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Lochgelly and the tawse - The One Show 15th August 2011

August 16 2011 at 9:43 AM

Dean Clarke 

Yesterday, the BBC One Show carried a story on Lochgelly and the Scots tawse, and that can now be seen on YouTube at:

Lochgelly and the Tawse

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Dean Clarke

Re: Lochgelly and the tawse - The One Show 15th August 2011

August 20 2011, 7:58 AM 

465 views. Not one comment.


Re: Lochgelly and the tawse - The One Show 15th August 2011

August 20 2011, 3:43 PM 

Hi Dean,

Yes I was going to respond but this last week has been quite hectic. I've watched the video and so has my Scottish ex teaching friend who did administer the tawse , in her day, all be it with some reluctance. . She, and shes a far better judge than me , said the description of tawsing was rather more accurate than some she has seen.

In her view most teachers, certainly towards the end of the days of the tawse when she s taught, did 'adjust' the pain of the tawsing to the individual concerned. She in common with one of the interviewees on the film normally restricted strokes for 'good 'kids to the type where the belt was held part way up the handle and not held at the tip and lashed from right over the shoulder.

Her view has always n been that the danger of the tawse was that it drew the 'wrong' people in teaching, and that , just as the clip suggested you could identify them as the ones who persistently tawsed and took delight in tawsing whole classes , or volunteered to wait at the school entrance to tawse the tardy .

She herself was once and only once forced into tawsing a whole class. The c;lass for whom she was a form mistress was accused of being involved in a piece of unruly behaviour reported to the headmaster. He has asked for the culprits to own up. They didnt and no one 'shopped' them . Therefore he wasnted the whole class belted. My friend , who wrote about this I think on a yahoo site , at first refused on principle to do this but changed her mind when he made it clear if she didnt one of the gym staff or even he himself would. She preferred to be 'in control' herself and her beltings were nowhere near as severe as the other might hand out. She had of course a good idea who had been involved and could 's adjust' the punishment accordingly . This incident combined with other led to her decision in the early 80's to quit Scotland, for England where she had more autonomy.

By no means did she disapprove of corporal punishment per se , but she felt the regime in Scotland was too punitive and laid itself open to abuse., particularly by it lack of recording , which meant it attracted those who wanted the power to belt kids with virtual impunity .In her time she met one or tow who clearly enjoyed the use of the belt and were probably genuine sadists .

One thing she did do was refuse to belt for work failure. This was supposedly outlawed by an agreement between the Scottish teaching Unions and the Scottish office I believe in the late 60's or n the early 70's , but was widely ignored by teachers and Heads alike.


Re: Lochgelly and the tawse - The One Show 15th August 2011

August 21 2011, 11:18 PM 

Hi Prof.n

During the mid-seventies I (briefly) attended a belt-wielding school in the Scottish Borders (Langholm Academy). I can certainly endorse the opinion that the use of corporal punishment for perceived lack of achievement (or indeed for very minor work-related errors or omissions)was the norm certainly until the mid-seventies. Having migrated from a junior school in North-East England, I found this procedure quite alarming as well as most unfair.

Walking home from school one afternoon, one of my new classmates casually mentioned that 'W**t**er's got a belt'. I processed this information without further enquiry, deciding that this was probably not something I wished to experience. I had almost forgotten the conversation when, a few weeks later 'the belt' made its first appearance.

I suppose that, weighed against a Lochgelly, this teacher's implement (he was the headmaster of the junior school) was fairly mild. I became aware that it lived inside his jacket, held into place by two pieces of elastic sewn in to accomodate it conveniently. The belt itself was a reasonably heavy piece of somewhat pliant leather, not split into tails (as I believe it was at the Senior School) but definitely impressive in action.

Two pupils (one being the same fellow who had warned me of the belt's existence, the other a girl) were summoned to the front of the class. Their crime? They had failed to write out their spelling corrections three times.. Both clearly knew the routine, because they each offered a hand (the left, not surprisingly) unbidden. There followed a single ferocious crack to each victim in turn, and that was that... summary 'justice'.

A few weeks passed before 'the belt' made another appearance. Again, justice was dispensed very matter of factly, with the words.. 'Robert, you get a belt because you didn't do your homework properly'. The teacher was standing beside the unfortunate's desk and, again, the left hand was offered... this time though the first crack was followed by the command 'Other hand!'. This really did seem an excessive punishment for something so trivial, although it was accepted stoically and without any sign of emotion. Interestingly the same pupil later received two strokes on each hand, administered in private, for who-knows what transgression. He returned to the classroom a sobbing mess, unable to compose himself for at least an hour. Whether this was due to the 'build-up' of repeated strokes to the same area, or whether perhaps he received a different implement (the Lochgelly, I assume) for a greater offence, I suppose I will never know.

I am not completely opposed to corporal punishment. I think it has its place under certain specific circumstances: Vandalism, bullying, insubordination are a few examples which seem appropriate. Both this little Scottish school and the esteemed Fettes College, however, seemed to see nothing wrong with belting (and/or caning in Fettes' case)for work-related matters. I have always found that completely unpalatable, and until today I was unaware of any ruling or guideline in Scottish state schools which rendered its use for such a purpose unacceptable.


the riots

August 23 2011, 3:08 PM 

Surely the best way to reform these rioters would be forcing them to hold out their hands for a good strapping or caning every time they even think of acting antisocially.

Along with their younger friends of course, before they get started on a life of crime and delinquency.

I know I'll be attacked for saying this, but the roots of this problem at least in part go back to the banning of corporal punishment.

And don't say it couldn't happen, even for "adults" - take a listen to this radio programme.



Re: Lochgelly and the tawse - The One Show 15th August 2011

September 18 2011, 11:21 PM 


Thanks for posting the video clip.

I have no personal or direct knowledge of schoolroom discipline in Scotland. I have been strapped at school with an undivided, purpose-made leather strap. It was not a trivial punishment but was "well tolerated" by most boys. Accepting a punishment as fair and appropriate greatly reduces the risk of harm. A small number were punished a lot and most little. Our teachers differed in how frequently they used the strap but none used it to extreme.

The video appears, as far as I can judge, to be a non-controversial and fair representation of the past, albeit through naive modern eyes. The problems of single teachers having to control large classes, often containing disruptive elements without specialist resources to fall back on, is completely overlooked.

I am unaware of anyone leaving school unable to read or write when I was in school (1950s into 60s). Nor was truancy or tardiness a problem, as far as I recall. The whole of society was allied against those who misbehaved in school. Parents supported teachers. A strapping (or tawsing) wiped the slate and allowed a new beginning.


Re: Lochgelly and the tawse - The One Show 15th August 2011

September 18 2011, 11:53 PM 

Interesting point KK,

I am unaware of anyone leaving school unable to read or write when I was in school (1950s into 60s)

As you'll be aware in England at that time there was a tripartite system of education ,. separation in the state system was at 11. The top examinees went to Grammar, the next grade went to Technical colleges, and the 'rest' ( by far the majority) 'Secondary modern. the illiteracy rate according to government figure her in the 1960's varied in secondary school from about 10% to over 50% in some inner city underfunded bear gardens.

Government stats in the 70's showed an improving literacy rate in the new comprehensives , but even today the rate is nothing to shout about. Of course the problem is if your are functionally illiterate and unable to use numbers today , there is very little opportunity for you : in the past there was unskilled labour and agricultural work .



Re: Lochgelly and the tawse - The One Show 15th August 2011

September 19 2011, 12:40 AM 


My sample size was small and I paid no particular attention to literacy at the time. Maybe the literacy rate was such that my class (40?) just had none.

I lived in a small rural town with one state and one convent (Catholic) primary school. There was one class for each standard or grade. The nearest secondary school, when I started, was 25 km away. Here, I was in the "professional" stream. Other streams may have contained illiterates unknown to me. Schools were probably far more homogenous here than in the UK. My classes included both doctors and labourers sons.

There is controversy about the best method of teaching reading and writing. I was taught the phonetic method - the sound of the individual letters so that words could be deciphered. "The cat sat on the mat" and other equally non-riveting stuff. The different methods suit different children to a greater or lesser extent. I believe that some claim the phonetic method is the most universally applicable but not the best for those with a facility for learning language.

Perhaps the main thing was that school was a quiet and well-ordered place. Teachers spent little time trying to deal with troublesome kids. The strap or cane may not have cured the naughty but it gave a useful respite that allowed learning to occur.

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