrooms are often scenes of such anarchy that learning is impossible. Violence against teachers is continuing to rise, with physical assaults by children on adults up to 18,000 a year.
In a particularly nasty incident in February a music teacher was duffed up by a 14-year-old and suffered such badly broken teeth that he will never play the saxophone again. How could he have been so humiliated? Because he was just panic-stricken at the thought of offering any kind of physical restraint. "I thought of putting (the pupil) in an armlock," said the teacher, David Mishra, later, "but he was struggling, and if he had broken his arm I thought I would have been crucified."
I partly blame the parents, and the hysterical way they are allowed to rail at any teacher who tries to discipline their little brutes. A mum once came to see me at my MP surgery to complain about what she said was a breach of her son's human rights. I was all set to take up her cause until it became obvious that the breach in question involved an attempt to keep her son in detention for an hour – an entirely reasonable chastisement, it turned out, after her son had caused chaos on a school trip by jumping out of a bus. As the mother ranted on about her hatred of the school, her hatred of the teacher and the general conspiracy to deprive her son of his human rights, I am afraid that I saw red and told her that I was completely on the side of the school. I told her firmly that she would have to vote for another MP.
But far more than the parents, I blame an educational and legal system that is now routinely betraying teachers, preventing them from fulfilling their vocations, and depriving them of the dignity and respect they deserve.
It was with complete fury that I read Nigel Bunyan's brilliant interview with Michael Becker
, 62, who has spent 31 years giving blameless service to the cause of teaching children in Suffolk. Just as he was preparing to retire amid the thanks of his community, he has been convicted of assault by beating, and fined £1,500, with an order to pay a further £1,875 in costs.
He tried to take action against a boy who refused to stop telling racist jokes during a science lesson. He grabbed the boy by his belt and sweat shirt and removed him to an adjacent store room. The boy claimed he had been turned upside down during the scuffle; the magistrates believed the boy, and the teacher leaves his profession in disgrace.
Whatever the exact facts of the case – you have to wonder whether the punishment is proportionate to the offence.
Or take the case of teaching assistant Mark Ellwood, 46, who was working at the David Lister school in Hull. A boy in his class was wearing his outdoors coat in class and playing with his mobile phone. Mr Ellwood asked the boy to take off his coat and stop fiddling with the mobile. He replied "I will have you killed," and threatened to stab the teacher.
Now I don't want to make heavy weather of this, but if I had said such a thing to any of my teachers I would not only have had my mobile officially marmalised. I would have been beaten or slung out of the school. As it was, Mr Ellwood took the boy out of the classroom and to the school car park; and when the kid tried to kick him on the shins, he defensively swung his legs out from under him. After which, Ellwood was charged with assault, lost his job, and has spent nine months of hell until a court sensibly threw the case out.
The real victims in all this are not just the teachers. They are the other kids whose education is being wrecked by a minority of badly behaved children. We don't need the return of the cane. We don't need systematic corporal punishment. All we need is the politicians to have the guts to take on the bullying parents, the supine education authorities, and the crazed culture of health and safety.
We want the next education secretary to stand up and say that the law is plainly and unambiguously on the side of the teacher exercising reasonable discipline – and not on the side of the violent little squirts who are trying to make their jobs impossible."
For the Daily Telegraph article in full see here