11. Corporal punishment

Looking back, it seems almost impossible that children as young as 7 years old, of my generation, were ‘beaten with sticks’. Of course it was not thought of in quite those terms, but that’s what it was. When we moved from infant to junior school at the age of seven we entered a world where the punishment for misdemeanours could be, and usually was, to be caned on the open hand(s) with a length of bamboo. I had it happen to me and have seen a six-foot tall ex-guardsman caning a child less than half his height. Legends abounded of canes steeped in vinegar and taped to stop them splitting. These were not thin, flexible Tom Brown’s Schooldays canes; they were usually short and quite thick, and boy did they hurt – sometimes even drawing blood. Some boys used them as a badge of courage, but since they were applied for the most trivial of offences it was almost impossible to avoid them now and then. The times were such that you tried not to tell your parents as they would see it as ‘shame on the family’ and punish you again for good measure.

This form of punishment carried through into senior school although ‘getting the whacks’ or ‘six of the best’ was usually administered to the seat of the pants while bending over a suitable item of furniture. Old boys of the schools I taught in often bragged about punishments they had received, usually from the headmaster.

When I started teaching in Gateshead in the early 60s staff had access to a tawse. This was a leather strap about 60 mm wide and 5 mm thick, split into two fingers for half its length. They were the ‘weapon of choice’ in Scotland. I must admit that a length of Bunsen burner tubing or a large blackboard ruler served just as well.

Corporal punishment was banned in UK state schools in 1986, but continued in independent schools until 1998.


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