A protest over new rules means the headmistress has to re-establish discipline

By Seb Drummond

Monday September 27th 1965

Jane Morton, form tutor for the Upper Sixth Science pupils at Castlethwaite High School for Girls, was sitting in the staff room with Rachel Green, who held the same position for the Sixth Form Humanities students. They had a few minutes before their afternoon duties began. The two teachers were firm friends and often exchanged confidences.

“I hear the natives are getting restless,” said Jane.

“You can say that again. I’ve never known so much ill-feeling about a school policy.”

“It keeps being brought up and all we can say is that the Head has made her decision so it has to be accepted. Everyone just has to get on with it.”

“I said the same thing to my form yesterday,” said Rachel. “But I felt there was a lot of tension in the classroom. It’s almost as though they don’t believe it has to be accepted. Some of the girls looked positively rebellious.”

“I think something is being planned but I don’t know what it is.”

“It’s difficult to see what they can do but maybe we’ll find out before the week’s over.”

The two form tutors discussed other matters for a couple of minutes before going off to their afternoon lessons.

* * *

Vicky James was the Deputy Head at the High School and she was very worried about the strongly adverse reaction of the girls to the Head’s announcement about new school uniform rules. The reaction had been particularly adverse, emotional even, in the Upper School – the fifth and sixth form girls.

Mrs James, a well turned out woman in her early forties, was an attractive and popular member of staff, both with her colleagues and with those older pupils who had had the chance over time to get to know her. This was in spite of the fact that she was in charge of school discipline as far as everyday matters were concerned. This amounted to detentions, lines, essays (known as impositions at the school), and recommendations regarding pupil suspensions, with the Head making the final decision on such matters. Girls in the first three years were sometimes slippered but the years above that were spared corporal punishment. It had been decided three years previously to discontinue the use of the cane.

The school had a prefect system, but being a prefect was not a particularly privileged position and there was no real competition among the girls to achieve the status. There was however a Head Girl and this position involved more visible duties, as well as liaison with the staff, who often treated her as though she could speak on behalf of the other pupils. The various Head Girls over the years could have disabused the staff of that notion, but somehow they never did.

The school uniform was basically a grey skirt, a white blouse, an optional maroon jersey for cooler days, a maroon blazer and finally a maroon beret. In the 1960s there was no question of a trouser option, but the sixth form girls were allowed to wear a narrower, tighter fitting skirt, as a privilege, and most of them did so. Sixth form girls were also allowed to wear stockings (nothing sheerer than 30 denier) which involved using a suspender belt.

The Head Girl, Susan Wheeler, had been to see Vicky James towards the end of the previous week.

“Hello Susan. What can I do for you?”

“Hello Mrs James. I wanted to have a word with you about a difficult subject – the level of morale and, I’m sorry to say, the level of ill-feeling that there is among the girls at the moment.”

“Can I guess that this is about the new uniform rules?”

“Yes, miss, it is. The girls in the Upper School in particular feel as though they are becoming a laughing stock in the town.”

“Surely they are exaggerating?”

“Perhaps they are miss, but not much. I have to confess that I have a lot of sympathy for their point of view.”

Secretly Vicky James also had a lot of sympathy for their point of view but could not admit this without being disloyal to the Head.

“I presume it’s the rule about the school beret that’s causing the trouble,” she said.

“Yes miss. They don’t like the skirt rule but it is mainly the beret. I don’t want to be disrespectful but the rule that no hair whatsoever should be seen beneath the front of the beret makes us look like soldiers. In fact someone said the other day that the Territorial Army Unit in town has a less strict beret rule than our school.”

“In fairness, Susan, some of the girls created this problem for themselves. The business of clipping the beret as far back as possible and then combing or back-combing the hair so that it becomes practically invisible, was always asking for a reaction. And you should all know by now that our Headmistress is not the sort to back off when she sees girls challenging and undermining school rules.”

Both thought for a moment. Miss Crossfield, the Headmistress, was an old style disciplinarian. She expected obedience and good standards of behaviour at her school and, as so often happens, what is expected by a firm Headmistress is what in practice is delivered. Behaviour at the school was generally very good, so good that Miss Crossfield had been fairly easily persuaded to remove caning as a punishment three years earlier. Vicky James had been the chief persuader.

“What about the girl’s reaction to the length of their skirts?”

“They feel it could be an inch or two higher. It is 1965 when all is said and done, but that’s not their main complaint.”

Vicky had been expecting a stronger reaction about skirt length. The Sixties were beginning to swing with a vengeance. Short skirts were seen in adverts and on TV so it was hardly surprising that many of the girls were wearing their skirts short.

Various transgressions had caused the Headmistress to write to all parents telling them of the new uniform rules and saying that skirt length would be enforced by making girls kneel on the floor. The skirt had to touch the floorboards or the girl concerned would be sent home. The beret rule was mentioned only at the end of the letter and most parents had not paid much attention to it.

“The skirt length doesn’t of itself make the girls look unattractive,” continued Susan. “But the beret rule without a single lock of hair on the forehead makes us look positively silly.”

Vicky James again secretly sympathised. The Upper School girls were of an age where they were concerned about their personal attractiveness to the opposite sex, and travelling back and forwards to their homes now felt like an ordeal to most of them. This was perhaps the most self conscious period of their lives.

“Well she’s made her mind up and I don’t think she’s going to change it,” said Vicky.

“I understand the problem, Mrs James,” said Susan. “But I think there’s going to be trouble.”

“What sort of trouble?”

“I don’t know, but I’m seeing lots of huddles of girls who stop speaking when they see me. I feel something is going on, but I don’t know what it is.”

“OK Susan. I’ll see what I can do but I’m not hopeful.”

She watched as the dark haired Head Girl left the study to go to her next class.

* * *

At the end of the day a meeting took place in the Sixth Form Common Room. Seven girls were present, one for each class in the fifth and sixth years. There were three fifth form classes, with twenty-five girls in each class, as well as two classes in each of the lower and upper sixth, with fifteen to twenty girls in each sixth form class. In total about one hundred and fifty girls were being represented.

Sally Dawson was a strong minded and attractive girl in the Upper Sixth Science stream. She was also the captain of the hockey team. Her best friend was Moira Fairhurst, an outspoken girl who was in the Sixth Form Humanities stream. Both girls had just turned eighteen and were likely to go on to university at the end of this academic year. Both girls were academically talented and they had found they could enjoy a good social life without falling behind with their studies.

Both had something else in common in that they wore their hair short with curls falling naturally on to their foreheads and they felt particularly badly affected by the new beret rule. Sally was a natural blonde while Moira’s hair was auburn coloured. The two girls were at the heart of a plan to oppose the new rule, although none of the Upper School girls needed much persuasion, such was the general sense of outrage.

“OK. Let’s get down to business,” said Sally. “We talked on Friday about what we want to do, so we’ve all had the weekend and today to sound out the other girls in our forms. Are they going to support the plan? Moira, can you go first.”

“The Upper Sixth girls were always going to be the most difficult because about a third of them have prefect status and I wasn’t quite sure which way some of them would jump. But at the moment there’s only one who might not go along with us, and I think she’ll eventually fall into line, when she sees that everyone else is unanimous.”

“There are two similar problems in my form,” said Sally, “but apart from them everyone else is in favour. How about the rest of you?”

Both Lower Sixth representatives reported unanimity. They were further away from the academic pressure of A-levels and also felt slightly sheltered by the fact that the Upper Sixth were leading the way. The three fifth form girls reported near unanimity apart from two or three doubters who were dismissed as ‘the expected goody two shoes.’

“Right,” said Sally. “It goes ahead tomorrow. Moira and I will do the talking at first on behalf of everyone. All that everybody else has to do is sit tight and follow the instructions as agreed. We can’t let the Head’s old fashioned fuddy duddy ideas prevail. She really is the absolute limit and it’s time she realised that we are not little girls any longer.”

“Just one thing,” said one of the Lower Sixth girls. “Does your father have any inkling about this?”

“No, he does not,” said Sally firmly. “I’m eighteen years old and entitled to express my opinions any way I choose. I’m no different to any other girl in this school.”

The meeting broke up and Sally and Moira were left alone.

“That last point is worth thinking about,” said Moira. “If it helps out at home I’m prepared to take the lead role and do the talking.”

“Definitely not. We both organised this and we’ll carry on acting together. Daddy may be Castlethwaite’s Director of Education, but up to now that’s made no difference to the way I behave, or the way I’ve been treated. So we carry on together and I accept full responsibility for my actions. It’s nothing to do with him.”

“OK,” said Moira slightly doubtfully.

* * *

Miss Crossfield, the Headmistress at Castlethwaite High School, drove home through the evening traffic. She had been Head at the school for the last fifteen years and believed in firm discipline and hard work. Her image of herself was that she was a no-nonsense Headmistress, and she believed that behaviour at any school would be good as long as you dealt quickly with any lapses. Her recent decisions on school uniform had been caused by just such lapses.

Vicky James had told her today that she had received information from the Head Girl that the girls were very upset and intended to somehow make their voices heard, but Miss Crossfield had quickly dismissed that. ‘Schoolgirl hysteria’ had been her response. She privately thought that her Deputy listened to the girls too much. She was not at all sure that Vicky James should be a candidate for her job when she retired in two years time.

She turned her mind to happier thoughts. It had been a satisfying day’s work and she was going out to a concert that evening, which she had been looking forward to for a long time.

* * *

Tuesday September 28th 1965

Miss Crossfield walked from her study to morning assembly which began at 8.50 am every morning. It was impractical to hold a full school assembly in the School Hall so assembly was divided in two. The Lower School assembly took place in the school gymnasium, with the girls standing. The fourth, fifth and sixth years, the Upper School, met in the School Hall which had seating in place. Usually Miss Crossfield took the Upper School assembly while Vicky James took the Lower School.

The Head walked into the hall through the ranks of girls and stepped up to the lectern. Members of the teaching staff were seated behind her as she faced the girls. The Headmistress was always the last to enter the assembly and usually the hall became quiet as she came in. Today the Head noticed a difference in that the girls were already quiet before she entered.

The assembly proceeded smoothly with a hymn, a bible reading by one of the pupils and prayers. There were a number of announcements to end the proceedings and the Head then left the assembly followed by the members of staff, apart from two form tutors who stayed behind to supervise as the girls departed to go to their first class. This week the Upper Sixth tutors had that duty. Jane Morton asked that the fourth year leave first and they obediently filed out.

“Now the fifth year.”

Nothing happened. The fifth year girls stayed in their places.

“Didn’t you hear me? Fifth year now please.”

Again there was no response.

Jane Morton looked at Rachel Green. It was beginning to dawn on them what was happening.

“OK. Can the sixth year please leave now?” Jane wanted to understand the size of the problem to see if it was confined to the fifth year classes.

Again there was no movement and Jane and Rachel now knew it was concerted action by the fifth and sixth year girls. There was silence in the hall and the atmosphere was tense.

“Right,” said Rachel. “Presumably somebody is going to tell us what’s going on.”

Sally and Moira were pleased that everybody in the fifth and sixth years had sat tight, refusing to move. But now the pressure was on them as leaders and they felt very nervous. Adrenalin was coursing through their veins to the extent that each of the two girls was trembling slightly. Sally put one foot more firmly on the floor to stop it shaking, and told herself that the girls were in the right and were entitled to express their views. She also felt angry that they had been put in this position because of the Head being so out of touch with the times.

She stood up and Moira then stood up too. Both girls had seated themselves in the front row, next to one another.

“We have all decided to protest, miss, against the changes to the school uniform rules. We are going to sit here until we obtain some change.”

“This is a very serious matter,” said Jane. “You are disrupting the work of the school and absenting yourselves from your classes. To put it mildly the Head will be very upset.”

“All the girls here today are also very upset,” countered Moira.

“Would you like to tell us what changes you are looking for?” said Rachel.

“With respect, miss, no,” said Sally. “We all know that the Headmistress made the decision, and we don’t see the point of speaking to anyone else.”

“Very well,” said Rachel. “I will go and speak to the Head.” She then whispered to Jane: “I suggest you stay here or we’ll be accused of making things worse by leaving them unsupervised.”

As Rachel left the hall she saw the Head Girl, Susan Wheeler.

“Do you know anything about this?”

“Only what I’ve heard in the last twenty minutes, which isn’t much more than you know.”

“But surely they don’t intend to stay there all day. It’s not very practical.”

“I think they’ve thought of that. I think they intend to sit there until lunchtime and then disperse. They will then do the same thing later in the week, or whenever else they choose, until they get some changes. They also intend to ignore any punishments given.”

“Thank you, Susan,” said Rachel as she left to hurry towards the Head’s office.

* * *

Miss Crossfield listened with a mounting sense of anger to what Rachel Green had to say.

“Did you give them a direct instruction to return to their classes?”

“We took the view that it had gone beyond that, Headmistress,” said Rachel. She then recounted what she had been told by the Head Girl.

“Alright. Ask Vicky James to come to my study immediately and then go back to the hall and help Miss Morton to keep order.”

“I should say, Headmistress, that there is no disorder. The girls’ demeanour is, how shall I put it, well, they seem quiet, determined and angry.”

She left the study to find the Deputy Head.

* * *

The Head and her Deputy entered the assembly hall and walked up to the front. They had decided that the first thing to do was to find out what the girls wanted. They were accompanied by the form tutors for the fifth and sixth years.

It soon became clear that what the Head wanted was to tear a strip off the girls and use her authority to get them back to their classes as quickly as possible.

“You must know that you are all seriously breaching school rules by not attending your classes and consequently disrupting the activities of the school. You have thus left yourselves open to disciplinary action. I am telling you now, as your headmistress, to return to your classes. You can tell the Head Girl what your views are on the school uniform. She can then represent these views to me and I will then make a decision.”

Nobody moved. Sally and Moira were angered by the Head’s attitude. Did she really think they would give in as easily as that? Sally and Moira stood up together. They had decided in advance what to say to the Head. Sally began.

“We won’t be returning to work, miss, until we are listened to and we obtain some action. Our aim in doing this has been to speak to you directly. You are the decision maker and we’re not prepared to be represented by Susan, which is no disrespect to her. The girls sitting here today are genuinely angry and they want their voices to be heard directly.”

The Head was becoming more and more angry at what she saw as straightforward defiance.

“What gives you two the right to represent everyone?” interrupted the Head.

Sally stayed calm. “We spoke together and agreed, miss, that it would be better if a couple of people did the talking initially,” she said. “All of us feel that the school uniform, which we have to wear as we go back and forth to school every weekday, is of particular importance to the girls, especially in the Upper School, where appearance is taken a lot more seriously than in the Lower School.”

Again the Head interrupted. “Some of the examples of school uniform ‘modifications’ that I’ve seen don’t give me the impression that appearance matters much to some of you. Skirt lengths have been immodest and attempts have been made to render the beret almost invisible. Do you really expect me to let you get away with that?”

Sally and Moira began to get even more annoyed.

“With respect, miss, that behaviour comes from only a very small minority of the girls and should have been dealt with directly with them, instead of coming down on everybody in the school,” said Sally. “We believe we have the right to be consulted if only because the school uniform matters more to us than anybody else. We are the ones who have to wear it!”

“’Should have been dealt with directly’ you say. Do you think you have the right to tell me how to conduct discipline in my own school? As for being consulted, you have no such right. Why should girls who have behaved badly be consulted on anything? Why should I listen to you? I run this school.”

Moira’s very strong feelings began to get the better of her.

“We’ve already said, miss, that it’s a very small minority behaving badly. You’re just not listening to us. A few girls go too far and then everyone else has to put up with old-fashioned, fuddy duddy, silly uniform rules dreamt up by old, out-of-touch spinsters.”

As Moira stopped speaking she knew that she had gone a long way too far. As so often in her life she had let her mouth run away with her.

The Headmistress turned white.

“I decided on the rules. Are you suggesting that I am an old-fashioned fuddy duddy, and an out-of-touch spinster?”

Sally knew that Moira, by blurting out her true feelings about some members of staff, including the Head, had seriously over-stepped the mark. Moira shouldn’t have said what she did, but Sally felt that she should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her friend.

“If the cap fits, wear it,” she said quietly but clearly, and the remark was heard all over the room.

The Head was deeply and visibly shocked.

“In the whole of my professional career I have never been spoken to in such an insolent, rude and offensive manner by any girls in my charge,” said the Head. “You may rest assured that these impertinent and wounding remarks will not be forgotten. There will be consequences. Returning to the subject of the uniform, is there anything else you wish to say to me?”

Sally was trembling now, because she knew that the two leaders had allowed themselves to be provoked, and had put themselves in the wrong. But she was determined to continue, in order to make the points she had wanted to make all along.

She covered the fact that this was now the sixties and while the girls didn’t expect very short skirts to be permitted in school, she and all the other girls thought a gesture could be made and perhaps a couple of inches higher might be allowed. She went on to make the point that the beret rule was their main complaint, and that the rule that no hair should be seen on the forehead, beneath the beret, was making the girls look ridiculous. They were a laughing stock in the town and pupils from other schools were mocking them. Finally she made the debating point about the local Territorial Army having less demanding rules for their berets. She then made another mistake.

“Even the worst sort of sergeant major couldn’t have come up with this beret rule.”

Again the Headmistress, unsurprisingly, took the remark personally, and began to bristle.

“Right, that’s enough,” she said. “You can remain sitting here. I am going to consult with other members of staff and I’ll also be ringing the education authority to obtain permission for a special punishment. I’ll be back to talk to you in forty-five minutes.”

The Head and the other members of staff left the hall.

“Not perfect,” said Moira to Sally.

“No. We let her provoke us into losing our tempers.”

All the girls were subdued. They felt that they no longer held the moral high ground because Moira, backed up by Sally, had literally insulted their headmistress, for whom they all had a lingering respect.

* * *

Vicky James, Jane Morton, Rachel Green and the form tutors for the rest of the fifth and sixth years met briefly in the staff room.

“What a mess,” said Vicky. “The girls have a case but they certainly didn’t make the best of the situation. It’s going to be a long time before relationships get back to normal after this.”

The form tutors mumbled their agreement but nobody had any suggestions to make.

Vicky went on. “We have two separate issues. We need to come to a clear decision on this uniform business. I feel the Head needs to compromise. It’s not just the girls, I feel bad myself seeing them becoming a laughing stock.”

“Can you persuade her to compromise?” Asked Jane.

“I have an idea,” said Vicky. “The second issue is the question of re-establishing discipline in the school. Sally and Moira went way too far in their comments and will have to accept a severe punishment.”

“What did she mean when she said ‘special punishment’?” Said Rachel.

“I just don’t know. Mass detention, perhaps on a Saturday? Or the reintroduction of the cane, or expulsion for the ringleaders? I don’t know. Anyway I’ll go and see her now and try to persuade her to react in a measured way.”

Vicky left the staffroom and walked along the corridor to the Head’s study.

* * *

In the study the Head was speaking to the Director of Education, Sally’s father, David Dawson. She had explained all that had happened, including the personal insulting remarks, without so far mentioning his daughter.

“I need your agreement to move outside the present limits on punishments in this school.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“I propose to reintroduce the cane, just for this occasion, not on a long term basis.”

“Well, to state the obvious Miss Crossfield, you can’t cane one hundred and fifty girls. That would make headlines in the national press, never mind the local rag. However, if you want to cane a very few individuals who have been unconscionably rude and impertinent to you, made worse by the fact that it was in public, then I’m not going to object. The authority is not against corporal punishment. It was your own choice to discontinue it, and as you know most of our other schools still maintain it as a last resort punishment. The offence you have described could even merit expulsion.”

“I was also thinking of a mass detention of all the girls involved on a Saturday, which can be used to catch up on what they have missed today.”

“Again, I’m not against in principle, but it may be very unpopular with the parents. The other issue is whether the girls will turn up for detention. You’ll have to defuse the uniform issue in some way first. At the moment discipline has broken down in your Upper School, and it has to be re-established.”

“Thank you for your advice, Mr Dawson. There is a personal matter that I need to mention to you. I’m sorry to have to tell you that one of the two ringleaders, who were so insolent, is your daughter, Sally.”

“I can scarcely believe what I’m hearing, Miss Crossfield. Sally is very wilful and headstrong, but I would never have expected this.”

Secretly he had been wondering if his daughter was involved. It would have been very typical of her.

“I’m sorry to have had to break the news to you. Do you want to reconsider anything you’ve said?”

“Certainly not. I’ve never asked for special treatment for my daughter and I’m not starting now. All I will say is that it would be in the best interests of both girls for them to be caned rather than face expulsion so I hope that will be your first choice. I’m also concerned that the local press would just love a headline that trumpeted ‘Director of Education’s daughter expelled.’ That wouldn’t be good for anybody – the girls, me or the school. I don’t suppose you want the whole story to appear in the press.”

“I understand Mr Dawson. I’ll bear all this in mind as I proceed.”

“Good luck.”

* * *

Vicky knocked on the door just as Miss Crossfield put down the telephone. The two women sat on two of the three armchairs that made up a nest at the far end of the study.

“Vicky, we have lost control of the Upper School, I hope temporarily. The two ringleaders handled the meeting very badly, and there have to be repercussions. That will have to be part of the process of bringing things back under control.”

She paused.

“To be honest I’m not proud of my own reactions to their initial remarks. I think I made things worse.”

Miss Crossfield went on to outline the conversation she had just had with the Director of Education, and ended by saying that she was ready to listen to any suggestions.

“But there is one condition. We have to take severe action against those two insulting and rude girls. I’ve watched the two of them develop through the school and I can only say that I have never been so surprised and upset and shocked as I was this morning.”

“I understand, headmistress, and I fully sympathise. May I make a couple of suggestions?”

“Of course.”

“The first problem is to deal with the uniform issue and get everyone back to class.”

“Agreed, but I can’t just give in to them. Where would it stop? All my authority would have gone.”

“I’d like to suggest the outline of a compromise, Headmistress. How would it be if you announced that you were setting up an advisory group to consider the uniform policy, reporting to you. I would suggest that you instruct such a group to get its recommendations to you within a week. It could consist of someone you trust as chair – perhaps me – two of the younger members of staff – perhaps the two Upper Sixth form tutors – and also the Head Girl. I think the girls would accept a younger looking group looking at the problem.”

“Younger than me you mean. I won’t give an undertaking to accept automatically what is recommended.”

“I understand. If it helps, what I would be aiming for as an outcome would be no compromise regarding skirt length, but perhaps some relaxation of the beret rule. We’ll have to work at finding the right words covering how it should be worn so that we get no return to the behaviour that provoked the new rules in the first place.”

The Headmistress looked somewhat mollified by Vicky James proposal.

“Do you think that would get this silly sit-in ended.”

“Yes I do headmistress, but I can’t be certain.”

“I understand. What about discipline? We can’t let them all off scot-free.”

The two women continued their discussions for a further five minutes.

* * *

The headmistress and the same members of staff walked back into the Assembly Hall. The girls had been chatting in groups but quickly resumed their seats.

The Head came straight to the point.

“There are two separate things that need to be decided. I have consulted with other members of staff and have made some decisions. First of all with regard to the school uniform I intend to do the following.” The Headmistress then outlined the plan that Vicky James had proposed.

It was clear from their reactions that most of the girls welcomed the proposal. Many of them were feeling uncomfortable about their actions and sympathised with the Head following Sally and Moira’s rudeness that morning.

“Secondly there is the question of discipline,” the head went on. “I am firmly of the view that today’s events were unnecessary. Other avenues were open to you that did not disrupt the school and which would not have resulted in mass disobedience. As a result every girl here will write a five hundred word essay to be handed to your form tutor not later than a week today. The subject will be ‘Fashion in the Twentieth Century.’ I advise you to avoid collusion or copying unless you want to get into more trouble. There will also be extra homework to make up for the lesson time lost today. You now have ten minutes to talk about this among yourselves. I will return in ten minutes to hear what you have to say.”

With that the Head and the other members of staff left the room.

Sally and Moira quickly brought together the form representatives.

Sally said: “My inclination is to accept. We can always do this again if we end up with no changes to the beret rule.”

Moira thought that it would not be easy to get the girls to this point of rebellion again, but she decided not to say this. “I agree with Sally,” she said.

“Any objections?” There were none.

“OK. Gather your form members around and see if anyone else has any objections. We need to hear from you again in five minutes.”

The form representatives scurried off and were quickly back to report that most of the girls thought enough of a concession had been made by the Head to call off the sit-in, although a few were still angry enough to carry on if they were asked.

* * *

Ten minutes after she left the Head and the other staff members returned to the hall.

“Do you have anything to say to me?”

Sally and Moira stood up again. “We have discussed the matter, miss, and we are ready to call off our action. We’d like to thank you for thinking flexibly about the problem.”

Call off your action, thought the Head. Call off your inaction you mean. However she did not say this aloud, and had the grace to admit to herself that she probably would have done earlier that morning.

“There is one final thing,” said the Head looking directly at Sally and Moira. “I expect you two to report to my office immediately. Your abominable rudeness this morning needs to be dealt with. Let me make it clear to all of you that I intend to punish these two girls severely, but it has nothing to do with leading this demonstration. It is solely down to the public rudeness and insolence and lack of respect that I suffered from earlier today.”

She continued. “Everybody must give their names to their form mistresses before leaving the room. The list will be used to make sure that the impositions are completed by everyone.”

The Head left the room with Vicky James, leaving the girls and the form mistresses to this task.

* * *

Back in the Head’s study the two women looked at each other. Both were feeling a sense of relief that, so far, things were going to plan.

“Thank you for your advice, Vicky. But whether you like it or not I’m going to cane these two girls.”

“I agree that their behaviour justifies it, Headmistress, but please don’t cane them immediately. If they go back into their classes in a state of upset, having just been caned, you’ll turn them into heroes and there will be a lot of misplaced sympathy. Tension is still running very high. If the punishment is carried out after school today, then they won’t see their form mates until tomorrow, when they will be more composed and the tension and anger of today will hopefully have died away somewhat.”

“You’re probably right,” said the Head. “I expect they’re outside now, waiting to be called in.”

* * *

Moira and Sally had talked together as they walked towards the Head’s study.

“I wonder what she means by severe punishment,” said Moira.

“Well we’ll soon find out. Not long ago we’d have been caned. I’m frightened that she’ll expel us.”

“Surely not.”

“We did treat her with a complete lack of respect, even if it was partly due to our nervousness.”

“She doesn’t deserve respect,” said Moira, but the bravado in her voice didn’t convince either girl.

* * *

They entered the study when summoned and stood before Miss Crossfield’s desk. Again the Head came straight to the point.

“I’ve made clear my anger, indeed outrage, at your remarks this morning. I have never been so insulted in the whole of my working life. That such remarks should have been made by two of my pupils, who owe me a duty of respect, makes it even worse. Have you anything to say for yourselves?”

“We accept that we went too far, miss,” said Sally. Moira nodded her head. “We would like to apologise.”

“Apologies are always welcome, but I will not allow them to moderate your punishment. I have decided to reintroduce the cane to deal with your behaviour. I have spoken to the education authority and they have no objections. I hope this incident is the last time it will be put to use. You will report to my study at 4.20 pm this afternoon. Mrs James will be witness. You will both receive six strokes with the cane across your bottoms.”

Moira and Sally were visibly shocked. They felt it was unfair to bring back a punishment that everyone thought had gone for good, without any advance warning. Sally was the first to recover.

“I don’t think that’s fair, miss. Firstly the cane should be reintroduced before the offence, not after, and I think the cane is being used on us because you see us as the ringleaders of the demonstration.”

“I’ve made it perfectly clear that your further punishment was because of your rude and offensive behaviour,” said Miss Crossfield angrily.

“Well I don’t believe it, miss,” said Sally. Again she spoke without thinking through what she was going to say. “I’m not going to report here at 4.20, and I hope that tomorrow morning there will be another demonstration after assembly. This time our demand will be very simple – cane no-one or cane everyone.”

“If this goes ahead you will leave me no alternative but to expel you both. Report here at 8.30 in the morning and give me your decision. The options are only twofold – the cane or a pointless demonstration, which will result in your dismissal from the school.”

Sally and Moira left the study. As they walked down the corridor, this time it was Moira who voiced doubts. “Great speech Sally, but I don’t think we’ll have the support of the other girls.”

* * *

Vicky James and the Head looked at each other. Both were shocked.

“They simply have to be disciplined, Vicky. If we back off now discipline in this school is finished, and if discipline is finished, the school is finished. And I’m finished also, because I couldn’t carry on as Head if these two win.”

“They won’t win Headmistress. I’m confident the other girls won’t support them in sufficient numbers.”

“I hope you’re right. I don’t want to expel. As the Director said, that could cause other problems. I think there may be hard words spoken in the Dawson household tonight.”

Whilst having no sympathy for the girls, who she thought had stupidly raised the stakes, Vicky had a sneaking admiration for Sally’s reaction. The news of the caning had been unexpected, but within seconds the girl had found the only slogan – cane no-one or cane everyone – that might have some credibility, and there was the outside possibility that there would be support for her. She thought that Sally might make a politician one day. But to be a good politician you need to taste defeat, and Vicky was fairly sure that Sally had made a mistake.

* * *

That evening there was a definite atmosphere in the Dawson home.

“Can she just reintroduce the cane like that, without any warning?” asked Sally speaking to her father.

“No reason why not, although it is unusual. She made the decision to stop caning, without any pressure from the department, so she can decide to reintroduce it.”

“And can she expel us, without going back to you?”

“If she decides to expel I will have to back her up. If the girls decide to back you up tomorrow you will have made the school ungovernable. She will probably be wondering about her own resignation, but before she even considers that, she will definitely expel the two of you first.”

“So there’s nothing you can say or do to help us, daddy.”

“No. I’m not going to be put in the position of asking for special treatment for you. Why should your Headmistress give in to a couple of rude and headstrong sixth formers?”

“Headstrong! We’re not headstrong. How can you say such a thing?”

“If the cap fits, wear it,” said her father, thinking back to what he had been told by Miss Crossfield.

For a moment Sally felt a flash of anger, then she realised how much her own comment, in front of one hundred and fifty people, must have hurt the Headmistress. It was her first real insight into what she and Moira had done that day. She was seeing their behaviour more clearly now that she was at home, away from the tensions of today’s battleground at school.

“I’d advise you to avoid expulsion,” said her father. “It doesn’t look good on university application forms, especially if your results are poor because you had to change schools suddenly.”

“You sound as though you want me to be caned.”

David Dawson looked at his wife, who so far had studiously said nothing.

“No. I don’t want you to be caned. But you have caused this problem yourself. You have to learn to stop and think before you speak, especially when you’re angry or shocked.”

The Director of Education was of the opinion that a caning would do his daughter the world of good, but thought better of saying that in front of his daughter and wife.

* * *

Wednesday September 29th 1965

Moira and Sally met early the next morning.

“We have some support,” said Moira, “but not nearly enough.”

“I guessed as much. Strangely enough I don’t want to fight it anymore so I’m going to accept the caning. At least it’s soon over and there must be a limit to how hard she can cane us. Anyway I don’t know about you but I think we probably deserve it, and I don’t want to be expelled.” She went on to describe her own anger when her father made the same ‘if the cap fits comment’ that Sally herself had made to the head the previous day.

Moira listened and said: “If you’re going to take the cane, I will too. I’m not sure we have much choice.”

* * *

At 8.30am they reported to the headmistress’s study.

“Your decision please,” said the Head.

“I’m ready to accept the cane, miss,” said Sally.

“Me too, miss,” said Moira.

“Good. Report back here at 4.20. Before reporting here make sure you have removed your stockings and suspender belts. I don’t want suspender belts in any way impeding the cane.”

* * *

At lunchtime the Head met with her deputy.

“The two girls have decided to take a caning. I’d like you to be the witness.”

“Would you rather we reversed roles and I did the caning. After all I do have responsibility for discipline.”

“Neither you nor I have caned anyone for three years, but before that I suspect that my experience is greater than yours. I’ll do it.”

“Understood.” A thought occurred to her. “Do we have a punishment cane?”

“Yes. I never threw them away. I’ve looked at the senior cane and had a few practice strokes. It’s still in good condition.” The headmistress paused.

“There’s one further thing the girls don’t know. I intend to cane them across their bare bottoms. The threat yesterday of further disruption was the last straw as far as I’m concerned.”

Vicky was surprised and a little shocked.

“Are you sure that’s wise? They may just refuse, in which case the problem goes on.”

“I don’t think they’ll refuse. When I saw them this morning I felt that they were reconciled to their fate. I don’t believe they had much support from the other girls, and their only alternative is expulsion.” She added defensively: “I’m entitled to do it. The Head of the Grammar School canes boys bare if the offence merits it, so there will be no problem with the education authority.”

Vicky James was doubtful.

The Head went on. “What you have to take into account is that if those two girls had been able to muster support we’d now be facing a complete breakdown of discipline. Even after expelling them we don’t know if new leaders would have come forward. I would have been on the point of resignation, my career in ruins. These two must submit to my authority. As far as I’m concerned, taking a bare bottom caning will represent their complete acknowledgement that I am in charge of this school, not them.”

* * *

Just before 4.20 that afternoon, Sally and Moira again walked towards the Head’s study. There had been some sympathy for them, but they knew that many of the girls thought that they deserved what was coming to them. They recognised themselves that they had gone too far by a long way, probably caused by the adrenalin rush that they were experiencing at the time. They tapped at the study door.

“Come in,” called the Head.

They entered and again stood before the large wooden desk. Miss Crossfield and Vicky James stood behind it. A yellow rattan cane, with a crook handle, about three feet long and three eighth’s of an inch wide down its full length, lay on the desk. The two girls eyed it with trepidation.

“There is no need to dwell on your offence. Enough has been said about that and you know how I feel. In a few moments you will each receive six strokes with the cane. You should know that after your threats yesterday I have decided that the caning will be delivered across your bare bottoms.” The Head paused. Both girls were again clearly shocked.

“You didn’t tell us this at 8.30 miss,” said Sally.

“I had not at that point made the decision. If it makes a difference you can still opt for expulsion.”

Sally realised that part of the Head’s objective was to humiliate them, but she had no fight left in her. Moira meanwhile made the more practical calculation that the level of hurt would not increase much, if at all, having to take it bare, given the skimpy nature of the pants she was wearing. She had always thought that the caning would be administered across their knickers, so this announcement made little difference.

“I’ll take the caning, miss,” said Moira. This time it was Sally who nodded assent.

“Both of you hang your blazers behind the door.” They did so and returned to their position.

The Deputy Head looked at the girls. Slim, attractive, one blonde, one with dark hair, but both extremely headstrong, she thought to herself.

“Sally Dawson, we’ll start with you.” She turned to Moira. “You can watch the preparations so that you know exactly what to do when it’s your turn.”

“Stand by the end of the desk.” Sally moved to her left and did as requested. She was wearing a skirt sufficiently tight fitting to make it very difficult to lift or even roll up. The tighter skirt was a privilege for sixth formers and most of them made use of it.

“Unfasten your skirt and let it fall to the floor.”

Sally did so.

“Good. Now bend over the desk, putting your full weight on it.”

Sally did so feeling the coolness of the desk as she positioned herself. The Head pulled back her white blouse and folded it under, about halfway up her back. Sally now had only a scant pair of white cotton pants covering her and was otherwise naked from the middle of her back down to her ankles.

“Stretch your arms forward as far as you can reach.”

Sally did so and her blouse moved even higher up her back. The Head lifted the cane from the desk, held it at eye level and looked along its length. She swished it through the air a couple of times.

She looked at Moira. “You now see the position you must adopt when it’s your turn. In a moment I’m going to pull this girl’s pants down and she’ll then receive her six strokes. This next part of the proceedings is not for you to observe, so please go and face the wall……over there where I can see you.”

Moira did as she was told.

Vicky James had been a non-participant so far. She looked at Sally’s bottom, the lower buttocks already bare as the girl’s pants were stretched more tightly by the bending position. She thought there was really no need to take the pants down but she also understood the Head’s point of view.

“Mrs James. If you see any sign of this girl not remaining in position, please step forward and take hold of her arms.”

“Of course headmistress.”

The Head leant forward and took hold of Sally’s pants and quickly pulled them down to just above her knees.

Both women surveyed the bottom that was about to feel the cane. There was no doubt that they were dealing with a young woman, albeit one who was also still a schoolgirl. Her bottom was nicely shaped and the cheeks were an unblemished creamy colour.

The Head could not resist one final turn of the screw.

“Yesterday you thought you were running the school. Now your bottom is completely bare and perfectly positioned for the cane. It must all seem very different.”

Sally said nothing.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes, miss,” she said quietly.

The Head felt deeply satisfied at this point. She had the total submission to her authority that she wanted. She felt her point had been made and even considered for a moment giving the girls a light token caning, but she quickly dismissed this from her mind. What happened next would get round the school, and if she was thought to have backed off at the last moment it would be seen as weakness.

She tapped Sally’s left buttock a few times with the cane. She knew from years of experience that the straightening and extension of her arm, as the full stroke whipped across the girl’s bottom, would make sure the cane hit both cheeks firmly.

She raised the cane above shoulder height, paused for two or three seconds and brought it down hard, striking Sally’s upper buttocks.


A sharp intake of breath was heard from the hapless girl, as she felt the sharpest and most stinging pain she had ever experienced. She now fully realised how severe six-of-the-best was going to be.

The second stroke was an inch or so lower. Sally moaned slightly with the pain and involuntarily lifted up her bottom about an inch, but then, as the Head watched carefully, she quickly resumed her position.

The third and fourth strokes continued the downward progression of the caning. The Head laid both these strokes on particularly hard, not having to worry lest the cane hit an uncushioned area, either just above or just below the buttocks. By now tears were welling up in Sally’s eyes, and she had cried out louder after each stroke.

The fifth and sixth strokes were aimed at her more fleshy, lower bottom. After the fifth stroke tears began to run down the girl’s face and she cried out loudly after the sixth stroke.

“Stay there until I tell you to get up.”

The headmistress reflected that she had taken her punishment well, passing the Head’s acid test in that she had held on to the far end of the desk throughout the ordeal. Six red stripes and some furrowing on the crown of Sally’s bottom made it clear that the Head had not lost her ability to accurately punish those who she thought deserved it.

‘Stand up and get dressed.’

Sally’s bottom felt as though it was on fire. She stood up, one leg trembling. She tried to stop it by sheer willpower but was only partially successful. She bent over and pulled up her pants and then her skirt.

“Go and stand by your accomplice.”

Moira had been listening to Sally’s caning with a mounting sense of fear and worry. The twenty or so seconds between each stroke had seemed like minutes to Moira, and she could hear Sally’s occasional quiet sobs now beginning to die away to be replaced by deep breathing.

She was dreading the next two or three minutes but she was determined not to give the Head the satisfaction of seeing her morale appear to break down.

“Moira Fairhurst, your turn.”

Moira turned round, seeing Sally’s tear stained cheeks briefly, and went to join the Head at one side of he desk.

“You know what to do.”

Moira wanted her caning to be quickly over, so almost too hastily she undid her skirt and let it fall. Then, rather than leaving it to the head, she pulled her flimsy pants down around her thighs, and, without needing to bend her knees, she then pushed them down to her ankles. Finally she folded her blouse up to about halfway up her back. She considered bending over but decided to wait for the command.

The Head and Vicky James, both slightly surprised by the girl’s speedy cooperation, inspected the bare bottom before them. Again they saw a slim backside, with the folds where the cheeks of her bottom connected with the thighs, more pronounced, as she was still standing. She was taller and generally more slimly built than Sally, with darker hair and a different skin tone.

“Bend over and take hold of the far end of the desk.”

Moira did so revealing more of her lower buttocks and increasing the Head’s target area. Again Miss Crossfield tapped the girl’s left buttock with the cane, and asked her if she was ready. Receiving an affirmative reply she lifted the cane and whipped it down across Moira’s upper bottom, leaving a white mark which quickly turned bright red. Moira was shocked by the intensity of the sting and underlying hurt and she cried out.

The Head aimed the second stroke low on the girl’s bottom. It was a hard and accurate stroke, creating a brief indentation, then a white line which again turned quickly red. Again Moira cried out.

The Head had now struck her bottom as high and also as low as she was prepared to go. The two red lines delineated the target area for the four strokes that were left to deliver. The head began about an inch lower than the uppermost stroke and again, less encumbered by worries about accuracy, she whacked the cane down hard. Moira again cried out, and, like Sally, involuntarily lifted her bottom up, in this case by two or three inches, simply by straightening her long legs.

“Settle back down,” said the Head. She nodded to Mrs James who went across to the desk and laid her hands gently on Moira’s elbows, just enough to remind her that she was there and could exert much greater pressure if need be.

Moira had three strokes to go. Each was delivered an inch or so lower than the previous one; each was a hard stroke and between each stroke there was the agonising wait of about twenty seconds. She cried out after each one, and copious tears were rolling down her face as she lay across the desk having received her full six, waiting for the Head’s permission to get up. She was left there while the cane was put into a cupboard, allowing the punishment to sink in and the array of red marks to fully develop.

“Get up and get dressed.” Moira complied.

“Now, both of you pick up your blazers and go. Make sure that this never has to happen again.”

The girls walked slightly gingerly to the door, put on their blazers and walked out into the corridor. Nearly all the pupils had gone home and there was nobody about. They went to the sixth form study to make sure they were alone. Sally was by then the more composed of the two.

“That was so painful,” said Moira, “I think my backside is on fire.”

“My burning sensation is fading a bit now,” said Sally. “Shall we show each other our marks. I’m curious.”

Both girls took it in turns to bend over one of the study tables, skirt and pants down. Each exclaimed over the appearance and the feel of the tramlines and ridges, the latter especially pronounced on the crowns of their bottoms, where the Head had struck particularly hard.

“She may be an old spinster,” said Sally, running her fingers gently over the furrows and indentations that were still there on Moira’s bottom, “but she hasn’t forgotten how to cane.”

Moira again nodded her assent.

* * *

In the Head’s study the two women were still thinking about what had taken place. Vicky James was beginning to rethink her views about the cane. It was all over quickly and there was something special and memorable about it. Perhaps it could be used on a very occasional basis. She resolved to give it more consideration.

“Thank you for witnessing that, Vicky.”

“You certainly made your point, Headmistress.”

“Let’s hope we can put this cane away for good now. But I’m not throwing it away yet, just in case.”

The End