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Dr Muriel Newman

Reasonable Force in Schools

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15 April 07

Reasonable Force in Schools

The anti-smacking activists claim that with corporal punishment having been banned in schools, banning it in the home is simply the next step towards eliminating violence against children. But the argument just isn’t credible.

Advocates of a the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act which allows parents to use “reasonable force” for the purpose of correcting their children, rely heavily on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). In particular, Article 19 of UNCROC, which says:

State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parents, legal guardians or any other person who has the care of the child.

They claim that to “protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation”, the use of “reasonable force” for the purpose of correction must be banned. In other words they are claiming that the use of “reasonable force” to discipline children is equivalent to bashing them. This is clearly wrong.

A similar erroneous argument was used by Labour to justify the banning of corporal punishment in schools. Yet, the Headmaster, who used the strap or cane as a last resort to reinforce to the school bully that cruelty would not be tolerated, or to the willfully abusive and disruptive student that his behaviour was totally unacceptable, was simply fulfilling the responsibilities given under Article 19, to protect the other children in the school from violence and intimidation.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Bruce Logan, a Christchurch based writer and founder of the Maxim Institute, was a member of the PPTA Executive at the time when the banning of corporal punishment in schools was being considered. He earned himself a sanction from the union by daring to say publicly that he was not convinced the majority of teachers were in favour of abolition.

It is little wonder – schools were not given an opportunity to have their say on the ban, as Labour did not allow public consultation!

The proposal to abolish corporal punishment in schools had originally appeared as clause 66 in a Crimes Bill in 1989. Without warning it was inserted into the 1990 Education Amendment Bill as it was going through its final debates in Parliament.

It is described in Hansard in this way: “Part 1 has had slipped into it at the last moment a clause to abolish corporal punishment in all schools, including private schools. The schools have had no chance to make submissions on the matter. The Government has sneaked it into the Bill at the last moment. The Government has said that people had the chance to make submissions when the Crimes Bill was before a select committee. However, schools did not make a submission on that provision in the Crimes Bill because they did not know it was in that Bill”.

In his article “The Rise of Violence in Schools”, Bruce Logan states, “The claim, which suggested a link between corporal punishment and violence in schools has been proved wrong. Violence in schools has increased tremendously since abolition”. (To read the full article, click )

According to a Massey University study, there are now very high levels of bullying in New Zealand schools. It is the number one problem for many children with up to three-quarters of students claiming they are being subjected to some form of bullying.

But it doesn’t just stop with the students. Two out of three New Zealand secondary school teachers claim they were abused or threatened by their students each year.

The Massey study goes on to cite research in Sweden , which shows that unless their behaviour is modified, 60% of intermediate school bullies had criminal convictions by 24 years of age. (to see study, click )

With the latest crime statistics showing that over the last twelve months there has been a 10% increase in violence by young people, and that the number of teenagers arrested for violent offences is a third more than a decade ago, it certainly appears that the escalating violence in schools is contributing to the rising rate of youth crime.

(See RadioNZ, click ).

As the anti-smacking bill edges closer to becoming law, the question that we need to ask is whether the anti-smacking advocates were right: has the abolition of corporal punishment reduced violence in schools? The answer is a resounding no! Violence in schools is increasing; the law took away an important measure that was available to schools to enforce disciplinary standards.

So while Labour is planning to impose this failed policy onto New Zealand parents, it is worth noting that the tide is turning in the UK where the power to use “reasonable force” to discipline unruly students has just been given to teachers!

Prime Minister Tony Blair is blaming the increase in gang and gun crime being committed by violent and disaffected youths on the fact that “youngsters are being brought up in a setting that has no rules, no discipline, no proper framework around them”. The introduction of reasonable force into schools is designed to help rectify that. (To read the story click here)

Tony Blair has seen the light. I wonder if there is any hope for our Prime Minister?

The poll this week asks: Do you think that New Zealand teachers should be able to use “reasonable force” to discipline unruly students? Take part in poll

Reader’s comments will be posted on the NZCPD Forum page click to view .