Schools had a “no touch” policy, meaning teachers were not even allowed to come into physical contact with young children
My wife, who is Catalan, recently contacted a compatriot of hers to organise an exchange programme between Catalan and British schoolkids. The woman had not long ago returned from living in the UK and told my wife that background checks in my native country are now very strict, which means that bringing kids here to Catalonia would require researching the backgrounds of those involved. She added that when she lived there, certain schools had a “no touch” policy, teachers were not even allowed to come into physical contact with young children, a measure she found extreme.
Shocked by this news herself, my wife decided to take her English husband (me) to task on the issue. What is interesting is that she immediately related physical contact to providing affection, and the fact that research has demonstrated how kids need affection while growing up for good emotional health as an adult. She thought that the UK policy could have the opposite effect of that desired and potentially lead to kids living in fear of adults rather than educating them about when lines are being crossed.
Upon looking further into the issue, I discovered that the “no touch” policy had been in the UK news a few years ago, and appeared to be the result of a zero risk attitude towards physical and sexual abuse. However, my first thought was that it would seem to imply treating teachers as potential offenders.
Interested as I am in cultural differences, I suggested to my wife that this was evidence of a difference in where cultures decide to draw the line. I guess the UK policy was based on a belief that people need clear guidelines: that there can be no grey area when it comes to abuse. My wife's response was that she can't imagine a school where teachers aren't allowed to touch kids, viewing physical contact as a natural consequence and means of building trust and relationships - without it kids learn to be distant and more isolated. This would echo the research findings mentioned earlier.
Although it was encouraging to find so many protests to the rule in my research into it on the Internet, from both British teachers and parents alike, to me it still raised the following questions: is the fact that there even was a rule in the first place an example of my native culture going to extremes to deal with a problem which needs more social education than simplistic guidelines? A case of the British character needing to draw clear lines so people are aware of right and wrong, when I would agree with my wife and argue that the real question is more related to what kind of approach is actually more effective in dealing with social problems like abuse? Perhaps my native culture could take a leaf out of my adopted culture's book and simply encourage people to be more expressive about their feelings in the first place ?