What was school like?

An illustration of a teacher sat at his desk and boy wearing a dunce's hat facing the wall If someone made a mistake or forgot a lesson, they might have to wear a tall, cone-shaped hat made of paper. The hat had a large letter D written on it, which meant 'Dunce' - a stupid person.

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Teachers were formal and stern. They punished bad behaviour very strictly. Children often sat in silence for their lessons, with their hands behind their backs to keep them out of mischief.

If children were late for lessons, they got a rap on the knuckles with a wooden ruler. If they were caught talking, they often had to stay after school and write out one hundred times: 'I must not chatter in lesson time.'


The Lochgelly

The 'tawse' was often hung on the classroom wall or on the teacher's desk, as a clear visual reminder to pupils.

Lochgelly, in Fife, produced about three-quarters of all the tawses used and the belt was often simply referred to as 'The Lochgelly.'

If children were lazy or rude or broke other school rules, the teacher might hit them on the hand with a wooden cane. In Scotland and in parts of northern England, teachers used a leather strap called a 'tawse' instead.

These punishments did not mean children were always well-behaved. In 1903, the Headmaster of Fenhurst School in West Sussex described the children as: 'Unpunctual, very lax in obedience to orders and unmannerly'. The cane and tawse were finally banned in most schools in 1986, but it took until 1998 for every private, fee-paying schools to stop using them.

Pupils who behaved well in the early 1900s were rewarded with special classroom jobs. These children were called 'monitors' and the jobs included:

  • Ink monitor, who had the job of topping up the ink-wells from a big bottle of black ink
  • Blackboard monitor, who had the job of cleaning the blackboard with a duster
  • Bell ringer, who would go round the class rooms ringing a hand bell to indicate the end of lessons and the start of playtime or the midday meal or going home time

Teachers' notes

Teachers' notes to accompany the 'What was school like?' section

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