A story from the 1970s when girls were beginning to enter schools that had until then been boys only, and certain matters of discipline needed some thought.

By Hazel Grant

1976 was a strange year for me in lots of ways. I’d had to change schools to stay in sixth form education because my old school was losing its sixth form as a result of the government reclassification that was going on around that period. My new school had, up until two years previously, been an all boys school and I was one of the first of these strange creatures called girls to enter its hallowed chambers. Thus at age eighteen I had, whether I liked it or not, become something of a spokesperson for the female contingent.

When two boys, James and Ian, my best friend Susan and I had decided to have lunch at a nearby burger bar it wasn’t exactly against the rules, but popping into a pub on the way back to school most certainly was. Coming out of the said pub, just as Mr Barnes, the head of Geography was driving past led to the start of an interesting problem. We should have been more careful. Two girls and two boys all dressed in grey trousers and black blazers were simply unmissable for any member of staff in the vicinity.

Of course, we were all invited to attend the headmaster’s study the moment we returned to school. While it wasn’t that unusual to be waiting to see the headmaster in the corridor outside his study, four of us standing in silence and on our best behaviour was certainly a bit suspicious and aroused a few smirks from those that passed by.

“Of course, you know why you’re here.” Mr Wagstaff, a short stocky man with a round face and silver rimmed spectacles balanced on the end of his nose, looked angrily at each of us as we stood in front of his huge mahogany desk.

“Yes sir.” We all murmured.

“Presumably none of you wish to deny entering a public house and consuming alcohol this lunchtime?”

“No sir.” We answered with even less enthusiasm.

“And you are all equally aware this is a serious breach of school rules?” Mr Wagstaff then looked pointedly at Susan and me. “Even those of you who have joined us relatively recently.”

“Yes sir.”

“Very well. I do not intend to waste any more time on this. You two boys, wait outside.”

James and Ian immediately left the room. Somehow the tension dropped and I for one felt a little more at ease, even though I didn’t really know why.

“Right, girls. This will be the one and only time you are caught entering a public house in school uniform. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir.”

“You have brought this school into disrepute and I will not tolerate that. Therefore you will serve no less than three detentions, and each will be the maximum duration of two hours.”

Mr Wagstaff looked at each of us for some sort of reaction. I remember biting my lip as I anticipated spending the next three Monday evenings in the detention class alongside a number of more junior school members, mainly boys, and thinking how humiliating that would be. A brief sideways glance showed Susan to also be lost in thought.

“Very well.” Mr Wagstaff took our silence to be acceptance of our punishments. “You are dismissed. Send the other two in on your way out.”

As we closed the door behind us, Susan and I both sighed with relief even though we felt our punishments to be pretty severe.

“He’s ready for you two now.” I said to James and Ian.

“Right.” James took a deep breath and tapped on the door.

“That’s a bit odd.” Susan said as we began walking along the corridor on our way to our classes. “Why did he send the boys out of the room to tell us he was putting us in detention?”

“I don’t know.” I answered. “Perhaps he thinks going to the pub was their idea. Perhaps he’s going to give them even longer detentions and didn’t want us protesting about equality between the sexes.”

“That’s not really fair.” Susan sounded genuinely concerned. “We girls are quite capable of making decisions for ourselves. If we committed the same offence then we should all be given the same punishment, shouldn’t we?”

“Absolutely.” I concurred.

We didn’t see James or Ian again that day, but after the mid-afternoon break it became apparent Susan and I were being cold-shouldered by most of the other boys and even the other four girls that were with us in the sixth form.

“What is the matter with them?” I asked Susan.

“I’ve no idea.” She answered. “And why haven’t James and Ian attended lessons this afternoon?”

“I don’t know. They must have been given a different punishment to us. You don’t think he’s suspended them, do you?”

“Of course! That has to be it!” Susan’s face lit up with the realisation. “No wonder the others aren’t too happy with us.”

“We can’t let that go, Susan. I’ll go and see the headmaster after school and tell him he has to give the boys detentions like we’ve got.”

“Careful, Hazel.” Susan looked suddenly worried. “Make sure he doesn’t suspend us as well. My parents would kill me.”

A couple of hours later, when I was standing outside the headmaster’s study for the second time that day, I felt just as nervous as I had been for the first visit. Like James, I took a deep breath before tapping on the door.

“Come!” The voice from within bellowed.

I opened the door and went in.

“Hazel!” Mr Wagstaff was genuinely surprised to see me standing once again in front of his huge desk. “I do hope you haven’t managed to get into even more trouble since we last spoke.”

“No sir.” I answered as the headmaster glared at me over those silver rimmed spectacles still perched on the end of his nose. “I just wanted a word about our punishments, sir.”

“You think I was too severe with Susan and you?”

“No sir, although I think it will be quite humiliating for us.”

“What, then, do you wish to discuss?”

“It’s just that James and Ian didn’t return to classes this afternoon, sir. You’ve obviously suspended them, and that’s not fair. We were all guilty of the same offence, so we should have all received detentions.”

Mr Wagstaff blinked. I could only imagine he was quite surprised to have someone, even a sixth former, question his decisions. He sat back in his chair and looked me up and down, from the lapels of my black sixth form blazer to the hem of my grey trousers. No doubt he thought I should have been wearing a skirt, but the school rules permitted girls to wear trousers, so I did. They didn’t allow boys to wear skirts, but no boy ever sought to contest that omission.

“Keen on this sexual equality nonsense, are you Hazel?” Eventually Mr Wagstaff decided to answer me, even if I found his response quite distasteful.

“I believe girls are just as capable as boys. Yes sir.”

“Physically capable, Hazel?”

I hesitated for a moment. “Girls do tend to be smaller than boys, so maybe they’re not always as strong physically.” I conceded, even though at five feet nine inches in my stockinged feet I was taller than some of the boys of my age.

Mr Wagstaff chuckled. “So you think I suspended those two, do you Hazel?”

I hesitated again. “Well, they didn’t return to class, sir.”

My answer caused the headmaster to laugh, something he was not prone to do. “I’m sorry, Hazel, but this has been an all boys school for so many years I keep forgetting you girls haven’t had the opportunity to get to know all our little ways.”

I was bewildered. What exactly was this particular ‘little way’ that I was ignorant about? Mr Wagstaff obviously noticed my incomprehension because he leaned forward on his desk as though wanting to speak quietly to me while he alleviated my lack of knowledge.

“I’m sorry I laughed, Hazel. That was disrespectful and I apologise.” He paused, perhaps for me to recover from my shock. “But, you see, those two boys have not been suspended.”

Now I really was confused.

He continued. “They were caned.”

I think my mouth sagged open at that point.

“One of our little traditions, Hazel, is that boys who have been caned are allowed to absent themselves from lessons for the remainder of the day and indulge in private study in the library. This means they can recover from their ordeal without teasing from their peers.”

“Right, sir. I see, sir.” I wasn’t making a lot of sense.

“So, presumably you are happy now that you know James and Ian will be returning to classes tomorrow? If that is all, I’ll wish you goodnight.”

“Oh, yes sir. Right. Goodnight, sir.” I turned and left the room, still quite flustered.

Later that evening, I went round to Susan’s house.

“Have I got some news for you!” Susan greeted me as we went up the stairs to her room where we could speak privately.

“Me too.” I answered once we were out of earshot of her parents. “James and Ian weren’t suspended.”

“I know.” Susan closed her bedroom door behind us, scarcely able to contain herself with excitement.

“You know they were both caned?” I queried.

“Yes!” Susan sat on her bed, leaving me a small chair to sit on. “Six of the best each!”

“Why are you so happy about that?” I certainly didn’t share Susan’s elation. “It’s still not fair that they got one punishment and we got something different for the same offence, is it?”

“Maybe not.” Susan answered. “But then we could hardly drop our trousers and pants and bend over in front of Mr Wagstaff, could we? Even if he might have found it quite an interesting experience.”

“What?” I found myself open mouthed with shock for the second time that day.

“It’s true! I asked Peter Stevenson and he told me. They have to take their trousers and pants down and bend over Mr Wagstaff’s desk. Then he tucks their shirt tails up and whacks them with his cane. Right on their cute little bare botties!”

“Eh?” I still hadn’t regained control of my mouth.

“What a pity Mr Wagstaff didn’t let us stay in the room while he did it!” Susan was practically bouncing up and down on the bed, such was her exhilaration.

“I’m sure James and Ian would have loved that!” I responded sarcastically.

“Do you think so?” Susan missed the sarcasm. “Kinky!”

“No, I don’t really think so, Susan.” I hoped my serious tone might dampen her elation. It didn’t.

“Wouldn’t it have been great to see them having to bend over? Go on, Hazel, admit it. You’d have loved to have been there too.”

“Susan! Think about it! If we’d have been there, we’d have been in line to get caned too! How do you fancy a big stick being whacked across your bottom?”

Susan thought for just a brief moment. “It might have been worth it.” She mused.

“I’m glad you’re so keen, Susan.” I answered rather irritably. “Because I’ve been thinking about it and tomorrow I’m going back to Mr Wagstaff and demand he allows us to be caned too.” Actually, I hadn’t thought about it up until that point, but I was getting extremely annoyed with Susan’s attitude.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Hazel. He’d never cane us. It wouldn’t be allowed. He could never order us to drop our skirts and knickers and bend over!”

“No.” I knew Susan had a fair argument there. “But surely we could be allowed to wear something thin, pyjama trousers for example, that would observe the proprieties and at the same time not give us any undeserved protection. Otherwise, why not just get a female teacher to do it?”

“You’re wasting your time; he’d never go along with it.” Susan said with confidence.

I left Susan’s house soon after, still feeling annoyed by her cavalier attitude and by the unfairness of it all. I dwelt on it for the rest of the evening and eventually resolved to have another word with Mr Wagstaff. The following morning my feelings hadn’t changed.

At eleven o’clock, when I had a free period, I tapped on his door.

“Come!”

I entered Mr Wagstaff’s study and stood in front of his desk while he finished writing whatever report he was working on.

“This is becoming a regular occurrence, Hazel. What can I do for you this time?”

“It’s just that I’ve been thinking, sir, and I still cannot come to terms with the unfairness of it all.”

“You mean about those boys being caned and you girls getting detentions?”

“Yes, sir.”

He sighed. “Look, Hazel, we discussed this yesterday. I appreciate your principals but it just isn’t possible. It may seem unfair to you but, well, some things in life just aren’t fair. There really is nothing I can do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really am rather busy.”

“But that’s not true, sir. There really is no reason why you can’t cane girls, is there?”

“Hazel, are you not aware by now of how we cane boys in this school?”

I hesitated. “I’m aware boys are caned on their bare backsides if that’s what you mean. Yes, sir.”

“Well then! It just wouldn’t be right for girls to be caned, would it?”

“There are plenty of ways around that, sir. Girls could be allowed to be caned wearing something thin, games shorts or pyjama trousers or something, or a female teacher could do it.”

Mr Wagstaff took off his silver rimmed spectacles and stared at me, probably quite exasperated with me. “Very well, Hazel, I can see you aren’t going to let this go. I concede you do have a fair point. Let me have a word with the Education Department and see what they feel. Pop back later today and I’ll let you know.”

I met up with Susan several times that day and she was still finding James and Ian’s canings a cause of amusement. The boys, though, were still feeling a bit peeved over the different punishments meted out to the boys and Susan and me. I decided it was best not to tell Susan or anyone else about my latest meeting with Mr Wagstaff.

Later that afternoon, I was again in Mr Wagstaff’s study.

“Right, Hazel, I’ve had a word with the Education Department and they weren’t too helpful to be honest. They’re happy to leave it to the school to make its own policy.

“I therefore called a staff meeting this lunchtime to discuss the situation and the general consensus was that we did not wish to change from our traditional way of administering the cane. It keeps it special, you see.

“In future, I will continue to decide whether a girl’s behaviour warrants a caning, but Mrs Smith who is a deputy headmistress in everything except actual title will actually administer the punishment in this study in private with the girl.

“I hope that satisfies your objections.”

“Yes, sir.” I answered spontaneously. With the benefit of a few seconds reflection, I was somehow left deflated by Mr Wagstaff’s announcement even if I wasn’t sure exactly why.

“Right, Hazel, if that is all then I am rather busy at the moment.” Mr Wagstaff picked up his pen as though he was about to start writing again.

He didn’t look that busy. He made it sound as though he had finally dispensed with an irritating little problem raised by a silly little girl who really should have known better. I wasn’t going to be dismissed that easily.

“So, when do I see Mrs Smith, sir?”

“I’m sorry, Hazel?”

“When do I see Mrs Smith, sir?” I repeated, without giving much thought to the idea of facing the stern looking senior Arts Mistress, especially with a cane in her hand.

“I imagine if you get off smartly to the staff room, you’ll find her there, Hazel.”

“But you said she would administer the cane in this study, sir.”

Mr Wagstaff gave a huge sigh and practically slammed his pen down on the desk.

“Hazel. You’ve made your point. You’ve achieved equal status for males and females in all disciplinary matters. Surely, you’re not now asking that your detentions be replaced by the cane, are you?”

“You didn’t give the boys any choice, did you sir?”

“No. No I didn’t.” Mr Wagstaff conceded. “But if they had asked me to consider another option I would have given due thought to the detentions that Susan and you received.”

“Then I ask that you treat me equally sir.”

“So you want me to go and find Mrs Smith, do you Hazel?”

“Whenever is convenient, sir.” I replied, trying not to be unhelpful. “You must do with me whatever you would do with the boys, with the assistance of Mrs Smith of course.”

“I would normally administer a caning as soon as practicable, Hazel.” Mr Wagstaff sounded calmer, resigned even.

I didn’t reply, leaving the headmaster no option.

“Very well, Hazel. Wait outside, please, while I go and see if Mrs Smith is available.”

We both left his study together, then he abandoned me to the, thankfully deserted, corridor while he strode off. On my own, I finally had the chance to calm down and reflect.

Mrs Smith was, in any event, known as something of an ogre. Medium height and robustly built, she always kept her steel grey hair cut short in an almost masculine style. Grey eyes and a pasty complexion only added to her colourless façade, remarkable since her own paintings were often abstract explosions of brilliant colour.

Even at that point, I don’t think the full consequences of my situation had fully sunk in. Obviously I realised I had talked my way into being caned, but that didn’t seem such a big deal then. I was certainly quite pleased that I wouldn’t have to endure the humiliation of serving detentions with a bunch of less senior pupils. That being caned might actually be seriously painful only entered my mind when I saw Mr Wagstaff coming back along the corridor with Mrs Smith.

The headmaster ignored me and opened the door of his study, then held it open. Mrs Smith gave me a strange look that left me in no doubt she thought I’d lost my marbles, before going through the open door. “Give us a few moments, would you Hazel?” Mr Wagstaff said brusquely before I was excluded by the closing door.

“What are you doing here, Hazel?” Jane Somerville, a fellow sixth form girl, came up to me as I stood in the corridor. I hadn’t noticed her approaching and she made me jump.

“Oh, just waiting to see Mr Wagstaff, Jane.” I answered, silently cursing the involuntary tremor in my voice.

“Oh right. I’ll join the queue then.” Jane stood next to me.

“It might be better to come back later, Jane.” I suggested. “I expect I’ll be a while.”

“Ten minutes?”

“Possibly.” I replied, realising I didn’t have a clue how long my punishment would take. “Maybe longer.”

“It’s all right, I don’t mind waiting.”

Before I could attempt to deter Jane, the door opened and Mr Wagstaff walked out, ignored Jane and me, and strode off down the corridor. Mrs Smith appeared in the doorway.

“Right. Come in, Hazel.” As I went through into the study, Mrs Smith spoke to Jane. “If you require Mr Wagstaff, he’ll be back shortly.”

I looked around. I could see very little change, except for the three foot long crook handled cane resting on the top of Mr Wagstaff’s large desk. Plus a chair that normally sat against one of the walls had been placed closer to the desk and sideways on to it. I heard the door close behind me and suddenly I felt like a condemned prisoner.

Mrs Smith came round in front of me and put both her hands on the top rail of the chair as she addressed me. “So, Hazel.” She smiled, which made me even more worried. “You’ve decided the boys have had the better deal, have you?”

I shrugged and smiled back weakly, not able to think of a suitable response. Mrs Smith accepted it by continuing her weird smile. We carried on smiling strangely and silently at each other until it became a little embarrassing.

“Come along, Hazel.” Mrs Smith stood up straight and took her hands off the chair.

“How do you want me, miss?” I suddenly felt awkward and naïve.

“First, you’d better remove your blazer, shoes and trousers. You can use the headmaster’s desk on which to place your clothes.”

The instruction caught me off-guard even though I suppose I should have been expecting something along those lines. I slipped my blazer off easily enough, folded it neatly, and laid it carefully on the large desk. My black shoes had buckles that needed to be undone and I used the edge of the desk to support me while I undid them and took the shoes off. I tucked them under the desk so I wouldn’t make myself look foolish by tripping over them.

Unfastening my grey trousers in the middle of the study felt very weird compared to, say, doing it in the changing rooms when we prepared for games. As I folded my trousers and placed them on the desk, I felt extremely self-conscious even though my white blouse had quite long tails and acted almost like a short dress.

“You might as well take your knickers off while you are at it.” I heard Mrs Smith say from behind me.

I discreetly tucked my fingers under the sides of my blouse, found the elastic waistband of my white brief knickers, and peeled them down until they fell into a small heap around my ankles while making sure I didn’t inadvertently flip my blouse up to reveal myself. I again used the edge of the desk to support me while I unhooked them from my feet and placed them on top of my trousers on the desk.

“Do I have to take my blouse off, miss?” I asked innocently.

Mrs Smith grinned broadly. “No, Hazel. It’s just your bottom we’re interested in.”

I blushed.

“Come and stand behind the chair, Hazel.”

I moved across, my bare feet sinking into the deep pile of the carpet at each step. I, too, chose to grip the top rail of the chair just as Mrs Smith had done earlier.

“In a moment, Hazel, I shall ask you to bend over. When I do, bend across the back of the chair and get your head down as close to the seat as possible. You may grip the sides of the chair for support. Stick your bottom out so that it is easy for the cane to strike you on your buttocks rather than the tops of your thighs. Do you understand?”

“Yes, miss.” Even under that tension, I did for a moment wonder whether she was asking me about simply comprehending her instructions, which I did, or whether she meant understanding the reasoning behind them, which I did not.

“Very well, Hazel.” Mrs Smith left a long gap before her next words. “Bend over!”

At last! The time-honoured command! I bent easily over the back of the chair, aided by me five feet nine inch height, gripped the sides of the chair as instructed and put my head down as low as comfort would allow. I was scared, but also there was an excitement that I was the first girl to be taking part in this ritual of school life. The tail of my blouse felt cool and light across my bare bottom, and I worried how revealing my present position might be.

“I shall now bare your bottom for your punishment, Hazel.”

“Okay.” I squeaked. I didn’t mean to sound nervous and feminine but school rituals were beginning to lose their appeal.

Delicate hands carefully turned the tail of my blouse up onto my back and tucked it into my bra straps, leaving me in no doubt just how exposed my bottom was now. I had no doubt even the most rebellious boy would be feeling just as vulnerable at this point. I also decided then and there that visiting the pub at lunchtimes in full uniform was definitely something I would not do again.

All was pretty silent now, with just the faint scuff on the carpet as Mrs Smith went over to the headmaster’s desk, picked up the cane and came to stand behind and to my left. I could see her out of the corner of my eye.

“I shall now administer six strokes of the cane to your backside, Hazel.”

“Yes, miss.” I gripped the sides of the chair as tightly as I could, wishing my voice was less squeaky and more normal in order that I should sound brave and perfectly prepared to take my medicine.

With just a brief delay, I heard the cane whoosh through the air. Then came a loud crack following which my bottom exploded into a mass of scorching pain. I grunted loudly, and immediately wondered whether crying out was acceptable.

The cane whooshed again, cracked across my poor bottom again, and another flood of pain seared across both buttocks. I gasped, hopefully not too noisily.

Mrs Smith allowed me a few moments before whipping the cane across my bottom for the third time. I thought she was being kind; I later found out this is done so each stroke can have the maximum effect. Whatever, it hurt!

In the pause before the fourth stroke, I remembered the instruction to keep my bottom out so the cane could strike it easily. I crouched a little lower over the back of the chair, hoping that would have the desired effect.

Mrs Smith rewarded my efforts by smashing the cane down across my bottom which sent another searing dose of pain across my bottom. I felt a tear trickle down the side of my face and I wanted to cry out, but I didn’t.

My legs were feeling a bit shaky now and I gripped the sides of the chair even tighter for more support. It was a real struggle to keep still for the next stroke. Even as I battled, I heard the whoosh of air and then the cane whipped across my bottom for the fifth stroke. Ouch! That really stung!

I was mentally counting each stroke, so I knew I had just one more to take. The waiting was unbearable, and the stroke that eventually came was even more so. Mrs Smith must have really put every ounce of her strength into that stroke. The bang echoed round the room and I cried out. I really gripped the sides of the chair so tightly as I struggled to hold my bending position, although since my six strokes had been completed I was presumably free to stand upright.

“You may stand and get dressed, Hazel.”

I gasped as I stood upright and gently felt my sore bottom. I could feel ridges where the six strokes had hit me and my whole bottom still felt like it was on fire. I’m sure being whipped with stinging nettles couldn’t have been more painful. I walked gingerly across to the desk where my clothes were and fumbled in my blazer pocket for a handkerchief so I could dab my tear-stained eyes and give my nose a good blow.

It must have taken the better part of five minutes before the pain across my bottom and my crying began to subside. In all that time, I stood in the middle of Mr Wagstaff’s study with my blouse still tucked up in my bra strap and my bare bottom still fully on view. Mrs Smith remained standing, holding the cane and watching me.

My composure returned and I realised how exposed I still was. I reached behind my back and unhooked my blouse from my bra strap and pulled it down so I was covered again. I slowly put my trousers back on, refitted my buckled shoes and slipped my blazer back on. After neatening my tie and my blouse collar, I finally felt ready to leave.

“There isn’t much left of the school day, Hazel.” Mrs Smith looked up at a round chrome wall clock. “You have my permission to get off home. If anyone questions you, refer them to me.”

“Yes, miss. Thank you, miss.” I felt very small as I sloped off towards the door.

“Goodnight, Hazel.”

“Goodnight, miss.”

I opened the door with one hand while gently massaging my sore bottom with the back of the other hand, and found myself face to face with Jane Somerville. She looked back at me with an expression of incredulity, but with eyes shining with glee. As I closed the door behind me, she looked over my shoulder at Mrs Smith.

“What on earth happened in there?” Jane asked as I started along the corridor.

“Isn’t that obvious?” I answered testily.

“Well, yes. But how? Why?”

“I demanded equal rights for boys and girls. That’s all.”

“And they caned you? That’s awful!” Jane’s expression didn’t fully support her words.

“I thought you were waiting for Mr Wagstaff.” Jane was still with me as I neared the main door.

Thankfully, no-one was in when I got home, so I went straight up to my room, took off my school uniform and lay face down on my bed in just my underwear. By supper time, I was feeling okay enough to join the family for dinner. When asked about my day, I didn’t mention my meeting with Mrs Smith.

The following day, at school, the entire sixth form crowded around me, eager to hear every detail of my caning at the hands of Mrs Smith.

“Did you get it on the bare?” Was the most frequent question.

“How many? Was it the full six?”

“Did you have to bend over that chair?”

My reply was simple and unusually, for me, dignified. “For your information, I received six strokes of the cane from Mrs Smith for my part in visiting the pub at lunchtime two days ago. It was carried out in accordance with the usual school tradition.”

My best friend, and fellow female pub accomplice, Susan, caught up with me when we went for lunch in the school refectory.

“I hope you don’t think I’m going to ask for the same.” She declared as we sat down at a table together.

“No.” I replied, picking at my salad. “I merely sought to establish a choice for all. If you want to spend the next three Monday evenings in detention, that is entirely up to you.”

“I think you should go for the cane.” Jane Somerville decided to join us.

“Well I’m not, and that’s an end to the matter.”

“That might not make you too popular with some of the others, Susan.” Jane dug her fork into her cottage pie.

“Tough!”

Jane was right. Susan never was able to fully integrate into the social realm of the sixth form, where I had a much easier path. We remained friends and still exchange occasional letters to this day.

The End