Ian Clayton column: Six of the best?

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A man named Mark called at my house over the Easter holidays to show me an old book his father had found years ago when they were knocking down the old village at Loscoe.

It’s a handsome volume, well bound and with marbled board covers. It is a record of corporal punishments meted out at the Loscoe Grove School going right back to 1907.

It lists the names of those punished, their age, the nature of their offence and the extent of the punishment, including whether the punishment was administered with the cane, the slipper or the hand and which part of the body was struck.

It makes some fascinating reading. For those of us old enough to remember, or to have suffered, this archaic form of school discipline it makes you shudder; for those who went to school after the 1970s it will all seem a bit bizarre.

I won’t mention any names, because I’m sure the great grandchildren of those in the book will still be around, but it’s worth noting some of the stuff kids could be punished for in those days.

In 1907, two girls aged 12 and 13 were each given one stroke of a bamboo cane across the hand by the head teacher for throwing stones at one another.

In the same year a young lad of nine was given four strokes for climbing on a lavatory door, which seems a bit harsh compared with the one stroke that a lad of 12 got for ‘striking another boy in the face.’

There are repeated instances of children as young as seven being beaten for ‘disobedience’ ‘talking in class,’ ‘going home at playtime,’ ‘careless work,’ and ‘general laziness’ but there are some that make you wince and chuckle at the same time.

In 1909, three boys were given two strokes of the cane on their backsides for eating wheat in class, a few years later a boy was caned for ‘breaking another boy’s hoop’ and then there was the case of a nine-year-old called Arthur who was punished for climbing into an ash midden!

Four likely lads from Standard 3 were given four strikes each for ‘making fives’ (for those not in the know ‘making fives’ is an old expression for ‘showing a fist.’)

But pity the poor lads who were beaten for ‘passing notes to girls,’ the girls who got it for ‘passing notes to boys’ and the poor little devil who got a feel of the cane for turning up to school ‘in a dirty condition.’

Corporal punishment, that’s to say beatings with a stick, a shoe or a paddle has been outlawed in British schools since 1987 and in private schools here since the late 1990s.

This country was a bit slow on the uptake, Poland banned corporal punishment in schools as long ago as 1787, Russia in 1917 and Holland and Norway made it illegal in the 1920s.

In many European countries, the punishment of children by beating is also illegal in the home. There are some states in the USA which continue to allow forms of school punishment.

The late Swiss psychologist, Alice Mille wrote: “There is no educational value from spanking, it only causes fear and in fear the child’s attention is absorbed by the strategy of survival.

“They do not absorb messages about right behaviour in fear and thus stop learning from our words, but learn from our behaviour, thus learning violence and hypocrisy through imitation.”

To illustrate the above point, I’ll tell you about something that happened to me at school – again no names mentioned. I once came home from school at dinnertime with a black eye. My dad asked: “Who’s done that to you?” I told him the name of the lad who had punched me in the free dinners queue.

My dad asked if I hit him back and when I said no he said: “Well get back up to that school and give him one back.” I did and I got caught and I got caned for it and a letter was sent to our house to tell my parents why.

My dad said: “If I hear about you getting into bother any more, you’ll feel this” and he started to loosen his belt.

I complained that it was he who had told me to do it in the first place. Incredulous he said: “I didn’t tell thee to get caught and be careful with your cheek or else you’ll get some more of what’s coming!”

And they say those were the good old days eh?