Home / Education / Corporal Punishment. When Did It Stop and Why?

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, corporal punishment was a normal aspect of school life for children in the UK. Today, even the concept of corporal punishment seems like something extracted from school rule books of an ancient era.
However, the old method of discipline is not actually all that old. It might come as a surprise to learn just how recently the UK finally abolished corporal punishment…

The End of Corporal Punishment

The abolishment of corporal punishment in the UK was not a quick process, the changes took almost two decades to implement.
In 1982, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that it was only suitable to use corporal punishment with the permission of parents. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the British Parliament abolished corporal punishment in state and private schools – as outlined in the Education Act 1986. This wasn’t the end of corporal punishment though; the new law didn’t affect independent schools.
In 1998, more than a decade later, the government finally outlawed corporal punishment in every school in England and Wales. The vote to abolish corporal punishment once and for all was won with a staggering majority of 211 to 15 in parliament.

Two years after the abolishment of corporal punishment in England and Wales, Scotland followed suit. In 2003, Northern Ireland also abolished corporal punishment – as outlined in The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.

What Caused the Ban on Corporal Punishment?

The government wasn’t breaking any new ground when they abolished corporal punishment, in fact, they were trailing behind much of the rest of the world. Poland abolished corporal punishment in schools in 1783, the Netherlands outlawed it in 1920, and Norway abolished it in 1936. Many other countries also banned corporal punishment decades before the UK.
Various reasons were behind the banning of corporal punishment, including the trend set by other countries. When the British Parliament voted to outlaw corporal punishment, the educational spokesman for the Liberal Democrats referred to it as ‘wrong in principle’ and ‘barbaric’. There was also little evidence in the effectiveness of corporal punishment as a deterrent, and many saw it as degrading.
Recent studies have shone a light on the benefit of a world without corporal punishment. In one study, research showed that there was a reduction in youth violence when there was a complete ban on corporal punishment.

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Could Corporal Punishment Ever Return?

The idea of bringing back corporal punishment will sound absurd to many teachers, parents, and students, but surprisingly, the form of discipline is not universally detested.
In a poll conducted by the Times Educational Supplement, 49% of the 2000 surveyed parents said that they were in favour of a return of corporal punishment (It is quite possible that these people advocate physical punishment in their own homes.)– only 45% said that they were not in favour. In a TES survey conducted in 2000, there were similar responses.
Many teachers are not happy with the current provisions for discipline in the UK since the abolishment of corporal punishment. In a 2012 poll, a third of teachers responded that a student had hit or kicked them. Despite the discontent with the current discipline in UK schools, as more and more countries abolish corporal punishment, it’s unlikely to make a comeback any time soon, if ever.

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