I attended a mixed sex comprehensive school in the North West of England from 1968 to 1973.  It had an upper and lower school on different sites, with the lower school catering for the first 2 years; those aged 11 and 12 respectively at the start of each year. Until shortly before I attended, it had been a fairly prestigious grammar school and my year was one of the early comprehensive intakes. Many of the students at the Upper School were still from the grammar school along with most of their teachers. The Lower School had been a secondary modern, and most of those teachers were still there as well, so far as I could gather.

The Lower School had its own Headmaster (and Deputy). The middle school (13-15) and Upper School (5th & 6th form) did also, but they were both at the Upper School site and so were co-located with the Headmaster for the whole establishment. Consequently, it seemed the Lower School Head had more autonomy because the overall Head never seemed to visit the Lower School: at least I never saw him.

It was pretty standard for its time and discipline was, for the most part, fair and reasonably liberal by standards of the time.  Detentions were given out for such things as late arrivals, and assignments, lines mainly, for minor infractions, late homework etc.

There was corporal punishment too, for more serious misdemeanours.  Most form teachers, including the female ones, used it, albeit infrequently. It usually took the form of the strap (like a tawse but no split) administered to the hands. Two or three strokes was the norm. Some used a slipper. particularly in the middle and upper schools, and this was administered to the backside. One to three swats seemed to be the norm. Both methods seemed to have equal approval from the powers that be.

The Head also administered the strap to those sent to him, but in this case it was administered to the bottom and it was a fairly common sight to see groups of lads caught smoking behind the bike sheds being marched through the playground to the Head’s office to have their cigarettes confiscated, ears burned on the evils of the weed and backsides overheated.

More than three late arrivals in a week could also earn a trip to the Head’s study. A single tardy meant 30 minutes after school detention, supervised by a bored teacher who would half-heartedly invent a written assignment to occupy the time. Punishment only applied to boys. Girls did not seem to get punished. I’ve no idea what happened if they were caught smoking, though not as many smoked, it seemed to me, though obviously that’s an impression; I can’t prove it. There was a senior mistress but I don’t know if she used corporal punishment on girls sent to her.  It never occurred to me she might, so it never occurred to me to ask any of the girls I knew.

One day when I was still in the first year, we were summoned in the early afternoon to the school gymnasium along with the rest of the Lower School. I wasn’t sure why we were going, but expected some kind of announcement, I suppose. There was no precedent, in my limited experience, to being summoned to the gym in this way. Stood next to the Head was a boy of around our own age, 11, perhaps just turned 12. Let’s call him CK. The Head explained that CK had been extorting money from other pupils with the help of another boy, who he named, from the year above. Thankfully, I didn’t fall victim to either of this pair, but it was an 8 stream school so there were around 250 pupils in each year. We were told the other boy had been dealt with, but the younger boy would be made an example of before the school because, apparently, he was the ringleader.

The strap the Head was holding was a substantial piece of kit. It was quite heavy looking and maybe 2 to 2.5 feet in length maybe 2.5 inches wide, dark brown and solid. No holes or tails etc.

“Bend over and touch your toes,” he ordered.

The boy did so. He was wearing standard grey long school trousers, which was an option, though many of us in the lower school wore short trousers. They tightened across his backside and the Head took a step back. He was short to medium height but a fairly stocky individual and he swung with most of his might; CRACK.  The strap landed across the boy’s backside like a pistol shot that echoed round the wooden floor and hard walls of the gym.

The unfortunate miscreant stood up, tears already running down his face.

“Get back down!” the Head shouted.

He did. CRACK! CRACK! Two more pistol shots rang out across the gym and then CK was told to stand. The apprentice extortionist and thug had tears running down his face. I didn’t feel sorry for him; he deserved what he got, particularly by the standards of the time.

That was that. There were plenty of private punishments that I heard about, though to be fair most teachers went out of their way to explore alternatives before resorting to corporal punishment, but I didn’t witness any others before the school. I think this is a good thing. I’m not personally in favour of making a public example of people in this way.

CK was a fairly unpleasant character, but he could have been dealt with privately in the Heads’s study like, presumably, his partner in crime. I guess the Head wanted to send a message.