punishment belts yesterday finally joined writing slates, slide rules, and red-splattered maps of the British Empire in the school cupboard marked ''outdated resources''. As MPs voted to abolish corporal punishment in all British schools, the old maxim ''Spare the rod and spoil the child'' quietly slipped into history.

Expelled from the state school classroom by the 1987 Education Act, the strap and its English

counterpart, the cane, continued to feature in the disciplinary armoury

of many private and independent schools. Some even used the fact in their advertising.

As a result, the image of Billy Bunter and the cry of ''Bend over, boy'' lingered, especially in boarding schools, long after the reality

of life in the private sector had changed forever.

The last Government continued to defend the right of fee-paying parents to have their children beaten at school, despite mounting concern from international human rights monitoring bodies. No other European country allows corporal punishment in any of its schools. Indeed, some countries banned it more than a century ago.

Now an amendment to the School Standards Bill is finally bringing Britain into line, though nobody underestimates the capacity of Tory hard-liners in the House of Lord to undermine the reforming efforts of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.

In Scotland yesterday few mourned the passing of the instrument that had tingled the fingers of generations of pupils. Fettes College in Edinburgh, where Prime Minister Tony Blair was once caned, abandoned the practice nearly 20 years ago.

Not one of the 75 schools which make up the Scottish Council of Independent Schools still uses corporal punishment. Rose Bell, director of the Independent Schools Information Service says that even in the mid-1980s, when independent schools were surveyed on the subject, few regarded corporal punishment as

sensible or suitable. At the time the belt was banned in state schools, around 12 Scottish independents were still using some form of cor-poral punishment.

The Conservative Government's assisted places scheme put paid to that because state-funded pupils were covered by the ban and schools were reluctant to operate a two-strand

disciplinary system.

In England, where the scheme was used less widely, a number of priv-

ate and independent schools have retained caning or slippering as a

last resort.

Yesterday, the headteacher of what is believed to be the last primary school in Scotland to retain corporal punishment as an option, said he remained opposed to a ban.

Gordon Ackerman, head of Manna-fields, a 35-pupil parent-controlled church school in Edinburgh, said: ''I think it's sad for Britain. I still don't really believe it's going to go through. It very much limits the freedom of parents to have children educated in the way they want.''

Though corporal punishment re-mains an option at Mannafields, it has never been used. ''The policy

is that parents would be informed beforehand and there would be a

discussion,'' he said. In the most recent instance the school discussed the idea with the parents but didn't carry out the punishment because the threat was deemed to have achieved the objective.

EASILY forgetten is how much ''the Lochgelly'', as it was known, played an integral part in Scottish school life right into the 1980s. At the time two Scots mothers took their cases to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, abolitionists claimed that Scotland was the corporal punishment capital of Europe, with a child being belted on average every two seconds throughout the school week.

In the 1982 case, mothers Grace Campbell and Jane Cosans argued that their ''philosophical convict-ions'' against corporal punishment had been violated when the schools attended by their sons refused to

guarantee that the boys would not

be belted.

The judges dismissed the defence that corporal punishment was being gradually phased out in Scotland and concluded that even to threaten an individual with torture might constitute ''inhuman treatment''.

Strathclyde and Lothian moved quickly to end belting following

the case. The last four regions, Grampian, Tayside, Borders, and

the Western Isles were forced to introduce the policy when the ban was incorporated into the 1987 Education Act.

No country has ever re-introduced corporal punishment in schools, except Nazi Germany. Yesterday officials at the Educational Institute of Scotland said they believed the belt would never return, despite mounting disciplinary problems in schools.

Assistant Secretary Ken Wimbor said: ''Over the same period, we

have seen a less deferential attitude, not just to teachers but also

police and health service workers. This is something that would have happened anyway.''

Anne Stafford, head of policy at the charity Children First, said she welcomed yesterday's vote. ''Retaining the possibility of using corporal punishment is another example of inconsistent attitudes to violence. If it's acceptable to hit children, it can give them a very confused message about what it's acceptable for them to do to others.''

Meanwhile, at Mannafields, what will the headteacher being doing in response to today's vote? Gordon Ackerman's answer came in one word: ''Pray.''