in schools, especially since the banning of corporal punishment, has been an
issue close to the hearts and minds of teachers and parents.
Strong views on the merits and the moral acceptability of strapping
pupils are held by opposing groups. Since
the banning of the strap in the 1980s it has been suggested by some that the
lack of corporal punishment, and a suitable and effective alternative for the
enforcement of discipline, has had a detrimental effect upon order in schools.
However, there is no returning to the previous position and it is likely
that change in society rather than school discipline has affected the perceived
change in children�s behaviour.
is probably true is that the legendary �Lochgelly Strap� from Fife was much
overused. Various styles,
thicknesses and shapes of this once essential tool of the teacher could be
purchased and used by teachers under the guise of names such as strap, belt,
Lochgelly and tawse, to treat every classroom ill imaginable.
recent times most teachers who still remember the strap will tell you that they
did not �use it much� or �I did not actually use it myself.�
I have in my possession five straps picked up over the years and indeed
still have no idea how one went about purchasing the required leather!
Still further I strongly claim that I hardly ever used the belt while
former pupils, on occasions, have indicated the opposite to me.
The strap has become one of the best remembered parts of a pupil�s
school life. Embellished memories
bringing the subject into folklore are
not uncommon. There was a certain
pride in saying �I got the belt and could take it� or on the other side a
comment, often, from girls that �I never got the belt�.
were seen as strong disciplinarians and held in awe and generally respected.
Mrs Heather McLean mentions Miss Wares in this respect but notes her
kind, professional side when she states that Miss Wares came to her house on
Saturday mornings to keep her up to date when she had been absent from school
for some weeks.
James Wilson, a pupil in the Miller Academy from 1939 to 1945, notes the
following regarding the use of corporal punishment and, of course, I have
omitted the teachers names!
�So and So� strapped all the class with monotonous regularity.
�D� gave two of the strap to everyone who did not get 75% of the homework
_____ strapped unnecessarily and
Wilson, himself, received �six of the best,� from Mr Ironside, in his last
week in school for smoking in the toilets.
(Mr Ironside is not the teacher referred to above).
former pupil, now a High School Teacher, admits to having been strapped with the
rest of her class. The Primary 2
class of around 50 were left for about 30 minutes and no one would own up to
talking when the teacher returned to find an �unacceptable� noise!
With such large classes it must have been difficult to maintain
discipline and at the same time give a good grounding in the various curricular
areas, yet most teachers managed to do both.
Another teacher records how they were regularly belted by Miss Cormack
for talking while she chatted to Stanley the Attendance Officer � �We
were supposed to be learning a psalm!� she
states. On other occasions she got
the belt for eating an apple in class and for dropping a pandrop sweetie on the
pupil Elizabeth Manson, and herself
a teacher, remembers being punished but not with the strap.
She remembers being punished by receiving a crack on the head with the
ruler! She does not state by whom
but she does remember some of the teachers who she grew to respect and like.
She says, in response to a question regarding teachers who left an
impression on her, �Mr Bruce, who
taught maths must have left an impression � after all I have spent my life
teaching the subject. Actually the
teacher I remember most vividly was Mr Shurie for whom I had great respect
although he was quite strict. Miss
Isobel Milne came to Thurso in my last year and although she never taught me she
was one of the first people I met in Wick High some four years later.�
has to question the value of punishing a whole class and, indeed, it is almost
certain that a large number of innocent children would have been badly treated
in such circumstances. It must also
be questioned as to the correctness of punishing all children for not getting a
required mark in school work done in the school or at home.
alternatives to corporal punishment have, nevertheless, been hard to find and
teachers in recent years have had to work hard to keep many children in check.
There has sometimes been a reluctance on the part of parents to accept
the wrongdoing of their children and effective home discipline has often been
lacking. It is oft said, and I am
sure true, that in �days gone by� a report of punishment at school led to a
second �dose� at home. It
is now more likely to be the case that the parent will telephone the school and
suggest that the child was either unfairly treated, was led astray by someone
else or was only defending himself. In
many years of teaching I have been told �my child was led� but have yet to
be told �my child was the leader in the incident.�
sanctions have included detention over breaks, detention after school,
punishment exercises or withdrawal of privileges.
All have drawbacks and none is particularly effective where a pupil is
intent on being disruptive. Positive
encouragement in the form of a system of rewards, at times, may be tried with
some pupils but the usefulness of such a �bribe� may often be short-lived.
Praise and encouragement are certainly effective with some pupils though
I am a sceptic as to the success of such an approach when applied to
consistently troublesome individuals who disrupt the work of the school and the
education of their peers.
was with some amusement that I read the memories of Katrina Gordon (nee Watson)
sent from Edinburgh. Her
achievement, she says, is that she is, �probably
the only professional bassoon player to emerge from Miller Academy!� Katrina
claims to be ashamed of being party to keeping a �punishment exercise� book
which recorded all the �poneeshment excorcizes� handed out by the
�Germanic� Mrs Robertson in P6. There
appears to have been a certain kudos associated with having the most exercises.
It is claimed that Robert Bell had over one hundred exercises in one
McIvor, Head Teacher, she recalls, was either in his office or �striding
around the playground looking important. I
think from the way this memory is noted it is to be taken as a compliment.
Indeed, Mrs Gordon says, �I was
impressed by his ability to maintain authority while still having a friendly
smile for students and teachers alike. Kids
respected him greatly. I wonder if
the teachers did?� As someone
who worked for Mr McIvor, I am sure that the answer to the question is
would appear that while �striding� around Mr McIvor would come upon a fight
and end it with a very earnest lecture along the lines of, �I
will not tolerate pupils of my school fighting in public.
You must remember at all times that the reputation of Miller Academy is
at stake.� Mrs Gordon offers
the view that what Mr McIvor was really insinuating was that the behaviour was
fit only for students of Mount Pleasant or Pennyland School.
I am sure the thought never crossed his mind and anyway such a statement
would be thoroughly untrue!
ex-pupil from more recent times, Mrs Anne Baird, who attended the school from
1968 to 1975 admits to cheating in one of Mrs Cossar�s spelling tests and
chatting in Miss Gordon�s sewing class. A
brave pupil indeed to do the latter and she was justifiably punished but being
called a �humbug� and made to
stand in the corner with her back to the class was maybe a little on the harsh
side. Anne was just one of several
who remembered �Granny Gordon�. She
might have been a hard taskmaster but nevertheless taught a generation of girls
to knit and sew, skills now lacking in many.
Denise McLean (Wade) says she remembers, �Sitting
in the knitting and sewing class with �Granny Gordon� who took us one at a
time to learn to sew on the one and only school sewing machine.�
She recalls knitting a yellow teddy bear and making squares to make a
is a tendency to think that all pupils in the years before the ending of
corporal punishment could be kept in check by strapping and all were acceptably
behaved. This was clearly not the
case and Rector Ironside was aware of this.
He wrote in 1932 of having a mason repair the inside wall of the boys�
shelter at Mina Villa. This
shelter, he said, was not suitable as it was not possible to see what was going
on inside it. He ventured to
suggest that the first intimation that staff would know what was going on
therein would be when the boys, by their mischief, brought the building down
early as 1874 there is a report in the school log stating, �Home
work much neglected� and in 1875 �Home
lessons� were not being carried out because outdoor amusements were so
inviting to the scholars that they infringed upon the time for study.
Truancy was a problem then, as it is sometimes now, and it would appear
that the authorities, as at present, were concerned by non-attendance but did
not necessarily do anything to enforce the rules.
The log states in 1875, �
Several boys have been absent all
this week and some of them without any valid excuse.
The School Board of this Parish has hardly done anything yet either to
compel attendance or to secure regularity of attendance.
Home lessons have not been prepared since the reopening so well as
before. Progress this week only
above is very like the present situation where the government, through the local
authority, has attendance tables and targets for attendance but no �Wheeper
In�. The post of Attendance
Officer disappeared a number of years ago as a cost saving measure.
all truancy was easy to identify nor was it long term.
Often parents did not know what was going on and never found out.
Finlay Swanson freely admits that in his last few months in school, in
1933, he would miss classes and had a careful plan not to be caught.
He says, �If I was late I would
stay in the toilet until the end of the first period, then join my class for
registration. Obviously I
couldn�t do this if the registering teacher had us for the first period.�
Mr Swanson admits getting the strap from Mr Bruce but he says, �not
for school work.� One has to
wonder what he was up to!
all those supplying memories admitted to achievements, things to be ashamed of
or punishments. Norna Mackay felt
there should be things she would be ashamed of but couldn�t think of them!
However, I was amused by her punishment on one occasion.
For inattention she was tapped on the head with a metre stick (or should
it have been a yard stick?) which broke. She
indicates that since she felt little or no pain it must have been cracked.
What is interesting, and somewhat amusing, is that a male class member
stood up and said, �You never hit a
lady.� Much to her
embarrassment and surprise it would appear that she was the one who was sent to
Farquhar MacDonald took over as Rector in 1887 he was little impressed by the
attendance of pupils and having tested all the classes in reading in February of
that year he concluded that the reading was bad in the great majority of cases
and in some instances slovenly. He
saw this as a problem of application and behaviour and stated, � Pupils
must be made to speak out and taught to be more active in their movements.�
crimes such as theft were not unknown in what is often termed the �good old
days� when children were supposedly better behaved and more mannerly than in
recent times. A log book entry for
Monday a pupil from Miss Jack�s class was punished by Mr Gunn in my presence
(Mr Ironside�s presence) and with the
knowledge of his father. I warned
the father that there was a grave risk of the boy being taken from his charge
should said boy not cease his present series of thefts.
It is admitted that the boy stole 6d from a fellow pupil on the first
Friday of November and again on the second Friday of November when he was found
out and punished by Mr Gunn. On the
fourth Friday of November he stole rock and being found out confessed that about
a year ago he stole a gold watch from Miss Coghill, who, as a matter of fact,
had suspected him of having done so but kept her suspicions to herself for lack
entry in the West Public log in 1904 refers to behaviour and though the method
of constraint and discipline is not indicated, there clearly had to be some form
of retribution for the actions alluded to in the entry.
has been fair progress during the week. In
class I the girls attend badly and with them the progress is very slow.
In class III some of the boys are hopelessly bad and at least six or
seven of them would require the constant attention of the teacher to the
exclusion of the remainder of the class.�
glance through any school log of past years will no doubt indicate that pupils
today are little different from their earlier counterparts and we pay the
present pupils a disservice by suggesting that their discipline and general
behaviour is generally worse.