School Detentions

I apologise in advance to those who think this is off-topic but although there was/is a separate group for discussing detentions, it never really seemed to go anywhere and had few members.  I write spanking fiction, often in a school setting, and go to a lot of trouble to try to be as authentic as possible.  I’m a Brit so my primary interest is in English schools but I’m open to comments from elsewhere in the UK or the USA or wherever (but please specify location).

My school (mainly the 1970’s) used detention quite a lot and I thought I had some understanding of what happened there, although having never had the experience I can’t be 100% sure.  There was also the threat of the cane – usually from the deputy headmaster.

I have recently been watching the early series’ of the children’s BBC TV drama, ‘Grange Hill’ – at the time I remember this was a little bit controversial for being pretty realistic but, as such, perhaps encouraging others to copy bad behaviour they saw there.  However, the “detention” regime doesn’t match what went on in my school.

At mine there were two types of detention – “late detention” for arriving late at the start of the school day and “criminal detention” for bad behaviour – the hyperbole of the latter term was typical of the school.  They were always held at the end of the school day on a Thursday afternoon.  My impression is that late detention was for a maximum of half an hour although sometimes you would see someone on the list marked as x2 so presumably late more than once that week and therefore being kept back twice as long.  Equally my impression is that a criminal detention was for a maximum of one hour.  I never saw anyone being awarded more than one of those however bad the behaviour. I don’t know who actually decided how long someone ended up being kept in for. I was told that you just had to sit at a desk in silence for the duration. If you failed to show up for a late detention you would get a criminal detention the following week.  If you failed to turn up to a criminal detention you would be sent to the deputy head and get your backside caned.  Also if you earned three criminal detentions in one term you would be sent to the deputy head for a caning.

At ‘Grange Hill’ some aspects seemed to be different.  Occasional lateness seemed to be tolerated whereas multiple earned a detention.  I haven’t (so far) established what the duration of their standard detentions were although one hour does seem to be implicit.  In a fairly early episode one girl is awarded three hours of detention for what seems to me to be a fairly minor (testing the limits) uniform infringement – that seems highly excessive to me.  In general they seem to be allowed to get on with homework during their detentions which perhaps rather negates the punishment aspect. In once case, one of the boys skips a class and is asked to get a topic from the teacher of the class he missed so that he can spend the detention writing an essay during his detention – that doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, and is rather better use of the time than sitting in silence.

Notions such as lunchtime detentions and Saturday detentions didn’t feature in my day or at ‘Grange Hill’ – I think they are perhaps a later development and, in the latter case, perhaps more an American concept.  I have the impression that in my era Scottish schools made little use of detention because of the free use of the tawse in the classroom – I may be wrong.  Although there’s plenty of references out there to kids disliking the tawse, I’m not sure how they would feel as detentions were phased in as the alternative.

So over to you folk.  It would really help my understanding (and future writing) to hear of the kind of detention regimes people experienced – causes, duration, format, penalties for missing, era, and region plus any comments on how it was accepted and perceived, particularly in relation to corporal punishment alternatives.

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Hello, Detentions in my school, late 1950s into mid 1960s were of two types:

There were whole class detentions where the whole class were required to return to a teacher’s particular classroom after school that day. Some teachers just checked everyone off and then dismissed the class. Those who didn’t go back after school were dealt with next morning. That varied teacher to teacher, some put the ones who had not turned up into the formal weekly school detention, some set lines and other caned or slippered. It could be a single stroke of the cane or two with a plimsoll.

The formal school detention was 45 minutes. It was held on Thursday evenings. Detentions were recorded in the school detention book with names checked at the start of the 45 minute session. Some teachers set tasks to be done in the detention others relied on the teacher running the detention to set work. Failure to turn up meant your name was read out at the end of the next morning’s assembly. Those boys were required to report to the headmasters office immediately afterwards. If you could not offer a valid reason for missing the detention it over the end of the headmaster’s desk for two of the best. I missed one as I had to meet my mother the previous evening for a trip to buy a new blazer. I tried to explain this to the headmaster but he just didn’t listen and it was the cane for me.
I remember few of the old more traditional grammar schools in the city where I lived did hold Saturday morning detentions. This meant you had get up like during the week, put on your school uniform and go to school for the morning. Of course your parents knew you’d been in trouble at school that week and that probably meant another telling off or worse.

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I recall that I recently linked some entries from threads in the Tapatalk detentions group here.  It certainly wasn’t very active!  

I was at a minor public day school from 1954 to 1960.  We were minor in terms of some of the big names then in HMC, most of which were boarding only, or boarding and day, however we punched above our weight academically and topped several of them on per capita Oxbridge admissions.

The school was six days a week, with a half day off on Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning school,  Detentions were held after afternoon school, and were thus confined to Monday to Wednesday and Friday.  Detentions were awarded by Masters for serious academic and classroom infringements.  You might get detention, you might get the slipper, you might get seriously ridiculed in front of your fellow pupils.  It depended on individual Masters and the mood they happened to be in.  Non-academic discipline (other than the most serious matters) was handled by Prefects, whose sanctions were caning and lines and who did not have the power to award detentions.

Detentions normally had to be served the same day, or the next available school day if awarded on your games day (when you’d be at the games field not at school in the afternoon and at the end of the school day),  Thursday or Saturday.  You’d need a very good excuse indeed to get a detention delayed.  School finished at 16:10, detention started at 16:15 and continued until 17:00, supervised by a Master.  Homework was not allowed.  If the Master issuing the detention hadn’t provided some work the Master supervising it would.

That’s about it on detentions really.  There was also a quite rare and quite severe punishment known as a detention ticket.  In the case of a detention ticket you had to take a slip stating that you’d been given a detention to the Headmaster and get it signed by him.  Nobody wanted to come to the Headmaster’s attention in that context.

This was a man who could stand on stage in front of 800 boys and all the staff and every one of them would think the Head was glaring at him personally.  Boys and staff alike meeting him in a corridor would try to shrink into the walls to get out of his way.  You did not wish to find yourself alone with him in his office if you’d committed some infraction!

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I think the concept of Saturday morning detention was mainly in the more traditional schools, such as grammar schools, or ones with a boarding house.  I was told that before my time at school (1970s), those type of schools has lessons on Saturday morning, and sport in the afternoon, but you did get one of the weekday afternoons off.  Those types of schools continued have sport on Saturdays, and were able to threaten the concept of a Saturday morning detention.  This was on offer at my school, but I don’t remember anyone actually getting it.

Usually if we had detention, then it was for about 30 to 40 minutes after school on a certain day of the week (Tuesday I think).  The teacher who put us in detention would set some work to occupy us in detention.  Sometimes if it was for the whole class, then that wouldn’t be at the normal time, but would be about 5 to 10 minutes after school, which doesn’t sound a lot, but for most kids, equates to half an hour because you would have missed your bus.  The teachers were well aware of that, and that is why they did it that way.  I guess in today’s society they might get criticized for this on safeguarding grounds!

One thing that was odd is that the Tuesday detentions were recorded on your end term report, so parents knew about it, but if we got the cane or slipper, it wasn’t.

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Parents weren’t told of detentions or canings/slipperings in my school. However many found out if you were late home after detentions or if word got back via other boys or their parents. If I had a school detention my mother would want to know why. Boys who had paper rounds had a problem if that had a detention. Newsagents might said it was okay if they were late occasionally but if the boy kept getting detentions he might lose the job. I knew of boys just not going to a detention to keep their paper round jobs, next morning they had to explain why they missed the detention.
Some private schools did Saturday morning school as part of the normal week. These were the schools that did Wednesday sports afternoon for the whole school. Back then lots of people worked a five and half day week too.

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detention was a fundamental part of school punishment.  As others have said, missing a detention was one of the most direct routes to corporal punishment.  My own experience at Grammar School in the 1950s was like many described here.  A session of around 45 minutes after school on a weekday.  We had Late Detentions, but those for other reasons had no specific title.  A card was issued that you were supposed to take home and show to your parents and detentions were recorded in your report at the end of each term.  Canings were not included in the report.

After retirement, I went into a number of local schools to give careers advice.  There I saw the new sanction of children being put into isolation.  I had the impression from the pupils that it was greatly disliked.   It certainly lasted far longer than the detentions of my schooldays and I’m not sure I see what benefit it was to the child.  One instance I clearly remember was a boy who was put into isolation because he had arrived in trainers rather than black shoes.  However much I think rules should be respected, I’m not sure the offence justified taking the boy out of education for half a day.

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hcj44, I’m not sure that many of the ‘modern’ school sanctions/punishments are that effective. Suspension would have seemed a bit like a holiday to me when I was at school. The only problem back then would have been having to explain to your parents why you’d been suspended. In the past most parents supported school discipline completed and just said ‘Well you must have deserved it!”
Rules about clothes/shoes do seem somewhat wrong, it’s not as if what you wear makes any different to how you learn. That said I went to a grammar school that instilled on full uniform. We had to wear school caps when out of school in uniform. Most of us stuffed ours in our pockets until we were close to the school. Being caught hatless meant trouble!

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hcj44 – I heard about children being put into isolation in schools from a friend who told me her step son had been put into ‘internal suspension’.  This was that the school wanted to suspend him, but were unable to contact a parent to release him to, so they were legally bound to ensure his safety until going home time.  That was about 20 years ago, and at that time there was an attitude within schools that it ‘wasn’t their job’ to discipline children, and that if they were disruptive, then they would just refuse to teach them.

I think things have moved on a bit now, and schools now have league tables about how many children are suspended / excluded, and it reflects badly on the school if they exclude too many.  This might be why they might be using internal isolation as a form of discipline rather than just a way of holding disruptive children.  I do agree that this does appear to be a counter productive sanction, and probably will cause problems both for the child and the teachers in that they would need to catch up on the lessons lost.


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We had a system of “school detentions” — if someone behaved very badly, they were sent from the classroom to a designated detention room, usually the library, and then had to attend a formal detention in front of the headmaster and deputy head on Thursday after school. It was thought to be so serious that there were usually only one or two people in Thursday detention each week. There was a rumour that if someone got sent to Thursday detention twice in one week they would be slippered, but I never heard of it happening.

A friend at a different school in the area told me that they had a system of “school detentions” for much more routine offences: there would be twenty or thirty boys in the detention class each week. He claimed that any boy who was in detention more than once in a term was automatically caned in front of all the other detention in-mates. (I can remember thinking that if I was at that school I would make sure that I got one detention each term so I could watch the fun!)

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Corporal punishment had its problems and was misused or abused on occasions  but the alternatives including detention scarcely seem better.  Requiring children and especially physically active boys to sit quietly for hours a day and focus on a dryly-taught subject of no apparent value is a big ask and only tolerable if interspersed with intervals of vigorous physical activity. Denying children the latter as a punishment for failures at the former is excessively cruel and likely counter productive.

I attended a small town school with a large rural catchment and no public transport. Many came to school by special bus and would have no way of getting home if detained.  In addition, many had chores to do after school or were involved in team sport.  Finally, teachers and parents understood the need to “let off steam” and few teachers would have wanted to give up their time to supervise.

The nearest equivalent to detention that was used, especially as a punishment for girls, was the “writing of lines” which had a very uneven impact on miscreants given differences in writing speed and what the wasted time might have been used for. Once, as previously related, the 5th form French teacher sentenced the whole class to 200 lines for disorder during his absence. An experienced canee asked to be caned instead which was agreed to. Two other boys joined. They each got three strokes, a steep exchange rate, but all seemed well satisfied and congenial. Being a sook, I wrote the lines but with a strong feeling of injustice as I had not participated in the disorder.

It was not uncommon for canees and caners to have a friendly rapport. A good caning was far more cathartic than writing lines or, I suspect, any detention. I was not aware of any debates or polls but am confident very few boys would have opted for the abolition of caning.