School Caning Times

School CP times would have varied greatly between day and boarding schools but likely included one or more of the following:

  1. When  an offence was detected *
  2. At the end of the class in which an offence was detected*
  3. The day after an offence was detected to allow cooling off
  4. On a fixed day of the week.
  5. After morning assembly *
  6. After lunch break *
  7. At the end of the school day **
  8. Upon summons from the headmaster at his convenience
  9. During prep time
  10. After shower or bath time (apparently favoured by some paddle-happy coaches in the USA)
  11. At bed time
  12. Other – please detail.

Some believed no punishment should be administered until the parties had had time to cooled off in order reduce the risk of it being administered in a rage and to allow rights of appeal to be exercised. Others, especially on the receiving end thought making culprits wait was unnecessarily cruel and that punishment was best administered and received in the heat of the moment as being far more satisfying to those at both ends of the cane.

At my school boys caught fighting were subject to an immediate without inquiry four-of-the-best while still adrenalin charged, a bond-forming shared experience for the erstwhile enemies.

*The custom at my school

Specifically avoided at my school so boys could be monitored and counselled if needed / wouldn’t go home in a distressed state and complain to their mothers.

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At my school – almost always when the offense was detected,  Hauled out to the front belted in front the whole class.

Some exceptions :-

  • If you misbehaved at assembly you were belted after assembly was over.
  • Misbehaving during lunch (or recess) would be dealt with then the break was over.
  • Misbehaving during sports (if conducted off school premises) would be dealt with the next morning

But in the main it was all over and done with there and then,  If you were caught doing something wrong at assembly, you would be strapped next to the assembly area (sometimes having to go and get the strap from the staff room first). Otherwise, you were punished by the teacher in front of the whole class.

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This all sounds fairly familiar. My UK grammar school of the late 1960s used the cane. It was given at ‘appropriate’ times. If you missed the weekly school detention that was held on Thursday evenings you’d be caned after Friday morning assembly. Those caught chatting or messing about in assembly could also expect the cane after the assembly ended. Lunch time misbehaviour was normally dealt with at the start of afternoon school. Fighting at breaktime meant both lads were caned, often in front of each other, immediately after breaktimes. Problems at other times were generally dealt with immediately.
Most canings were fairly straight forward; a visits to the headmaster or deputy head were often over in a minute or so. It was fairly pointless as by then it was obvious you were going to be caned. A caning was the usual punishment for anything that was considered to be ‘serious’. It was generally two or three firm strokes across your backside.
Six of the best was reserved for the more serious offences and left you with a sore backside for the rest of the day and marks for up to a week.

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At my school, the cane wasn’t used by class teachers, but occasionally for crimes like smoking, fighting, or vandalism.  These were carried out by the headmaster, or another senior person, straight after you were caught and got seen by him.  There wasn’t really any concept of people having an ‘appointment’ to be caned like in the ‘Kes’ film, but I did know of other local schools where that did happen.

What we did have that might differ from other schools was that a few particularly naughty kids were ‘on report’.  This means that each lesson, the teacher had to give them a grade, and sometimes a comment on a report sheet, according to their conduct (or whatever they were on report for).  These people had to see the head (or a deputy) each Friday morning to discuss their conduct for the week, and if poor this could lead to a further sanction, such as detention or the cane, so in a way there was a weekly time when some people were at risk of being caned.

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At my school, St Joseph’s College, Blackpool punishment was mostly instantaneous after the event, and yes you could be strapped by a very angry teacher. However, occasionally it was not. The story I am about to tell is one example where it was but requires a bit of background.

The school ran a boarding department (about 80 out of 800 pupils).  This was mostly for the children of servicemen, or boys from local towns where daily commuting was difficult.  Although it was a Grammar School for years 7 -13) it also ran a prep department for years 5 and 6.  The school had two dormitories, one for years 5 to 8, i.e. prep and Forms one and two, the other for Forms three to five.  Six form boards shared two smaller rooms which housed each.  Outside the entrance to end of each the dormitories was a room where the Christian Brother in charge of each dormitory slept.

One of fellow boarders, David  Parker, who was in prep and about ten years old, had committed a minor infraction in  the home work room.  Brother McGovern waited until bed time and then told him he was going to be punished.  David was made to wait in pyjamas and dressing gown outside the brother’s room for an hour before Brother McGovern giving him six of the best on the hands, which David says was a traumatic experience.

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The lovely old English writer (and erstwhile prep schoolmaster) Arthur Marshall wrote, in his book on prep school life “Whimpering in the Rhododendrons”, that punishments were always given/received After Something.  After assembly, after lunch, after school, after prep, after supper. The punctuation marks in a school day, so to speak.  A little bit of waiting, a little bit of formality. Rather civilised really….

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At my secondary school the vast majority of the caning was done by the prefects, mainly third year sixth-formers Oxbridge bound, the crème de la crème of the school’s academic and sporting elite, or at least so they thought.  The Headmaster caned only very occasionally, usually as an alternative to expulsion for really serious infractions.  Some of the Masters used in-class slippering and similar second line SCP techniques, but only the Prefects and the Headmaster deployed canes.

The prefects were entitled to dispense up to three strokes of the cane after due consideration of possibly qualifying infractions by the prefects’ court.  The prefects were responsible for most non-academic discipline both in and out of school.  They were assisted by ‘privs’, short for privileged sixth formers, usually appointed from the second year sixth form, though a lucky few, including me, gained this promotion early in the first year sixth.

In my defence I didn’t welcome this honour because it allowed me to schedule those less fortunate for prefects’ court appearances and possible canings if their behaviour warranted it.  Certainly not!  As a school career long evader of SCP I certainly wasn’t going to put other people at risk of it.   I never actually entered anyone in the prefects’ court book, finding that a suitably intimidating ‘stop running!’ or ‘put your cap on!’  or even just ‘stop that!’ was quite sufficient to secure the desired effect.

No, it was all about the aforesaid caps.  Unless you were a prefect or a priv you had to wear the hated school cap at all times when outside the school in uniform.  From school gate to front or back door of domicile in fact on every school day and the various civic ceremonies in which the school participated.  In the street, on the train, on the bus, even in your dad’s chauffeur driven car.

If you were in uniform and could possibly be glimpsed by a member of the public caps had to be worn.  As for loosening or removing ties or pulling shirts out of trousers, in the 1950s nobody would have contemplated such heinous crimes, at least not at Nottingham High School.  And if they had even I would have booked them!

So those who made priv could throw the hated cap away for ever and take great pleasure in it.  Curiously if they made prefect cap wearing would resume, because prefects were entitled to a very upgraded and quite splendid cap with a superior embroidered badge and a luxurious tassel, known to be a proven babe magnet where young ladies from the adjoining girls schools were concerned.

Wednesday was prefects’ court day.  There wasn’t a lot of academic activity on Wednesdays.  Wednesday afternoon was devoted to Combined Cadet Force activities, or Civil Defence activities for pacifists like me.  And a double period of Wednesday morning was Tutor Set, spent with the tutor attached to each boy for the whole of his school career.

It was during Tutor Set that a priv would enter the room, traditionally without knocking, and announce to the Tutor ‘please sir, the prefects would like to see xyz’.  This was definitely not a request.  Tutors simply gestured to the boy or boys concerned to comply and that was that.  No question of intervention or enquiry.  They accompanied the priv up the many stairs to the prefect’s room, situated at the very top of the school’s impressive tower and were deposited in the queue outside to await the door opening and the bellowing of their surname to signify surrender to their fate.

I only experienced this once, early in my school career, for running in a quadrangle where only walking was allowed.  My knees were knocking with fear in my short trousers by the time I was called in.  What I saw didn’t help matters.  The ‘court’ was assembled seated behind the table in front of which I stood nervously.  And on the table was the book, presumably open at the page detailing my offence, and a cane.

I’d never seen a real full sized crook handled school cane before.  The thought of it being lashed three times across the tightly stretched bent over seat of my short trousers boosted the knocking knees to at least double speed if not faster!  Events were fairly perfunctory.  Guilt wasn’t really an issue.  You could mount a defence, but as you were in the book you were clearly guilty, so unless you had an outstandingly exceptional case whatever was coming your way was going to be visited on you anyway, possibly with a bonus for wasting time.

I was a first offender (previous form was heavily ‘taken into consideration’ in prefectorial justice) and the infraction was a minor one so I was let off with lines.  Had I been sentenced to the cane I would have faced a delay.  Traditionally those facing the cane had a right of appeal to the Headmaster.  It wasn’t the done thing to exercise this as the assumption was that success would be elusive, unlike the possibility of an increased penalty.  However even if right of appeal was rejected on the spot there were no canings in the 3 hour court session.

Those to be caned had to negotiate a later day and time when punishment could be administered.  Morning or afternoon break, lunch time, a free period perhaps.  The unfortunate might have to wait over a weekend.  There were nearly always a few prefects available in their common room, as scheduled formal periods of instruction were relatively sparse in the third year sixth.  Someone to wield the cane together with an audience of a few more prefects could usually be guaranteed at the most likely times of day.

Caning by the prefects was more of a deterrent to some than others.  Referred to as ‘getting beats’, the nervous and goody goody faction, of which I was a devout member, tried very hard to make sure they didn’t!  Some however took it in their stride  Especially so dedicated cap evaders, of which there were several, who would eventually incur one stroke, then two strokes, and thereafter repeated three strokes.

They apparently thought it was worth it.  Even having to wear a cap for the whole of my school career probably wouldn’t have persuaded me to agree with them.  Luckily I didn’t have to put the matter to the test.