I remember very clearly the day when our school punishment straps were collected by the council for destruction. It was 1985, and my local education authority had decided to jump before they were pushed. We had a special assembly discussing corporal punishment and its end in local schools.
The headmistress was a dour middle-aged woman named Mrs M, though she hadn’t given much CP – it was largely the job of the deputy headmistress, Mrs F.
Mrs F was 40 or so, and quite fearsome. She was strict and a mathematical genius. She didn’t strap often, but she strapped hard. I got it once – three across the backs of my legs for an incident taken to be bullying (it wasn’t). The announcement in assembly was met by cheering from us pupils, though this was quelled by the reminder that the strap would still be present until the end of the following week.
The council man came at the end of the school day to collect it. A gaggle of us hung around edge of the school, climbing trees to give us an excuse to be there while we watched. We weren’t meant to linger around school: in fact, being on the playground more than ten minutes after the end of the day was a strappable offence.
The man was quite short and stout as I remember it, and he had a hideous little moustache. He entered the school, and came out ten or so minutes later carrying a paper bag and a sheaf of papers. Mrs F walked out with him, and when she spotted us she waved us off behind the man’s back – we obeyed.
The next Monday, most of us were summoned to Mrs F’s office. She gave us a telling off for ’leering’ (a term used quite specifically in our school, meaning being where you weren’t supposed to be), then suddenly laughed. “I suppose you thought since the straps were gone you wouldn’t get in real trouble for leering? Well, ‘the whack’ isn’t banned until the end of the school year. Line up!”
Getting a proper, over-the-knee smacking on my knickers at school wasn’t something I ever expected. Sure, I found myself across Mum’s lap for a smacking now and again, but this was different. Mrs F had a bony hand, and it stung terribly, even over my knickers. My friends and classmates all cried, as did I. None of us cried at the strap! I think it was probably because we got 30 or so hard smacks, whereas the strap was a maximum of four and they were usually delivered quite rapidly.
We were each given a letter to take home and return signed the next day. I was expecting another smacking, but instead Mum told me my sentence was having my Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer taken off of me for two weeks.
I’d honestly been scared of getting another sore bottom, but in the face of losing my beloved computer I found myself begging for a smacking instead. Mum obliged! Knickers down, over her knee and a good sore bum. I found out later that most of my friends had suffered the same fate off their mums and dads.
I should add that school discipline didn’t decline once corporal punishment ended: in fact it improved, in my opinion. Boys who were previously strapped every other day ended up being referred for educational support or diagnosed with learning disabilities, and abusive homes were identified. It was better.