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is not explicitly banned in Queensland, but the previous provisions that allowed its use under reasonable grounds was repealed in 1989.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.”