Email to the BBC’s Sarah Montague about corporal punishment

Dear Sarah

I was interested to listen to the short debate you led this morning on the Today Programme regarding corporal punishment in school.

During the debate you referred to "the fact that discipline has deteriorated" among children in schools. I would be very grateful if you could tell me what sources you have for this "fact"? It was certainly an interesting debate but one in which all participants – including you! -supported the highly questionable assumption that children’s behaviour has got worse.

For example, "about 80% of the teachers who responded to the 1985 NAS/UWT survey said that they thought violence and disruption had become more frequent in schools over the past 10 years". (Discipline in schools. Report of the Committee of Enquiry, chaired by Lord Elton, 1989, Department of Education and Science and the Welsh Office. HMSO, p. 58)

The problem is ten years before – in 1975 – Rhodes Boyson MP was complaining about being "besieged by people, particularly parents, anxiously questioning the present state of British education. Are standards falling? Is discipline worse? Are children reading less well?" (Rhodes Boyson, The Crisis in Education, 1975, The Woburn Press, London, introduction)

Throughout history you can find complaints that discipline was better in the ‘golden age’ ten or twenty years ago – right back to an Egyptian inscription 6,000 years ago which noted "Our earth is degenerate. Children no longer obey their parents." (Fran Wasoff and Ian Dey, Family Policy, 2000, Routledge, p.14)

In the future I hope you will make more of an attempt to question the assumptions that debates on this topic are based – which will surely lead to a more accurate and useful discussion.

Kind regards

Ian Sinclair

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