Trusting teachers to touch children

Trusting and touching -Trust teachers if we want the best from them.

Times Educational Supplement
August 4th 2000

In The Times, on Monday July 24th, it was reported that the legislation outlawing corporal punishment in independent schools may be flawed.  It is sadly ironic that the report comes while a primary school head awaits sentence having been found guilty of slapping the face of a boy who had flown into a rage and had attempted to push and punch her.  The boy had been told that as a punishment for previous bad behaviour he would lose an opportunity to go swimming.  His mother has acknowledged that he is a difficult child to control.

Marjorie Evan’s conviction for assault was possible because legislation enacted in 1986 effectively removed legal protection for teachers who had previously been deemed to be acting on the part of parents in such situations.  Whether parents acknowledge it or not, when they send their children to a school they entrust their children to the head of the school and the staff.  It is has to be taken as self-evident that teachers and other staff at the school will act in the best interests of the children in their care.  This care will go beyond that of a concerned parent into academic and other areas covered by professional training and experience – this is what parents obtain from schools.  This is the point of schools, to extend the powers and abilities of parents in respect of their primary responsibility for the children whom they have brought into world.

As long as we continue to want our cake and eat it, as long as schools are required to accommodate children whose parents have failed to teach the basics of civil behaviour, of co-operation, self-restraint and consideration for others, such cases will arise.  As long as teachers feel an obligation to parents who have prepared their children for school and are expected to deal simultaneously with truculent, unruly and threatening behaviour, they will feel very uncertain about their ability to do their job without some considerable risk to themselves and to the children entrusted to them.

Now consider these matters from a child’s point of view.  Imagine being in the company all day of some one like Frederick.  He was described on page 32 of last week’s TES, in a teacher’s diary.  He has committed fourteen serious assaults on his fellow pupils this term.  When such children may not be touched or excluded, or at least are seen by their fellow pupils to be unchecked for behaving in ways which would horrify their own parents, underachievement, despair and worse inevitably follow.  When those adults to whom pupils are entrusted are seen, not just as unable to protect them, but are themselves criminalised for protecting the good order on which children’s safety and education depend, we should weep for shame for we are destroying the basis of trust between the generations upon which so much depends.

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