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Attitudes and responses of teachers and the Queensland Teachers Union

Most teachers supported the use of corporal punishment as a necessary evil. In 1874 a number of questions were sent to all head teachers, including those in charge of provisional schools. One hundred and seventy-two replies were received. Question 11 asked: 'How do you enforce discipline in your school?' and the answers given were as follows36:

Four teachers did not answer. Those that did answer gave, in many cases, several methods, by which according to circumstances, they maintain discipline - the most usual combination being - (1) By appeal to moral feelings, or by personal influence; (2) By detentions, or impositions, or loss of marks; (3) By corporal punishment as a last resource, - with which main methods, other plans are occasionally combined, as shown in the following statement:
  • 105 teachers appeal to the cane as a last resource;
  • 76 teachers maintain discipline by detentions, impositions, or loss of marks;
  • 47 teachers appeal to moral feelings or by personal influence;
  • 33 teachers by vigilance, kindness, and firmness;
  • 26 teachers by keeping the children constantly employed, requiring prompt obedience, or by giving badges and marks of merit, or conduct reports;
  • 13 teachers by 'standing out' the children;
  • 10 teachers by strict adherence to the time table and school rules;
  • 1 teacher by shutting out of school;
  • 1 teacher by unremitting attention to the school 'horarium';
  • 1 teacher by compulsory exercise after school;
  • 1 teacher by relying on the co-operation of parents in extreme cases;
  • 1 finds the maintenance of discipline difficult because of the interference of parents;
  • 1 says that girls are more difficult to manage than boys because they are exempted from corporal punishment;
  • 1 reproves children in private;
  • 1 reserves the cane for disobedience and immoral offences;
  • 3 inflict no corporal punishment; 1 inflicts corporal punishment on girls not exceeding 8 years of age; and 1 on boys only;
  • 2 say that their pupils are very docile.

In 1975, E. P. Clark, General Secretary of the Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) stated that teachers were loathe to dispense with the use of the cane37. Commenting on a recently formed association, Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, the same spokesman, in 1979, asked parents to accept the existing Departmental regulations38.

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Many teachers found the regulations too restrictive and actively but unsuccessfully campaigned to extend the freedom of teachers in the area of corporal punishment. This found continual expression in the QTU annual conferences and in the press. For example, the 1916 conference carried a motion that girls over 12 years should no longer be exempted from receiving corporal punishment. In 1937 a teacher correspondent was urging that the cane should be used on girls who had not been very well brought up at home39.

Another provision of the corporal punishment regulations, however, stimulated the strongest and most prolonged opposition from assistant teachers. This was the provision which gave certain teachers the authority to inflict corporal punishment. With the passage of time this power was progressively removed from the hands of assistant teachers. One correspondent in 1986 pointed out the anomaly that a young inexperienced head teacher of a one-teacher school had this power while an older more experienced assistant teacher in a large centre was deprived of it40. Another suggested in 1936 that the assistant teacher should be able to cane under limitations imposed by the head teacher41.

This issue was raised repeatedly at QTU conferences and in 1958 an editorial in the Queensland Teachers Journal advocated that assistant teachers should have the right to administer corporal punishment42. After that time, however, it not appear to be such an important issue with the Union. By 1979 the Union's attitude coincided with that of the Minister for Education - maintenance of the status quo43.

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A small minority of teachers did, over the years oppose corporal punishment. While some of these, including head teachers, were content to ban it from their classrooms and endeavour to exclude it from their schools, a few teachers endeavoured to have it banished from all schools in the State. The most persistent of these was W. Collings, who ultimately became head teacher of Wilston State School. Collings was recognised by the Department and his fellow teachers as a very successful teacher who had eliminated the use of corporal punishment from his schools. Collings lectured at meetings of teachers and numerous outside organisations on the need to abolish corporal punishment and he wrote to newspapers and journals on the same subject. For example he presented a paper at a teachers meeting in 1908. At this meeting, it was suggested by some other teachers that he was successful in his policy because of his personality44. In 1921 he gave a lecture at the Workers Educational Association in which he scathingly attacked those schools where corporal punishment was too frequently resorted to. He cited the case of one metropolitan school which averaged 500 such punishments a week He claimed that this did not prove to be any deterrent. In addition, he claimed that the use of corporal punishment was influenced by the teacher's condition at the time. It was well known that a teacher with a 'bad head' after a night's 'enjoyment' was more prone to cane. Furthermore, he claimed that boys were often punished for the same offences as those committed by teachers, namely swearing and smoking45.

Other reasons for the abolition of corporal punishment were presented at various times by teachers. For example it was claimed that: it was an easy, lazy method which brutalised the inflictor (1921)46, it was a rigid discipline imposed systematically by brutal teachers who did not make an effort to apply better methods and to encourage self-control (1942)47; and it reflected more the attitudes and practices of a Nazi ideology than that of a democracy (1944)48.

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By 1974, this minority viewpoint has gained support. At an Australian Teachers' Federation conference in that year the following resolution was passed: 'Teachers organisations, in furthering education for peace, should establish at all levels a code of practice which would lead to the elimination of corporal punishment in schools'49. In 1977 the General Secretary of the Queensland Teachers Union, E. P. Clark, stated that opposition to corporal punishment had built up recently at QTU Council meetings50.

In the past, teachers were quite frank in describing, in the Queensland Teachers Journal, violations of the corporal punishment regulations. Following the normal practice for correspondents in that journal, these teachers used pseudonyms. In 1896 one such anonymous teacher accused head teachers of keeping down entries either by 'forgetting' to enter punishments or by 'informal punishments':

The inspectors also seem to have instructions to discourage corporal punishment and officially look grave at many entries, declaring 'idleness' to be a trivial breach of school discipline, though one can see their hearts belie their words51.

In 1938 the following claim was made by 'Green Ant':

… there are, in the inspectorate, men who in their time kept good schools; they were redoubtable wielders of the willow. Now they are inspectors they praise the administration of schools where corporal punishment according to the punishment register is seldom imposed. What happens accordingly is that head teachers systematically forget to make entries… For the truth of the matter is that corporal punishment is inflicted almost everywhere and by almost everyone. Hands, rulers, knuckles, sticks of all shapes and sizes are used as well as canes, and from the babies class upward. Indeed, schools that inspectors have held up as examples of good discipline and of good results are notorious for maintaining the policy of an 'open go'52.

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In the same year one teacher, 'XYZ', admitted that when he went to one school he walloped the children into shape, but never entered these punishments in the punishment register. Consequently, he was praised by the inspector for 'splendid discipline without corporal punishment'. 'XYZ' admitted that he was a hypocrite53. In 1946 'Q.R.N.' wrote:

Almost every reader of the Journal knows very well that, apart from corporal punishment legally inflicted by the head teacher for wilful and persistent disobedience etc, and duly recorded as such in the punishment register, there is a good deal of caning that never goes down in the book, not to mention various slaps and cuts with a ruler or pointer administered by teachers not thereto authorised by the Minister for Public Instruction. Let us be honest, it happens in the majority of schools and parents generally do not object if the child is not marked54.

Teachers put forward various reasons to explain why corporal punishment was used. In 1896 one teacher claimed: 'Where a child scorns loving persuasion, and defies kindly authority, the ultimate resort must be to physical compulsion'55. One comprehensive explanation was offered in 1946 by 'Q.R.N.' who claimed that it was a symptom of grave disorders. He listed unpainted ramshackle buildings in disrepair, hard wooden backless forms, large classes, poor equipment, teachers with low academic attainment, teachers with little professional knowledge and teachers obsessed by a constant drive to get 'results. 'Q.R.N.' said that the Department deprecated cramming yet head teachers saw crammers promoted or appointed inspectors. Ultimately the fault lay at the door of a whole system of education56. In 1958 an editorial singled out the problem posed by large classes and the difficulties faced by younger inexperienced teachers57. In relation to large classes, in the past, some teachers had to teach up to 60 pupils or more in rather confined spaces.

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During the 1970s, the QTU urged the elimination of those conditions which led to the use of corporal punishment. The following measures were identified as being most appropriate: introducing more relevant syllabuses, creating smaller high schools, assisting inexperienced teachers and providing social workers to liaise with the home and solve disciplinary problems58.

A joint Departmental-Teachers Union committee met on several occasions in 1978-9 to grapple with the problem of discipline and corporal punishment. Since disciplinary problems usually cause the administration of corporal punishment, it is worth looking at the major points made in the Committee's interim report. It was claimed that city schools were more affected than schools in rural areas, large schools were more affected than small schools, and the problem was more serious in the lower Years. Causes of disciplinary problems were identified outside the school system and the following within the school system: growth in the size of schools, over-large classes, irrelevance of some schooling, the transition from primary to secondary school and such teacher characteristics as inexperience, mistaken attitudes, incompetence, and inadequate preparation and training for coping. To solve disciplinary problems attention was focused on dealing with these factors. In a list of sanctions to be applied to students creating disciplinary problems, corporal punishment was not mentioned59. This report could be seen as a genuine effort on the part of the Department and the QTU to make corporal punishment no longer necessary in secondary schools.

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Last reviewed
10 January 2013
Last updated
10 January 2013