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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 17:49 GMT
School says Bible permits smacking
A judge at the High Court has reserved judgement in the case of a private Christian school, which believes teachers should have the right to smack unruly pupils.

Corporal punishment was outlawed in British state schools in 1986 and in independent schools in 1998.

But the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool - backed by more than 40 similar schools - believes such discipline is in line with Christian doctrine and the government's ban, therefore, breaches their rights to practice their religion.

There's a positive, corrective and training aspect to it because the children learn moral boundaries and take on moral codes

Phil Williamson
The group took its case to the High Court on Friday in search of a judicial review, but it could be several weeks before Mr Justice Elias makes his decision, which could have wide-ranging implications.

Asked if there were biblical grounds for their beliefs, the schools' counsel, John Friel, drew attention to passages from the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament.

Verses such as "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him" (Proverbs 13:24) and "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die" (23:13) were highlighted.

Parental consent

Before the hearing began, the school's head teacher, Phil Williamson, said teachers should be allowed to discipline pupils in this way, provided their parents had signed a consent form.

In 1999 the school took its case to the European Court of Human Rights, which advised teachers could smack pupils - as long as parents were in agreement, Mr Williamson said.

But the government would not accept the court's interpretation of the law that parents had the right to bring their children up as they - rather than the state - saw fit, he went on.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said this was misleading though, and claimed the court had actually rejected the case unanimously without a hearing.

Parental rights

Mr Williamson said the matter was a parental rights issue.

"All parents have the right to bring up their children according to their own philosophy and religious views - the government shouldn't interfere," he said.

Head teacher Phil Williamson
Phil Williamson: "Violent crime is escalating"
Mr Williamson said a healthy respect for the laws of the school community meant pupils then entered society as responsible citizens.

"We are not aiming at a suppressive, draconian, Dickensian regime," he said.

"There is a punitive part to corporal punishment - everyone has to learn there are consequences for breaking moral codes.

"But there's also a positive, corrective and training aspect to it because the children learn moral boundaries and take on moral codes," said Mr Williamson.

Since corporal punishment was outlawed in 1986, schools had become more violent places and violent crime generally had escalated, he said.

"Children as young as five are being excluded from our schools. You have to read the signs," he said.


Other disciplinary measures used by the school since caning and smacking were outlawed - such as suspension or expulsion - were not effective as they did not get to the root of the problem, he said.

Harking back to some Dickensian view of schooling is no way for a modern, civilised society to treat its children

So how would Mr Williamson answer the concerns of those who saw corporal punishment as a form of abuse?

"Our discipline would be reasonable and moderate - a smack on the leg or hand - and could no way be construed as abuse.

"It would be more abusive to send someone into society without the correct moral code," he added.

Parental backing

The NSPCC expressed dismay at the case, saying teachers and children's campaigners had fought "long and hard" to win a complete ban on corporal punishment in all schools.

"We should all be proud of this and be absolutely steadfast in defending it," a spokesman said.

"Harking back to some Dickensian view of schooling is no way for a modern, civilised society to treat its children."

However, there is some evidence to back the view that many parents support the use of corporal punishment.

A survey of 1,000 parents - carried out by FDS International for The Times Educational Supplement in January last year - showed 51% of parents favoured the return of corporal punishment, with 47% against.

Mr Williamson said he would consider taking the matter to the Court of Appeal if the application was thrown out - provided finances could be secured.

The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"Many are appalled by the idea of reintroducing physical punishment"
Phil Williamson, Head, Christian Fellowship School
"Government doesn't have the right to tell parents how to bring up children"

Corporal punishment
Is it needed in the classroom?
See also:

25 Mar 98 | Politics
Corporal punishment banned for all
07 Jan 00 | Education
Parents 'back corporal punishment'
07 Jan 00 | Education
Keeping order in class
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