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Crikey Clarifier: can a teacher smack your kid?

The man at the centre of Christopher Pyne’s national curriculum review, Kevin Donnelly, thinks teachers are within their rights to dole out a little physical discipline now and then. Crikey intern Paul Millar asks: is that even legal?

Head of the national curriculum review Kevin Donnelly shocked radio 2UE listeners yesterday with the suggestion that he had no problem with the idea of bringing back corporal punishment in schools, to deal with unruly kids. Fighting back memories of our own traumatic childhoods, Crikey wades into the issue.

What is corporal punishment?

Corporal punishment is defined in Australia as the use of physical force towards a child for control, correctional or disciplinary purposes in a way that won’t result in any lasting harm. Usually this takes the form of a spanking, belting or blows from a strap or wooden spoon.

Is it legal in schools?

Corporal punishment is regulated at the state level, meaning that the legality of physical force in schools — even government schools — varies between states. Adding to the confusion is the fact that every state has at some point implemented legislation allowing physical discipline on grounds of “reasonable chastisement” if carried out by a parent or a figure acting on a parent’s behalf, like a teacher. While some states have since enacted legislation banning the use of corporal punishment in schools or stripped away provisions in education legislation allowing its use, this right still exists under individual criminal code acts or common law, making it a difficult to regulate should a case come before the courts.

Which states ban it?

Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania have explicit legislation banning the use of corporal punishment in both government and non-government primary and secondary schools. Here’s the list:

Australian Capital Territory: Corporal punishment was banned in all schools in 1997. While this does not explicitly extend to both government and non-government schools, the current interpretation applies it to both.

NSW: Corporal punishment was banned in government schools in 1990. This ban was extended to include non-government schools in 1997.

Northern Territory: The use of corporal punishment in non-government schools was banned in 2009. While there is currently no legislation permitting or forbidding its use in government schools, the Criminal Code Act (NT)  still makes it legal for teachers to use corporal punishment in government schools unless a parent expressly withholds consent.

Queensland: Corporal punishment in government schools is not explicitly banned in Queensland, but the previous provisions that allowed its use under reasonable grounds was repealed in 1989. The Queensland Criminal Code Act still cedes authority to parents (or figures acting in their stead) to use “reasonable corrective force” in disciplining their child or a child in their care. This makes the legality of corporal punishment in Queensland ambiguous at best.

South Australia: Like Queensland, South Australia has not explicitly banned corporal punishment in government schools, instead repealing provisions in current legislation that allowed its use.

Tasmania: Corporal punishment was banned in both government and non-government schools in 1999 under the Education Amendment Act 1999 (Tas).

Victoria: Corporal punishment was banned in government schools in 1985 and non-government schools in 2006.

Western Australia: Corporal punishment was banned in government schools. There is no legislation preventing its use in non-government schools.

So who does it?

Despite the legal inconsistencies surrounding corporal punishment in schools, government-run schools uniformly maintain a policy of avoiding physical discipline against students. Non-government schools in Queensland and Western Australia, on the other hand, can still discipline students using a cane or strap. The Central Queensland Christian College, an independent school near Rockhampton affiliated with the Christian Schools Australia group, is one of the few schools in Australia still believed to practice corporal punishment on its students. Although the College refused to comment on suggestions that it canes misbehaving students, the code of conduct featured on the school’s website states that “the Principal or his delegate may exercise physical discipline in accordance with the College Discipline Policy”.

In his comments to 2UE, Donnelly suggested the practice could be the answer to growing rates of expulsion and suspension in the New South Wales education system.

There are one or two schools around Australia that I know where it actually is approved of and they do it,” he told Fairfax radio.

If the school community is in favour of it then I have got no problem if it’s done properly.”

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  • 1
    Jaybuoy
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Surely the cane toad Donnelly is going to be asked to fall on his strap.. Pyne needs to have a look at his own position also.. at least all those school halls so despised by the LNP will come in handy for dragging children behind for a quick attitude readjustment.. The Barati option..

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I liked the Ripping Yarns (Tomkinson’s Schooldays)sort of corporal punishment.
    And Pyne would make a cracking Headmaster.

  • 3
    paddy
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Klewso on the Ripping Yarns scenario.
    But rather than a mere cane or strap, I think Pyne should go for the “Full Tomkinson”.
    A Leopard for every school.

    Note: For those who’ve not seen Tomkinson’s Schooldays, a true treat lies in store.

    http://tinyurl.com/3fxwg4v

  • 4
    Robert Jameson
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I expect this talk about bringing back the strap is merely a talking point. Two things -

    1.) The Education departments, without a total reversal of policy, will not allow it. Any teacher that caned a student would quickly be shown the door.

    2.) The rabble in government schools suits the Abbotts and Pynes of this world. No competition for prestige places from the great unwashed from middle and lower class govt schools.

    Our government schools could easily implement the changes that are needed without the re-introduction of corporal punishment. They only need to introduce streaming. Just removing the 3 or 4 kids from classrooms that do not want to learn would be a good start - if they are serious about change?

  • 5
    Kinkajou
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    In states where there is no legislation banning its use they would still have assault charges as an option for the victims no..?
    Or is there legislation allowing child assault in those states

  • 6
    mikeb
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I went to a Catholic school and got the “cuts” on a fairly regular basis - from both religious and lay teachers. It was always pretty fair & deserved in my case so the pain went quickly and to be sure it influenced future behaviour for the better. The problem happens when you get rogue (by far the minority) teachers who are sadists and who often single out kids for special attention. I did come across a couple over the years but they never bothered me in particular. It’s these rogues that mean that corporal punishment cannot be allowed in schools because the misery they cause is forever.

    I’ve since had three daughters which I’ve never felt the need to hit (apart from the lightest of pats - & even then rarely). It might have been different with boys because they respect strength & sometimes reasoned discussion just doesn’t work. Even in the latter cases you can’t delegate this discipline & unfortunately yet again you can’t trust all parents to be fair and reasonable. Can you legislate against corporal punishment? Well yes certainly in schools, but no in a practical sense at home.

  • 7
    Malcolm Hutton
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    In 1947 my Grade 7 Primary School teacher was Mr George (known, but not to his face, as Alfie) whose theory of education was that if you got three wrong out of twenty in the spelling test each morning, you were naughty, and therefore deserved the cuts - three, delivered with his trusty cane. Being a naturally good speller I never bothered to study for the test, and came unstuck only once. A number of boys were naturally poor spellers and suffered often. He was obliged to stop the practice when he misfired one day and hit a boys wrist instead of fingers, and the parent complained. But that might have been merely a brief pause. Had my son, who never misspelt a word the same way twice, but often misspelled words, been in that class he would have been scarred for like - psychologically. He is now a successful engineer - thank good ness he was schooled in a different era, and despite Dr Donelly we aren’t like to return to what Alfie’s educational theory was.

  • 8
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Corporal punishment in schools is a disgrace, always was, even if used judiciously and (cough) fairly.

    It is bullying, no ifs, no buts, no maybes. It is a low act, the last refuge of a scoundrel.

    I didn’t get the cuts that often, but watching others being joyfully whipped by psychopaths teachers left a lasting and scarring impression on me.

    I’d happily apply 6 of the best to Dr Donnelly for being an imbecile.

    Banning corporal punishment has saved me the trouble of going to my children’s school and beating the crap out of any teacher who touched my children.

    It is nobody’s right to hit a child, ever, period, full stop. Parent, teacher, whatever. Never, never, never.

  • 9
    Chris Hartwell
    Posted Thursday, 17 July 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Like you mikeb, I went to a catholic school. The cane was visibly present in the principal’s office (this only 15 years ago, in Qld) but was never used in the time I was there, even for fighting infractions (of which I got a number)

    Then again, this was a catholic school ostensibly run by nuns who were all dismissive of young earth creationism as being silly and inconsistent with what science has determined, yet had lay teachers who were convinced D&D was going to teach me how to invoke the powers of darkness (and cast magic missile) so it may be an outlier.

  • 10
    Liamj
    Posted Thursday, 17 July 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I’m sure Mr Donnelly is no hypocrite, and so I look forward to the publication of his KPI’s and a subsequent public flogging should he fail to live up to them.

  • 11
    Itsarort
    Posted Thursday, 17 July 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Corporal punishment…,you’re kidding! Just try grabbing a kid by their bag and see what happens. Even if their in the process of committing a misdemeanour, touch the ‘wrong’ kid, and EPAC will be all over you like a dog’s dinner.

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