Punishment books

In my first year at junior school, around the summer of 1958, I remember Miss Smith, our headmistress, making an announcement in assembly one morning. She said that a temporary teacher had caught one of the boys damaging his bicycle, and had caned him. She then went on to say that a caning was supposed to be “moderate”, but this had been severe. For that reason, the record of the caning was going to be removed from the “punishment book”.

I think this was the first time I’d heard of the punishment book. It sounded like it was an extra punishment, over and above the caning, to have your name entered in the book. It meant that anyone – your parents, your relatives, maybe even the policeman – could check in the book and see that you had been a Naughty Boy.

I grew out of this misunderstanding in due course. But I think the punishment book symbolised the distinction between official and unofficial punishments, and I’d like to explore this by using one of the teachers at that school as a case study.

At our infants school, up to the age of seven, all the teachers were women, but at the junior school there were a few men, and one of them was Mr F. He seemed to act as Miss Smith’s deputy, and I believe he had delegated authority to use the cane.

I did once witness one of Mr F’s canings by accident. I was walking along the school corridor, probably at lunchtime because most of the classrooms were empty (each door had a narrow vertical glass panel, so that you could see if anyone was was standing the other side). But one of the classrooms wasn’t empty; inside I saw one of my classmates holding out his hand and receiving two strokes of the cane.

I also once overheard Mr F telling a boy that if there was any further misbehaviour he’d take him along to Miss Smith’s office and cane him; and on another occasion I saw Mr F leaving Miss Smith’s office holding a cane, followed by a boy who was crying.

So I imagine that these would have been official punishments, recorded in the book. (No doubt Miss Smith herself also caned boys officially, at the request of other teachers.)

But at the beginning of my final year of junior school, we were told that Mr F would be our class teacher, so we wondered how he would deal with trouble in class. I should say that our school didn’t use any form of after-school detention, so apart from imposing minor punishments like standing in the corner or writing out a hundred lines, all our class teachers had recourse to corporal punishment of one sort or another. On boys, that is; there was just the one occasion three years earlier, which I’ve recounted elsewhere, when I saw a girl slippered in class.

We discovered that Mr F didn’t use the slipper for classroom punishments. Instead, after issuing the command “touch your toes”, he would apply his blackboard pointer to the seat of the boy’s short trousers. It would be just one whack, apart from the time when one of the boys bit someone else, and then it was two whacks. These punishments were always given immediately after the offence, and I have no recollection of any kind of note being taken, let alone an entry being made in the punishment book. These, then, would have been unofficial punishments; indeed, I don’t believe any LEA punishment regulations would have permitted the use of a blackboard pointer.

So now to the point of this case study. Mr F administered both official and unofficial punishments. The former were, I believe, recorded; the latter, not. He must, therefore have had a conceptual framework of how disobedience should be dealt with, the types of behaviour which required a formal caning with its inevitable delay and ceremony, and the types for which immediate retribution would be most effective. For the latter occasions he would have made a deliberate choice to inflict an unofficial punishment, contrary to the regulations, when choosing an official version would have been open to him.

I guess that in those days (1960-61) it was just part of staffroom culture that the regulations applied only to punishment for serious misbehaviour, and that classroom CP was just a short sharp shock which didn’t need recording.


Are there off the record paddlings in American school without written disciplinary referrals?  I believe there are for why are there so many words devoted in hanbooks and not a single paddling year after year of OCR reports? Why would all teachers be authorized and issued separate paddles as in Everton, TX?   It may have occurred more often years ago but it may also be happening to those that went to school forty years before that have not retired.  How would a school paddling be that much different than a home spanking in a small school?

If you want to make a point to pass on to the others students why not follow just the rule of not doing it in front of others that  has not been done in decades?  The student knows why they’re being spanked and are spared the wait and the slate is clear without parental notification.  The teacher is satisfied that the matter has been attended to in proportion to the offense and its frequency?  If it worked in 1980 it would work in 2020 of if it ain’t broken it why fix it?

Corpun indicates there are basic policies in place that the teachers must follow before administering corporal punishment such as approved dimensions of the paddle, same sex paddling policies, the maximum number of swats and most commonly, that a student be paddled outside of the view of other students.  None of those forbid where, when or by whom (except professional personnel) so like punishment books everything can be kept off record.

The other students in the class cannot see who was paddled but certainly know who has been paddled and why.  That does not accrue to the benefit of the one on the receiving end but it reduces the likelihood that an offense will likely be repeated in his or her class.  A witness would likely be available in the time it takes between classes or a teacher with a class free.  Teachers on the high school level are often given a free period.  The favor would be reciprocal.


Thanks, that’s fascinating information. I’d assumed that, with the yards of regulations laid down in school handbooks, pretty well all use of CP (in those American schools where it is allowed) would have been recorded.

But perhaps that’s the only unofficial aspect? It sounds like all the other details of the punishments (type and size of implement, requirement to avoid the gaze of other students) would be the same as for recorded punishments. Certainly in the UK the other details would have differed significantly (slipper instead of cane, in front of the class instead of in the headmaster’s study).


It is very clear that punishment books were introduced to protect students from inappropriate and excessive punishments. The books supposedly allowed the governing body, school inspectors, etc. to monitor what was happening thereby discouraging excesses. A school, its head teacher or his authorized subordinate would come to notice if they punished too often or too severely, or presumably in disorderly schools and classes, insufficiently.

Generally, there was an exception made for minor punishments. These did not need to be recorded for reasons of convenience. It was necessarily left to the punisher to decide whether the punishment needed to be recorded. Sometimes, to encourage compliance, there might only be one official cane kept in a central location with a book to sign if it were borrowed, or designated places for punishment similarly equipped.

Limiting the number of strokes that may be applied, or the implement that may be used provides a strong incentive towards severity. The strokes are laid on hard and the maximum limits on the implement size become also the minimum. This meant that supposedly minor punishments were not trifling.

Punishment books might be consulted when it came to the writing of school references. A mischievous boy could not expect a good report if his name appeared often. Boys did not want their punishments recorded. Ditto teachers who cared about the boys they taught and had occasion to cane. They were keen not to blight their futures. Teachers also did not want to be labeled as heavier caners least it was taken to indicate they had trouble inspiring and controlling their classes.

I write only of boys above and do not apologize for this. Girls were a different species, little understood and not subject to CP.

According to Mercurio, only a small fraction of the canings at Christchurch Boys High School were recorded. I have detailed this before but can’t be bothered finding the hyperlink knowing EAL is so good at this.


Several truths are told in KKxyz’s comment.  The “strong incentive towards severity” – what an excellently apposite phrase – was exactly true. Because the cane was widely regarded, and even revered, as the ultimate sanction, it usually came in the packaging of set procedure, limited number of authorised staff, lowish number of strokes but those strokes delivered severely. A lot of formality and a bit of mystique. And, of course, a formal record kept.

The complexity of procedure – the official cane and punishment book perhaps kept in a senior office at the other end of the building – undermined a teacher’s need for a swift, immediate sanction.  Thus many ad hoc classroom punishments went unrecorded.  The sanction was executed and the matter was done with.

In some – perhaps fairly few – schools, senior staff actually preferred to turn a blind eye. They no doubt had overall confidence in their classroom staff; but if a punishment was complained about and investigated, it was, ironically, easier to smooth over if it could be explained away as a classroom teacher’s impromptu action.

Incidentally, the punishment described at the start of this thread is the only example I have ever encountered of a punishment possibly not recorded because it was too severe!

I think the issue of a record of corporal punishment somehow blemishing a child’s future is far overstated. Heads and senior staff were much wiser and more charitable than that, and juvenile mischief was left well behind. I would never have dreamed of including any mention of corporal punishment in a UCAS (back then, UCCA) reference or employment reference.

I know what KKxyz means in describing girls as a different species, but he should not be perpetuating the myth the they were “never subjected to CP”. Oh yes, in many schools they were – albeit less frequently than boys.


More on the incompleteness of punishment books

Mercurio, an American academic spent 5 months at a prestigious New Zealand school studying the use of the cane. Only the headmaster knew the true purpose of his visit. It was back when society, parents, teachers and boys accepted and expected the cane.

In the figure below ACR = average caning rate = total number of canings in a school year / number of boys. Some boys were caned often and others rarely.

A caning consists of one to six strokes administered to the seat of the school uniform shorts (with a boy inside).

Caning was the main punishment and used for a wide range of offences. It was apparently used sufficiently frequently to be a plausible hazard but not so often it could not be avoided making precautions pointless.  Getting caned was not a laughing matter but was something most teen boys could and did deal with.

It is very unlikely either the observed or recorded canings were random samples of all canings.  Mercurio, by his presence, would have moderated both teacher and pupils’ behavior.  It is not know what influenced the frequency of recording.  The recorded punishments were not unusually severe.  Possibly, those who caned rarely were more inclined to record. Or were offences known to the outside public more likely to make the punishment book?


Correction: I write only of boys above and do not apologize for this. Girls were a different species, little understood and not subject to CP at my high school.

Shortly after I left the school a new headmaster as appointed and hand strapping of girls was introduced. There was a specific prohibition in primary school on the strapping girls over 10 years at the time.

I was in the academic stream with only meek well behaved girls. The girls in the girls only commercial (typing & shorthand) and domestic sciences (cooking, sewing, fetching husband’s slippers) classes must have been far more unruly than I knew. It would have been strictly F/f punishment and possibly not much milder than a boy’s caning on the posterior.

Also, not long after I left school it seems a student council was appointed and this asked the school to increase the amount of CP according to a jubilee history.


I do know what you mean about “meek, well behaved girls” – especially in a highly academic environment.  There was an awful lot of gender stereotyping, too, and thus an expectation that boys would tend towards boisterous, noisy or challenging behaviour; and they lived up to those expectations! Girls were perceived as – and indeed often were – more demure and reserved in their conduct, and very often more inclined to avoid disciplinary confrontation. Indeed if they did break rules, they did so subtly. Subtle is not a word in an adolescent boy’s vocabulary.


Did the student council want more CP for pupils other than themselves. “We wish you would use the cane more often on the bullies and the guys who muck around and spoil lessons we are interested in?” Or were they asking to be subjected to more CP themselves. “We wish you would slipper us more often instead of giving us detentions or letters home?” (Either is believable, I guess.)


I can understand the point about not wanting your parents to know. In those days, parents finding out could well have meant another punishment. (Same for a detention, where parents would have known that you were late home — necessarily an “official” punishment.)

Here’s an anecdote from, I suppose, forty years ago; I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s relevant to the point above. It’s an occasion (there have been three of them) when a woman has mentioned, in conversation, that she was caned at school. This woman was in her twenties, and she was talking about teachers and seemed particularly aggrieved that they had too much power. She resented that she had been caned by her class teacher on her first day in secondary school. The supposed offence had been to carve something on her school desk, but she said that she had only been inking in a previous carving. She felt that the teacher had been looking to cane someone on the first day in order to demonstrate authority. And she was quite clear that she didn’t tell her mother that she’d been caned. So no doubt that was an “unofficial” punishment.

(I have no idea of the details of the punishment. It was obviously in front of the class, so presumably it was one stroke on her hand, not so hard as to leave a telltale bruise.)