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Discipline and Detention: Looking Back at School in the 1950s

By Ann Richardson January 29, 2017 Mindset

My husband and I had an unusual experience this week. We visited his old school, along with about 60 other men in their 60s and above. There were also a few other wives. Let me explain why we were there, and the impact of the visit.

New Use of School Premises

In the early 1950s, he went to a boys’ grammar school. In the UK, this is a state high school for boys aged 11 and over. It was located in the extensive docks area near Tower Bridge in the East End of London. Most of the boys were from local working class families, but the school had a good reputation and they studied hard.

In the late 1960s, the school re-located to another part of London and the premises were used for various other educational purposes. It eventually fell into dereliction. The area, in the meantime, changed beyond all recognition and is now full of restaurants and office buildings spilling over from the business district in the City of London.

A few years ago, the school building was bought by an Indian luxury hotel chain called the Lalit. It was given a complete makeover and is opening for business shortly. As part of the hotel opening, all alumni of the school and their wives were invited to a reception to see how it had changed. We were feted with champagne and taken around the building.

The old assembly hall had become an elegant dining room and the ordinary school rooms had become well appointed guest rooms. There were also the usual places associated with a hotel, including reception rooms, a bar and so forth. Everyone agreed that the renovation had been an excellent job. It was splendid to see.

Memories

While we trooped around the premises, the men exclaimed about the changes of use. They said things like “This used to be the physics lab!” and exchanged memories of being there.

There were memories of sports events, exams, the way assembly was run, particular teachers and eccentric classmates. Conversations started with “Do you remember…?”

But by far the most common memory was of having been caned by the headmaster. This is known in England as “six of the best.” One man remembered a stool he had to hold onto while he bent over to be thrashed. Another, presumably a bit of a tear-away, proudly claimed to have had over 150 lashings over his time at the school.

My husband said that he had had only one caning, for admitting that he had taken a second pudding, or dessert in American English, at lunch. He had not been the only boy to do so – just the only one to admit it.

Nobody remembered the head with any affection.

Women’s Memories

An equivalent group of women of a similar age, wherever they are in the world, are likely to have very different memories of school. Punishments might still be a strong component. Indeed, it brought back my own memories. I was generally a very well behaved little girl, but I still remember being called in to a head teacher when I was about eight for loudly singing the well-known Christmas carol about three kings in its inappropriate form. The words included something about a rubber cigar.

We girls were beaten much less frequently than boys, I am sure. However, we were told off, given detention and generally forced to undergo some unpleasant activity in an effort to make us behave. And corporal punishment continued in some places for a long time, as my daughter-in-law, who left her school in a small town in Louisiana in the 1980s, informs me.

These memories sit in the back of our heads, rarely aired. But when they come out, they are very strong.

What are your memories of school? Were you ever punished? What form did it take? How do you think this shaped your attitudes toward discipline in schools? Please join the conversation.

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Sadie Senior

Junior school was a generally happy place in spite of (or because of) the fact that teaching was no nonsense and we had to do as we were told. Corporal punishment was certainly used and quite freely although never brutally and the worse we ever got was smacked legs or a stinging rear. There was of course no sexual equality in those days which was brought home one particularly memorable occasion when the whole class was caught making a racket and the boys all were given the slipper by the headmaster and the girls spanked over the form teacher’s knee. There was some discussion after as to who had come off worse!

Debbie M

Yes I remember if there was too much noise that a slipper was brought out and those held responsible were made to bend over the teachers knee as a penance for the class. Like if you were out of your place when the teacher came in you were likely to be one of those picked to have your bottom warmed up. Happened to me more than once. There was one occasion in the top year infants where the whole class was spanked for making too much noise. The teacher got it another teacher to help her do it and we were a bit better behaved after.

Sadie Senior

Our school had a small swimming pool which was often freezing cold but provided us with fun like when we would jump in and water bomb our friends when the teacher wasn’t looking. One time four of us did it together which created an enormous splash which soaked the teacher. She hauled us out of the water and put us over her knee one by one and spanked us on our wet costumes, which made a loud noise and stung like anything. We were glad to get back in the water to cool our bottoms off! On another occasion about 20 of us were messing about pushing each other in and the like so the teacher lined us up and whacked us all with the slipper before we got changed. There was some discussion as to whose bottom had come off the worst!

Debbie M

We were on a field trip in the sixth form where we had to stay overnight for a couple of nights and on the first night six of us were in this room with bunkbeds and were fooling around when we should have been asleep and managed to turn one one the beds over. Our teacher was alerted by the noise and came in and gave us a good telling off then sat on the chair and proceeded to put each one of us over her knee and give us six resounding smacks on the bottom each, over our thin nightwear. I think our cries of distress must have echoed to the other girls as a warning. We righted the bunk and went to bed with very sore bottoms and lay on our stomachs. All was forgiven in the morning but we made sure we behaved better the next night!

Sadie Senior

Saturday morning detention at the girls grammar school was certainly a highly unpleasant experience. Not only did you have three hours of extra school where you were grinding out impositions in strict silence, there was also the presence of a teacher who also did not wish to be there and was highly displeased with us for making us give up her Saturday morning supervising detention. She had a slipper which she was quite prepared – if not quite keen – to use on the bottom of any girl who misbehaved in any way. Therefore detention never usually passed without some girl (or girls) getting the whack and having to sit on a sore bottom for the rest of the detention class!

Debbie M

When we were 4th years at secondary school we got a class detention from our form mistress for playing up a student teacher. Frankly the student teacher hadn’t got a clue and we had reached a stage of naughtiness where we knew every trick to make a clueless teachers’ life hell. The lessons were becoming a riot. Unfortunately for us our teacher was observing the lesson from a neighbouring classroom and told us to stay in after school. We thought it would be a detention but she tore a off a strip then got her slipper out and told us to come out one by one and bend over the front desk. So for the next 10 minutes or so the time was taken up with every girl being spanked. The teacher was a fit lady and laid it on with the slipper as if she was beating a carpet. We sat on very sore bottoms sniffling through the rest of detention and were much better behaved for the student teacher.

Debbie M

While there was general agreement that getting the cane was the worst thing by far, opinion was more divided between whether a smacked bottom (hand or slipper) was preferable to spending time in the detention room. Getting smacked or slippered was unpleasant and painful in the short term but in those days you soon got over it and at least you didn’t have to tell your mum you got detention, which inevitably led to questions about what you did to get into trouble!

Joan Summers

Me and a friend were sent to the head for talking in assembly. He told us off then put us over his knee one by one and smacked our bottoms. We felt a bit sore and humiliated but we soon got over it and were actually rather glad we’d had ‘the whack’ rather than detention as then we didn’t have to tell our mums we’d misbehaved. I don’t think I ever told my mum I’d been a naughty girl!

Debbie M

As a great talker I was caught talking in assembly when I was about 10 and made to stand at the front. When everyone was dismissed I got a good telling off and an even better smacked bottom and told to go to my class. Can you believe that my teacher was not at all sympathetic to my plight and told me off for being late to her class and put me over her knee and gave me another smacked bum for that! I did not like to argue that it wasn’t fair as the only other time I had said that I’d got extra smacks for my trouble. Those sure were the days!

Sadie Senior

My friend and I were whispering during the hymn and the teacher came up behind us and gave us a couple of sharp smacks each on the bum – one smack on each buttock. We had just to keep singing as she smacked us so as not to be seen by the head. Our friends thought it was amusing. After the assembly was over she told us off and put us over her knee for three more smacks each. Most embarrassing. I think our faces were redder than our bottoms.
on another occasion during the prayers a note was passed down the line from one girl and unfortunately I was one in the way who had to pass it along. Sadly the head noticed what was going on and told us all to go to her room after the assembly, where we all got the slipper. I could have killed a girl who wrote the note and got us all into trouble!

Mrs Jane Margaret Hewitt

I was having a naughty spell in my 1st year of Junior School, the first time, the teacher told me to stand in the corner, the secomd time, I was told to stand outside the classroom and if the head came over I could tell her why I was there, the third time, the teacher gave both my legs a smack and made me stand in front of the blackboard, and gave me a detention, I didnt turn up for the detention, so she had to come and find me, and take me back to the classroom….did I get enough punishment for this as I was being naughty deliberately, or should I have been sent to the Head teacher, when I didnt go back for detention, so the Head teacher could cane me, as that is what I think should have happened, although the punishment did make me think twice about misbehaving, but still think I should have got the cane

Kelly C

Standing in the corner or getting a smacked bottom was quite a regular thing in primary school but I don’t think we were any the worse for it. We were actually quite wild kids once the teacher went out the room but very well-behaved when they were there. I remember about six of us girls being caught messing around during a wet break by the head who made us stand with our noses to the blackboard. When our form teacher came back she told us how displeased she was with us and then proceeded to put each one of us over her knee and smack our bottoms. Of course we weren’t the only ones messing about but we were the ones who got caught.

Sadie Senior

The regularity with which we were smacked at school would shock people these days but not in the days of the Beano and other comics. Not too many days went past without someone over the teachers’ knee or the desk but we always took it in our stride. I once made a cheeky remark to my teacher who told me to come out the front. Two minutes later I was returning to my seat with a stinging rear and a red face having been smacked over the teacher’s knee for my troubles and my cheek, much to the amusement of my classmates. Somewhat embarrassing but it was all in a days work in those days.

Debbie M

One of our teachers had a slipper which she kept in the cupboard and if you were naughty you were required to go and get the slipper and hand it to her before bending over her knee, when the slipper did its work on your poor little bottom. After it was over we then had to return the slipper to the cupboard with stinging bottom. It was all done as a bit of a game but it didn’t stop the slipper stinging our bums and I guess went a long way towards keeping order in those days. My bottom and that slipper certainly had a few meetings during that year! Did we tell our mums? Never! We just hoped our mums had not found out we had misbehaved!

John

I Left school 1966. looking back now I think some teachers were sadistic. The headmaster had punched boys with his fist. Did we deserve it?
Its very hard to say. Was a different world. I hated every second of it. School that is Was bottom of the class in everything including being bottom of the Class. I left as a no hoper. I went through the 70’s without a penny. Tons of Jobs. I remember I worked for Max Factor for two hours hated it. got a job same day next door in Websters making the make up cases. I went through 50 or more places of employment like this and one could do it then. In the 80’s my fortunes changed I became a very rich man. nothing my school could have predicted or taught me through my own initiative . i’m 71 now still a rich man Bottom of the heap did me no harm. . Discipline yes the slipper for boys Six of the worst i used to call it. Did i get it. i can not remember.

Oh something did come back to me. Junior school short trousers. Teacher would put you over their knee and try in vain to roll the leg of ones trousers up. Does anyone remember this? if it was that crucial why didn’t they just did not take them down

Debbie M

Oh John! So sorry about that headmaster. No child should be punched with a fist. You are right that it was a very different world to the one we live in today. I’m glad you’ve come through it and have prospered. We know someone who was absolute rubbish at school but then went on to make a lot of money in business. When I asked him the secret he said, “I live by my wits rather than by my academics!” I must say that wits tended to pay better than academics in those days.
As for the slipper we did see plenty of that over the teachers knee or bending over. But I don’t think our teachers were sadists just strict but fair. I can honestly say that if I was spanked I deserved it. Boys tended to be spanked more than girls but as I was a bit of a tomboy I tended to be spanked more than the other girls.
If boys had their trousers rolled up it was usually to smack legs and was done under the teacher’s arm. Girls of course had their skirts raised and the smacks on the top of bare legs really hurt. You also had to explain to your mother why your legs been smacked. Mothers in those days were not very sympathetic to misbehaviour at school.

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The Author

Ann Richardson’s most recent book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, comprises a series of reflections on growing older and is partly a memoir. Her three other books explore other people’s thoughts, experiences and emotions in their own words. Ann lives with her husband in London, England. Please visit her website: http://annrichardson.co.uk.

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