This week I read an article by Jarlath O’Brien (2016), the head of a school in the UK, whose school
is celebrating fifty years of education. This year we will celebrate the completion of twenty years;
not quite the same but still a somewhat significant milestone. In O’Brien’s school, they explored
historical artefacts including the Punishment Book. Records show the entries for those receiving
corporal punishment and the reason entered. These included many variations, one of which was ‘for
being a nuisance’, and notes that there was a period of sixteen years that went by where only male
students received the cane, despite being co-ed the whole time.

The article reminded me of my own education and I recall receiving the cane on more than one
occasion. I can recall precisely which office I was standing in when I received it, where I received
it, and my fingers going so numb I could not feel them after six strikes, how many times I received
the cane on each occasion and the person who gave it to me. What I cannot recall now is why I
received it. I can recall some others I knew who received the cane over the years, all male also in a
co-ed school. Not pleasant memories at all. Looking back I don’t think it influenced our behaviour or
thinking, other than to resent it and those who gave it. Building relationships wasn’t a strong point
of the schools I attended, mostly because it just wasn’t the approach taken back then. I cannot recall
ever having a teacher sit down with me, giving their time to counsel me in any way or trying to build
relationships outside of the functioning of a classroom.

Some people in our society are quick to criticise schools and teachers, sadly, in my view. However,
one very significant change that has occurred in so many schools over the years is the realisation that
you shape a young person’s behaviour by building those relationships, gaining respect and enabling
the young person to model their behaviour and thinking from those positive role models around
them, at home, at school, in sport, and so forth. We often refer to the ‘good old days’, but this is a
practice that I am pleased now only has a place in history, ceasing in most schools in the 1980s, thank

O’Brien calls for the excluding or isolating of students to be thought of as being as ineffective as
corporal punishment and hopes that in another fifty years from now, educators and parents will
view it in just the same way. Instead, he hopes that education moving forward continues to better
understand students as individuals and know more about differing levels of maturity and behaviour,
and to draw upon strategies to shape behaviour that work with children, not by excluding them, as
is currently common practice in just about all schools to some degree. Restorative practice has been
growing as a means to address bullying in schools over the past decade or so and has been brought to
prominence in Australia by Dr Ken Rigby. O’Brien suggests, however, that restorative practice should
be the means by which we influence behaviour in schools, founded on building relationships. I think
schools have been edging this way for some time, including our school.

As we reflect on the past, including our own schooling experiences (as parents and staff), we have
come a long way in many areas and none more so than the relationships built between staff and
students. Our swimming carnival this week was an example of that and the positive comments that
will flow from it will also service those relationships, and every ounce of it is genuine. O’Brien’s article
gives us as educators more to consider as we shape the future of education and let go of less effective
or ineffective practices and embrace strategies that make the most positive difference.