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Exercise 23

In a paragraph of around 100 words, summarise the steps Mr Lewis took to abolish corporal punishment, and describe his attitude to education.

Goodbye to the cane

'If the head says there will be corporal punishment in the school then you are bound to get unofficial face slapping and hitting with bits of wood, metal, slippers and anything else, all the way down. And if that school shows you its punishment book with one entry a term, then I don't believe it. I know because I went through that.'
Mr David Lewis, headmaster of Redefield secondary school, which serves the huge Blackbird Leys housing estate in Oxford, did not find it easy to get rid of the cane, but he has succeeded and now stands a firmly committed abolitionist.
It was a gradual process with no help from the LEA. (Oxford City has only recently decided to abolish corporal punishment in primary and secondary schools as from January). The cane disappeared from the upper school in 1965, much earlier than in the lower school which finally got rid of corporal punishment about three years ago.
The last time Mr Lewis wanted to cane a boy he had difficulty finding a cane. Eventually he found a small dilapidated one meant for junior children and administered the punishment. But he does not think it hurt the fourth former very much.
Mr Lewis became head of the school when it opened as a new secondary modern with only 50 children in 1963. Now it has 788, all but a handful from council houses. Most parents work at the nearby British Leyland Cowley car factory.
Because numbers in the beginning were so small and the growth of the school was gradual, problems of discipline and violence were minimal, and he feels he was luckier than other schools in this respect, particularly with the older children.
However, the discipline of the lower school had been given over completely to the lower school head who believed in corporal punishment. Mr Lewis decided not to interfere. The responsibility, he said, had been delegated and it was 'not up to me to tell him how to do his job'. At that time, around 1966-67, there were about three first and second year children being caned each week. Most of the staff were in sympathy with the headmaster over corporal punishment - namely that violence on children by teachers did not solve any problems or do any good for the children or the school as a whole. When the particular lower school head left Redefield, corporal punishment stopped. There were no riots; the school continued as normal.
Mr Lewis did not mention it to anyone explicitly. In time, he began to say more and more in conversation with staff or pupils, or at school assembly that he did not like the cane, that Redefield did not have a cane and finally that it never wanted to use the cane. The hardest period for Redefield was getting the last few teachers to 'cross the bridge' as Mr Lewis puts it. There was then the problem of ensuring that no unofficial corporal punishment went on in the classrooms, and cloakrooms, whether it was ear-clipping or hitting a child with a block of wood. Once the main task has been achieved, coping with the unofficial side is probably the most difficult for any school. Teachers' habits die hard. While there was no hounding of those few teachers who had their own rules at Redefield, Mr Lewis said it was essential that it stopped because by this time he was openly saying to his children, 'We don't want to hit you because we don't believe in violence and we are not a violent school.'
The fact that Redefield is a happy place to visit is not of course due only to the abolition of corporal punishment. But it is an essential part of the overall philosophy of the school - 'Children must be encouraged to grow up. This means they must be encouraged to have their own dignity and self-respect and must be respected as individuals by us' (extract from the aims and objects of the school issued to staff before they join Redefield).

(Report by Mark Vaughan in The Times Educational Supplement)

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