Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 15:07 GMT
Schools demand right to corporal punishment
The European Court of Human Rights will be asked to stop punishment ban
Christian schools opposed to the government's ban on corporal punishment are taking their protest to the European Court of Human Rights.
Legislation passed last year outlawed corporal punishment in all schools, including independent schools which had previously been able to set their own rules on discipline.
But headteachers of 20 independent church schools and schools run by parents say that this ban breaches "religious and parental" rights and as such are planning to take their complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Philip Williamson, headteacher of the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, said that "the government is stopping parents from selecting a school which reflects their philosophical beliefs".
"We believe strongly that the state has no right to interfere with the upbringing of children in the family unless there is some sort of assault or abuse going on".
Instilling a 'moral code'
Rejecting claims that using physical force as punishment is un-Christian, Mr Williamson said that "corporal punishment has been part of Judeo-Christian heritage since time immemorial".
The use of physical punishment was intended to "instil a moral code so that children can make moral choices and later become responsible adults", said Mr Williamson.
The schools are seeking to raise funds for their application to the European court, which they want to lodge before the corporal punishment ban comes into force in the beginning of the next school year.
The application to Strasbourg will claim that the School Standards and Framework Act, which includes the ban on corporal punishment, breaches the rights of parents and freedoms of religious expression guaranteed by international statutes of human rights.
Parents of the 200 pupils at Mr Williamson's school all have to sign a consent form allowing teachers to use physical punishment. At the Christian Fellowship School this takes the form of a smack on the hand or on the rear with a wooden ruler.
Children are given corporal punishment for misdemeanours including lying, stealing, deliberate disobedience, fighting and vandalism.
Mr Williamson describes his school as having grown from the non-conformist tradition in the church, but he says that his school now draws pupils from across a wide range of Christian and non-Christian families.