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Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 08:27 GMT
Should there be zero tolerance on swearing?

A school's policy of zero tolerance on swearing has meant one headteacher has signed 60 pupil exclusion orders since taking up his post in September.

Paul Templeman-Wright, head of Beverley School in New Malden in Surrey, is hoping that his actions will remove what he calls the "language of the street" from the classroom.

He claims to have the backing of parents and school governors and says that there is no place for bad language in the nation's classrooms.

But is he overreacting? Should swearing remain a normal part of everyday life? Or does the toleration of bad language give out the wrong signals and encourage thuggish behaviour?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Sixty children are being deprived of their education for no other reason than saying the wrong words. And yet from the look of the comments on this page, the moral majority (who incidentally are neither), think this is a triumph for common sense. This is a gross attack on civil rights and freedom of speech and Paul Templeman-Wright should be ashamed to call himself an educator.
Toby Jones, UK

Swearing can be useful for adding emphasis

Peter, UK
Swearing can be useful for adding emphasis and sometimes it has great comedy value. I'm 40ish and went to good schools but I can remember using expletives even at junior school - although not in the presence of adults. Personally I find the apparently unstoppable spread of 'estuary' English to be more offensive. If this headmaster were to ban Eastenders he would be doing far more for these children's education.
Peter, UK

I am a retired English teacher of 30 years. Language mirrors the morality of the times and the demise of English into Slangish is a strong indication of where we are headed. Some words come and go, but complete sentences remain.
R. Kenneth Girard, USA

I am a student at Beverley School and am utterly disgusted with the behaviour of the teachers' reactions to swearing. Have they ever sworn in their profession and got suspended for it? (I think not!)
Kerry Bowles, England

Could it be that this headteacher is simply trying to find an excuse for his lack of skill and that of his staff in controlling the children at his school? Swear words appear in the Oxford English dictionary. Are the 'ban-it-brigade' going to get that banned as well? Perhaps Mr Paul Templeman-Wright should be the one who is kicked out of the school not the kids.
Ian Thomas, England

If you try to ban swearing that makes it doubly cool, plus there is a human rights aspect to the right to express yourself as you wish. Censorship never works.
Adrian Rox, England

I think that excluding 60 pupils was an over-reaction. Teenagers are going to swear because it has always been around them. I think that if the language is being used within a group of friends in a normal conversation then it is perfectly fine. If on the other hand it is being used offensively then maybe the students should be INTERNALLY suspended.
Nicola M, UK

Schools should concentrate more on encouraging a caring and supportive attitude amongst pupils

A. Ellis, UK
I swear myself and, therefore, would be hypocritical to criticise my son but I would not accept him using abusive language to or about another person. In fact my son is more likely to tell me off for swearing and I am proud of the fact that he always sticks up for other children who are being abused or bullied at school. Schools should concentrate more on encouraging a caring and supportive attitude amongst pupils and less on the use of words that have become an everyday part of our language and extensively used in soaps and other popular TV programmes.
A. Ellis, UK

I would hope the school in question is restricting the teaching of books and plays containing bad language or dirty jokes as well to demonstrate that this sort of thing has no place in learning or culture. After all it's probably better that students don't read people like Joyce or Shakespeare.
Jonathan S, UK

My children frequently complain of swearing and crude language at school, mostly during play times when the playground staff take a dismissive attitude and don't listen to those subjected to the language. I myself don't swear around my children and resent the fact that they are hearing it from children as young as five at school.
Ms T. Elliott, England, Somerset

Personally, I feel that the standards of behaviour accepted in schools have dramatically fallen in the last 20 years. Children at our local school come out dropping litter, lighting cigarettes up and swearing at the tops of their voices. Teachers cannot touch them and boy do those kids know it!
Caroline H, UK

Full marks to the headteacher!

Michael, England
Full marks to the headteacher! Swearing shows a lack of respect for the individual and should never be used if there is any possibility of it causing offence. Swearing is just another form of abuse and children should be taught to recognise this.
Michael, England

I feel that swearing in the Britain has outgrown any moral culture that once existed in the country. Is it not time for the Church to move towards some sort of moral high ground again in the UK to try and regain some sort of decorum? Come on Britain pull your socks up!
Nikolei Swerinski, Poland

There is nothing wrong with swearing "per se", but we should be sensitive to other people around us who might be offended. In other words, to expel a child from school for swearing is wrong, but to expel them for, say, swearing at their teacher, would be more reasonable.
Owen Southwood, UK

Am I getting old here??? When I was in school back in the early 80's there was ZERO tolerance of swearing, by either teacher or pupil. In fact it could lead to a visit to the headteacher and a few strokes of the cane for your troubles. Before people jump up and assume I was enrolled in a grammar school, this was a London comprehensive with all the normal problems that came along.
James Jeffrey, USA, but English

As a Christian I hate swearing. I feel it should become as anti-social as smoking or drink driving. Any person caught swearing in public should be fined 100 on the spot and be placed in prison for a week.
Darren Gregory, England

Doesn't this kind of ban violate human rights especially freedom of speech?
Marko, Finland

Swearing should not be tolerated in any public place

Chris Zouch, England
Swearing should not be tolerated in any public place. This includes schools, shopping malls etc. I also think it should banned altogether from all TV channels paid for by the TV licence fee. Films containing swearing should ALL be classified as certificate 18. I know we all swear from time to time but not usually in mixed company and not out loud for everyone else to hear.
Chris Zouch, England

I am sad and sorry to say that I myself do let the odd swear word slip out. This however, is not due to the media or 'idols' but rather is a part of our everyday environment. Yes, a classroom should have its restrictions and formalities but the more you say to children 'don't' the more they will continue to do so.
Diane M, Scotland

What a boring society we will become when we have eradicated all kinds of diversity of culture, activity and thought.
Stuart, Reading, UK

Rob is incorrect to assume that coarse language leads to coarse behaviour, since there is no evidence that the two are inextricably linked. On the other hand, it is my belief that undesirable and anti-social behaviour has its roots in the use of coercive force by the State to control society. The imposition of order, by an external force, on any chaotic system always leads to disorder and society is no exception to this fundamental law of the universe.
Stuart Seaton, Reading, UK

I have moved to this country from South Africa and am disgusted by the amount of swearing that goes on in the UK. Strangely, although there is considerable physical violence in South Africa, children especially are far less likely to swear there than they are here.
Chris Foggin, England

Not many of us would want to put up with being sworn at in our places of work - not by customers or colleagues. Kids should be taught that swearing is not appropriate in many settings - but exclusion seems a step too far.
A.R. Rizzo, UK

Does excluding 60 pupils really help the education of the majority?

Stuart Purdie, UK
Whilst I agree that it should be made clear that swearing is not acceptable in the school environment, does excluding 60 pupils really help the education of the majority? Zero tolerance policies are just excuses for zero thinking.
Stuart Purdie, UK

Quite frankly I think it's a gross overreaction, Swearing may be inappropriate use of the English language, but I challenge that headmaster to enter any workplace in the UK and not come across some use of expletives. He should be coming down hard on more serious issues like bullying and drugs.
Ahmad Ahmad, UK

Swearing is just another manifestation of uncivil behaviour, the tolerance of which is at the root of many of society's ills. Sadly it is now all but impossible to shield children from hearing bad language, but swearing, like other bad behaviour, should be absolutely forbidden in school. It certainly was in my day (not that long ago!)
Edward, UK

Swearing is far less damaging to society than verbal bullying

Mike, UK
Swearing is far less damaging to society than verbal bullying. The problem is that many schools seem to punish swearing, but almost accept teasing to be expected at that age.
Mike, UK

Being a seventeen year old doing A-levels at my school, I can understand where Mr Templeman-Wright is coming from. But what I want to know is whether he is excluding pupils who needlessly swear for which I believe they should perhaps be suspended or is he excluding those who swear for good reason such as they have walked 3 miles to school and left their coursework at home?
Phil, UK

The original meanings of many Anglo-Saxon words which are currently considered to be bad language were no different to the meanings of their (now more socially acceptable) French or Latin-derived alternatives. It doesn't matter which word is used, what matters is the meaning. Likening someone to a private part of the body or waste matter is offensive regardless of the terminology used. This school thing is just another symptom of New Labour's politically correct style-over-content syndrome.

Kids are always going to swear. And besides, it's better than shooting, isn't it?
Anthony, UK

The thought police strike again

Andrew, Newcastle
The thought police strike again! Admittedly swearing can be offensive to some people, but it is deeply embedded in our culture and could never be eradicated entirely.
Andrew, Newcastle

I hold my hands up as a swearer and I really don't think that the odd, well-chosen expletive does any harm whatsoever. But what this teacher has done is right for two reasons. Firstly, it's a sad day when your entire vocabulary is based around variations of one word. And secondly, the classroom should be a haven of decorum.
Wendy, UK

I imagine there will be lots of comments from people saying that it's only words, what harm can it do, and he is overreacting. Personally I'm right behind it. There can be no doubt whatsoever that coarse language leads to coarse behaviour and the slide from there is inevitable. Somebody somewhere has to make a stand. At the very least it will prove an interesting social experiment won't it? Let's see what the results are.
Rob, UK

The more you repeat a word, the less it means

Andy Millward, UK
As Michael Flanders put it: "I'm appalled at the common use of 4-letter swear words. What do we use for special occasions?" By overkill, the shock factor has diminished - the more you repeat a word, the less it means. And the culture which once vilified the use of swearing can't be recaptured. Moral: encourage appropriateness of use of language, rather than clinging to the unrealistic notion that children won't swear.
Andy Millward, UK

Swear words can sometimes enrich, sometime impoverish the language. When they are used occasionally, they add emphasis and allow some release of pent up feelings. What's depressing is people who appear to know only one adjective which tends to appear before every noun in their conversation. I think, on the whole, the proportion of the population who are actually offended is going down all the time.
Malcolm McMahon, UK

Quite frankly I think it's a gross overreaction
Ahmad Ahmad, UK

The beauty of the English language is that there are so many ways to thoroughly express oneself without resorting to profanity. That said, I am as guilty as anyone in using the occasional swear word for effect, though I have absolute zero tolerance in hearing it from my kids! One realises that it may be the common currency of the schoolyard, but I don't want to hear it in the home (or my earshot). Of more import, if one doesn't know "how" to use it, then one should refrain from doing so until maturity and the rise of personal discipline develop. Otherwise, it simply reflects the conveyor's place in the scope of things ... "gutter snipe"!
Mark M. Newdick, USA/ UK

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08 Mar 01 | Education
Pupils suspended for swearing
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