LOOKING back, I now know that it was the ham and tomato sandwich that finally made me realise discipline in many of our schools was out of control. It flew across the noisy playground over several children’s heads, before hitting the teacher next to me. Mayonnaise and fatty ham slid down his chest and dropped to the floor. Looking around, all we saw were a sea of laughing faces cheering the perpetrator, who had disappeared back into the crowds.
Something inside me didn’t want to recognise that I had been the intended victim of the attack. I had just spoken to 300 students about the joys of creative writing and how reading could change their lives. For one boy, I had made such a lasting impression that he wanted to share his lunch with me, even if he did have a novel way of delivering it.
It was not the first act of aggression I have seen in the playground. What is very clear to me is that we have a generation of children who have no respect or fear of authority and no desire to respect the society they live in.
In many schools, I come across teachers who are committed professionals working hard in almost impossible conditions. As the teenage looters of the summer went back to school, it was front line teachers who had to pick up the pieces.
The Labour MP David Lammy, who represents riot-hit Tottenham, has said the issue starts with parents being allowed to discipline their children if society wants well-behaved young people. The liberal experiment of not smacking children has failed. Power to parents to discipline children without fear of the law has to be restored, and more than that, corporal punishment must return to our schools.
Back in the 1970s, I don’t mind admitting that I was an ill-disciplined young rascal in a working-class sink school who hated authority and had a mouth so big I was always in trouble. When I was badly behaved, I was given the cane – a short sharp shock that stopped me in my tracks. It changed my life – finally there was a boundary I had to stay within. My stinging buttocks reminded me of my wrongdoing more than any verbal telling off.
What we have to realise is respect for the law starts in the home with respect for parents. But in so many households, the parents – or at least the fathers – are often absent. Youngsters do not know what it’s like to look up to a role model. Neither do they know when boundaries are crossed and respect for others is totally lost. Discipline has gone from many families as smacking is wrongly portrayed as illegal.
From an early age, children have to know what is right and wrong. Sadly, some parents no longer class discipline and guidance as an essential of bringing up children. All you have to do is stand in the queue at the supermarket to see that. But it is essential that this changes and changes quickly. We must let parents smack their children – not beat them or abuse them, but smack them, and smack without fear of the law.
Most of the summer looters came from a generation that have never been told “no” . They are the children of parents who themselves were never disciplined at home or in school. They were brainwashed by a Labour government into thinking that disciplining children was evil, that people who dared smack a child were abusers. The enforcement of boundaries was frowned upon; tantrums were seen as a child expressing itself. How wrong they were.
More than 20 years after the abolition of caning in state schools, government research suggests that more and more British people believe the removal of corporal punishment has contributed to the decline in young people’s behaviour. This was evident last August when one looter sneered: “What are you going to do – give me an Asbo?”
How right he was. Recent figures suggest that there is a physical assault or verbal abuse by pupils against school staff every seven minutes. That is a staggering number of teachers coming under attack. Ofsted would have us believe in their annual report that behaviour is good or outstanding in 80 per cent of secondary schools, and 95 per cent of primaries. From my own experience, I would suggest these figures are not worth the paper they’re written on. Schools have to become safe places for the majority of children and this only comes when those intent on causing bullying and mayhem are stopped.
In the obvious absence of discipline within the family, it is now time to bring discipline back into schools.
Teachers should be able to get tough with feral children without having to fear prosecution, or false accusations of assault. Parents should also support the establishment of discipline within schools, and not automatically side with their children. Many teachers are just as harassed by disgruntled parents as they are by disorderly pupils.
It is time for the return of corporal punishment within schools and smacking has to be restored as a sanction in the family. Tough boundaries have to be set if children are to learn respect for the law and the communities in which they live.
The public has to be protected and minorities respected.
We are at a tipping point in our history, and we must seize the moment if discipline is to be returned to our homes, our schools and our streets.
GP Taylor is a broadcaster and author.