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Grammar schools, mid 20th century


Discipline at a girls' grammar school in the 1950s

Based on experiences at Copthall County Grammar School, north London in the 1950s

I suppose that every school has to have discipline and that it sets up rules, regulations and punishments accordingly.

I hardly remember the rules and regulations at my grammar school, Copthall County, in the mid 1950s, because it was second nature to obey them.

Punishments were rare. There was little need for them as we were able girls (having passed the scholarship, as the 11+ exam was then called) and our lessons were made interesting by able and dedicated teachers.

Rules and regulations

Below is a list of the significant rules as I remember them. However because it was second nature to obey them and because, as far as I know they were never written down, I may be omitting some:

There may have been rules about gross misdemeanours, like perpetual bad behaviour, truant or failure to do homework, but they were unknown to almost all of us.


I don't remember any prizes for progress or achievement. If they existed, I may have forgotten because they never came to me.

Good behaviour was rewarded with what was called a 'deportment' badge. It was said to be for more than standing and sitting upright, but we received absolutely no information at all on what else it was for or how to go about developing it. That always struck me as a shame, because I always hoped I would get a deportment badge - but I never did.

On reflection in later life, I feel that deportment badges went to girls who behaved as if they were trained by public schools, that is who came from what my mother would have called 'better class families' - but try as I did, I couldn't work this out at the time.


The significant punishment was a detention. It was not given lightly. I got one once for touching - lightly touching, not hitting or scraping - a teacher's car which had recently been re-sprayed, and I was terribly upset and ashamed about it. It went on my report and I told my parents that it had been a class detention. It involved sitting in a classroom for half an hour after school with a teacher invigilating. I don't think any particular work was set. No-one from the school contacted parents to explain that a girl would be late home. 'Health and Safety' was not an issue then.

Anyone who had three detentions in one term was called up onto the stage during assembly, to be named and shamed. That never happened to me, and I don't think it happened to anyone in my class throughout my time at the school. Those who were called up always seemed to me to be in a C stream and to be more interested in make-up and boys than the girls in the other streams. Not that we were not interested in make-up and boys, but, for us, they had their place which was out of school.

Prefects could give lines, but I know very little about this as I was never given any.

Guest contribution

What it was like to be given lines at school

I was given a hundred lines once or twice. Writing something a hundred times was very time consuming and something one chose not to repeat too often!

Sally Lawson
(formerly Sally Porte)

If you were at Copthall around this time, you will probably like the pages on life in the 1940s and 50s - see the menu on the home page. Information and photos are always welcome.

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