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19 Jan 2010

Smacking Pupils in UK Part-time Schools Could Be Banned

A loophole allowing corporal punishment to be used in part-time schools is to be urgently scrutinised by the government's child safety adviser.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls is writing to Sir Roger Singleton asking him to consider the rules on physical punishment - and report within a week.

The corporal punishment ban does not cover schools where lessons are taught for fewer than 12.5 hours per week.

MPs have challenged the use of physical punishments in religious schools.

Mr Balls has written to his chief adviser on the safety of children asking him to re-consider the rules surrounding the use of corporal punishment in "part-time educational and learning settings".

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker has also written to MP Ann Cryer, following her calls in the House of Commons that there should be no exemption from the ban on corporal punishment "teachers in madrassas or in other religious schools".

The MP had called on ministers to end the right of teachers in such part-time settings to use physical punishments.

The defence of reasonable punishment may be available to those who teach in certain part-time educational and learning settings

Corporal punishment has been made illegal in state and independent schools - but parents are allowed to give their children a "mild smack".

This right to smack extends to those who have parental responsibility, such as grandparents or other family members.

It is under this exemption that adults in part-time educational settings have been able to defend their use of corporal punishment as "reasonable punishment", because they are held to have the status of someone standing in for a parent.

"It is the case that the defence of reasonable punishment may be available to those who teach in certain part-time educational and learning settings, for example religious instruction that children attend at the weekend," writes Mr Balls to Sir Roger.

In his reply to Ms Cryer in the House of Commons last week, Mr Balls said: "The important point to make is that there is not one rule for a child in a madrassa and another for a child in a school or in any other circumstance.

"The use of physical punishment against any child is wrong; it is outside the law and is not fair to children.

"I do not think that we should tolerate any use of physical punishment in any school or learning setting in which trusted adults are supposed to be looking after children, not abusing them," said Mr Balls in the Commons.

But the letters from Mr Balls and Mr Coaker both highlight concerns that if the exemption were to be withdrawn it could cause unintended consequences for families.

"We simply do not want to criminalise decent parents who decide to administer a mild smack," writes Mr Balls.

Mr Coaker suggests that grandparents trying to help support their families could also face a ban on administering punishment.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families says ministers want to clarify the rules surrounding such part-time educational settings, and want Sir Roger to respond by next week.

With thanks to BBC News for this news item: