The punishment system 1927-1961

Memories of the School Punishment System – by Graham Fielder

Frequently, articles in the national press mention the problem of maintaining discipline in many of the schools of today and the educational consequences that ensue.  The position in the past was significantly different.

While pondering my time (1948-55) at school I began to dwell on the institutional methods used to keep the essential order and discipline needed for teaching and learning in a community of boys – the punishment system. Young boys starting their career at school quickly became aware of the way things were done, the standards of conduct expected of them and the consequences of non-compliance.  Few would have passed through the school without experiencing at least one or, in some cases, all of the range of punishments available to those invested with authority.   Some old boys may like to remind themselves of the system or compare it with their own time.  The writer would be pleased to hear of personal memories and experiences.

The personality of individual members of staff and prefects was usually sufficient to maintain the standard of behaviour expected in the school but at some time most would have had to have recourse to the punishments available to them.  ‘Offences’ would range from minor, often unintentional, infringements to more serious breaches.

At a simple and informal level both members of staff and prefects could give a boy an ‘imposition’.  This usually took the form of ‘lines’ frequently commencing with ‘I must not. ……etc.’ which had to be written about one hundred times.

Its deterrent efficacy was limited but it had an inconvenience side to it that was best avoided if a boy did not want his leisure time eroded.  It was given for minor infringements after prior warning to the whole class.   However, I remember, as a third year pupil our form master (Norman Siviter) having a much more onerous variant (mentioned in an article on “Spiv” elsewhere in this newsletter) which involved copying out selected hymns from the school hymn book (Songs of Praise).

Putting a boy ‘in detention’ was a formalised punishment that could be invoked by masters or prefects for more serious misdemeanours (‘insubordination’ etc.).  There was a Masters’ Detention Book’ and a Prefects’ Detention Book.   Members of staff would usually tell a boy to go and get the detention book from the Staff Common Room and on his return the details would be entered in the book.   Prefects would usually take the name and form number of a boy and enter them in the Prefects’ Book back at base.  Sub-Prefects could take the name of a boy and request a full prefect to enter it in the detention book.

Detention normally took place after school on the next school day.  However, there were cases were some habitual offenders had to be booked in on consecutive days. Boys were expected to assemble in Room 1 and await the arrival of the master who was on detention duty.  Names of those present were checked in both detention books – non-attendance was rarely contemplated, as the consequences were likely to be serious.  During the period of detention boys were expected to sit in silence for an hour of punishing boredom.  Lucky was the boy who had been assigned some work (such as repeated homework) to do by the master.

I have also been reminded that there was a ‘Delinquents’ Book’ (popularly known as the ‘Dinky’ book) for boys who had committed a serious breach of discipline or whose track record required that they were put ‘on report’ and so came to the attention of the Head Master for his decision. As can be seen from the attached photo on the right these misdemeanours were invariably followed by the award of between 1 and 6 strokes of the cane

A more ominous situation usually awaited the boy who was referred to Prefects’ Court, which was held every month under the direction of Mr. A. H. Watson (who was in overall charge of discipline in the school until he retired in 1955) and by the Headmaster KD Anderson until 1962 when caning ceased.**( see footnotes below)    As far as I can remember a boy could find himself in this position if he incurred three detentions within a specified period or, presumably, had committed some form of serious school offence.   Fortunately, I never had to experience this court, but as a prefect in my last year I remember the prefects sitting around in a semi-circle facing the front of the room.  The offender was brought in and asked if he had anything to say in respect of the charge.  He was then taken out of the room and a punishment was discussed and agreed – this was usually a number of strokes (e.g. 3) of the cane.   On being brought back into the room punishment was administered by Mr. Watson.  It was difficult not to feel for the boy being punished as he bravely bore the stinging pain inflicted by the instrument.  All this took place in the days before Human Rights legislation removed these sanctions against recalcitrant boys in the educational situation.  The present Head Teacher still has the school Punishment Book, in which details of canings had to be entered, and the school cane from those days.  On occasions when groups of old boys are at the school it is made available for inspection to those interested in its contents.

Footnote added by Doug Murgatroyd

This barbaric system came to an end in October 1961 when the Prefects voted to abolish it. KD, I seem to remember, was rather impressed with this altruistic gesture and rubber-stamped the decision. To present-day pupils these methods may seem anachronistic, but they were standard practice in schools at that time and accepted as part of the system.   There always existed an ultimate sanction and that was expulsion from the school and the end of a privileged educational opportunity.  I was not aware of that happening during my time at the school.

Footnote added by Wood-Kneller (1954-1961)

Barbaric it may have been, but it served me well in my life. I received three detentions from Robin Wills and duly appeared before the Prefects’ Court with Peter Thompson in the chair. I was escorted to the court room by John Smale. I count both of these gentlemen amongst my friends today. I was sentenced to “Three of the Best” which K D Anderson, the Head Master duly executed. I could barely walk to the railway station, had to stand in the train and said nothing to my parents.

I determined there and then to toe the line in future and have never regretted it to this day.