It should be remembered that discipline, of necessity, was strict, partly because of very large classes which were often more than 50 pupils. The main pressures, however, were exerted on teachers by H.M. Inspectors and the Scottish Code, which demanded achievement to required standards. If these standards were not reached, Government grants were reduced – “payment by results”. This system was later abolished only to be re-introduced by recent governments.

Discipline was tough in the early 1900s with corporal punishment being accepted as a major part. Some recalled forms of corporal punishment include:

The tawse, or strap belt which was leather and usually used on the hand


Apart from misbehaviour such as disobedience, lying, cheating, stealing, cheekiness etc, ex-pupils have recalled it being used for:

  • Breaking the slate pencil
  • inability to read, spell or count correctly
  • opening eyes during a prayer

The birch, which was used in serious cases, usually on the bottom.

In 1910, a case is recorded of an Avoch boy being given 5 strokes of the birch, after appearing before Dingwall Sheriff Court for theft from the school library.

Smacking with the hand. In 1906, damages of £2 were claimed by the father of an Avoch girl who had been struck on the face by a teacher, resulting in damage to the girl’s left eye. In 1907, the School Board stated that no child should be struck on the head in any situation. It was also recommended that corporal punishment should be inflicted by certificated teachers only, by means of a leather strap on the hand.

Hitting the knuckles with a ruler This was usually done spontaneously when the pupil was mis-behaving.

Aiming chalk at an individual who was perhaps dreaming, talking or laughing at the wrong time.

Payment for damages – this was used when some property belonging to the school had been damaged. In 1913 a case is recorded of five boys in Avoch being asked to pay 2s 6d each for damage done to the school water pipe. Failure to do so would result in prosecution.

Reform school – these originally started in the 1850s to try to control the many children on the city streets who were living a life of crime. With education for all after the 1872 Act, these reform schools were used for young pupils who committed serious offences or who were uncontrollable in ordinary schools.

In 1912, an Avoch boy was ordered by Dingwall Sheriff Court to be detained in Stranraer Reformatory until the age of 18 years, after breaking into the school and theft from the school. This was his second conviction of theft.