Crime and Punishment: Promotion and Demotion
Crime and Punishment. What could this possibly encompass in Langdon Hills Primary and Laindon High Road schools during the war years and shortly thereafter? Crimes at Langdon Hills took the form of talking in class, using a pea shooter (the pea shooter cut from St Ann’s lace with hawthorne buds as bullets), flicking bits of ink wetted blotting paper with the aid of a ruler at the girl you currently fancied, laughing or talking during the prayer that began and ended each day’s classes and no doubt other similar dastardly crimes which memory has mislaid.
Punishment in infants and the lower classes was to be made to stand outside the class door in the corridor for the remainder of the period and pray that Mr Hall, the headmaster, did not walk by. Then you were in trouble. Particularly heinous crimes saw you ordered to Mr Hall’s office under your own steam to explain to him personally the enormity of your transgression. By age ten or eleven the punishment was caning. I remember one such episode when, for some crime whose details I have forgotten, I was made to stand in front of the class while our teacher, Mr Taylor, administered three whacks with a wooden ruler on the back of my bare legs. That hurt! It hurt so much that I anticipated the third stroke and bent my legs thinking that would soften the blow. Mr Taylor deemed bending legs in anticipation to be unsporting and unmanly. He decreed an extra whack! This is not to say that caning was frequent or that the teachers were sadistic. Not at all. There were some first class teachers there. (Except for Miss O’Brien who terrorised the entire student body.) It was simply a different age. Today liberal do-gooders would be up in arms demanding the sacking of any teacher who laid a hand on dear little Johnny. Why the little pet might be emotionally scarred for life. It did not do us a speck of harm and I have never felt the need to bore a psychiatrist because I got whacked with a ruler at school. Quite the reverse. I made sure that I never mentioned the caning at home otherwise I would get a second dose from my father.
When we got to Laindon High Road the crimes were not that much different. However, I cannot remember any caning. Perhaps we were deemed too old for that. Punishment seemed to be a piece of chalk thrown at your head by the teacher (some teachers were amazingly accurate) or made to stay in during break or after school to write an essay on some assigned subject. I would have preferred the cane I think.
The way promotion and demotion were handled during this period seems a little alien to us today. There was little time for personal decisions or a democratic choice. As the time for the eleven plus exam approached at Langdon Hills there was no notification to the class, no discussion of the better future opportunities it might offer, no questioning of who would wish to sit the exam. Nothing! It was as if the eleven plus never existed. Publicly at least. It was not until September when the two best students never arrived to start a new life at Laindon High Road with the rest of us that we were told they had gone to Grays Palmers. I can only guess that the teachers decided that only these two students were capable of passing the exam and simply did not ask anyone else. Or, was Langdon Hills given a quota along with all the other schools in the area, and the teachers decided who was best suited to fill their quota. Who knows? It is conjecture on my part.
A similar situation existed at Laindon High Road. There were five classes, A through E. I was put in the A class. How? Who determined I belonged in A and not D? After all there was no magic hat as in the Harry Potter books to mandate where you went. There was no placement exam. We were simply told which class we were to be in. The only explanation which makes any sense is that the primary schools recommended where we should be assigned and that Laindon High Road accepted those recommendations. At least for the first year. As the year progressed it must have become increasingly apparent that two of the students in our class could not keep up. At the beginning of the second year we discovered they were no longer part of our class. They had been demoted to the B class. No one was promoted to take their place. Again, today liberals would no doubt be wringing their hands and emotionally decrying the psychological trauma visited on these two individuals who would carry this scar of rejection and unworthiness throughout their entire life. Nonsense! Not everyone is the same and far better to have a student successful and confident in the B level than unable to keep up and miserable in the A level.
A similar situation existed at the close of our second year at Laindon High Road. A large proportion of our class expressed an ambition to go on to Chelmsford Tech. There was no exam to go to the Tech. Instead there was an interview with Mr Palmer, the head master at the Tech. Potential students from all over south east Essex were there. The interview with Mr Palmer took all of about three minutes. How could it be otherwise? He had about a hundred and fifty students to interview in one afternoon. I remember him asking me which authors I liked to read. I am sure he would have liked to hear me say Jane Austen and Charles Dickens but had to be satisfied with Edgar Rice Burroughs and Percy F Westerman. To my knowledge everyone there for an interview was accepted at the Tech. So how did this work? Were there none who were rejected?
To this day I do not know. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that Chelmsford Tech, perhaps with a quota for each school, accepted the recommendation of Laindon High Road and the other schools in the area.
So much for crime, punishment, promotion and demotion in a very innocent school age.