The first five years of English secondary schooling were previously known as forms. Pupils started their first year of secondary school in the first form or first year, and this was the year in which pupils would normally become 12 years of age. Pupils would move up a form each year before entering the fifth form in the year in which they would have their sixteenth birthday.
At Gatwick Public School in Reading the fifth form the girls were allowed all sorts of privileges denied younger girls. This had something to do with a legal difference between a child and a youth. Girls were expected to behave like children before their 16th birthday, but between 16 and 18 they were what the Americans call youth, meaning they were neither fish nor fowl. Teenagers at the ripe old age of 18 in the U.K. were legally allowed to drink in a pub. A year or two younger than that and your booze consumption was seen as boys-will-be-boys antics and girl-will-be-sluts opportunities.
The age-based caste system was best seen in Public Schools ( which Americans call 'private schools' ) where your forms and your levels meant you could level your under-classmates formally. Traditionally, boys were battering bullies but girls were belittling bitches. The wonder of this system was not so much how degrading it was, but how generally accepted it was by all, regardless of age and level.
As in many aspects of socializing, the clothing makes the man or, more intensely, the woman. The supposedly democratic institution of the school uniform ( until recently found in all schools ) was adapted in Public Schools in such a way and within gradations of power, that it became a means of emphasizing the level and age-based hierarchy.
There was a school uniform, but its style of presentation could vary according to power relations. It is not a matter of affordability or sense of style that was worn; the uniform draped the wearer in status, especially for girls. 'Uniform' would seem to imply sameness and equality. But reflecting a stubbornly resistant class system of the British Public School, the uniform was a badge of authority and cause for and method to debase a student in a lower class.
Case in point was Ursula Upton who was a 14 year old second former who had the misfortune of arriving at Gatwick Public School on the very day of the Board of Governors' Conference. Ursula was from good family, as they say, and she expected to be treated like a princess. In fact, all through the early grades she was pampered by teachers and loathed by fellow students who called her 'Uptight Upton' when being polite; behind her back it was ' Stuck-Upton--where-the-sun-don't-shine'.
So Ursula was taken aback when a fourth former, a 16 year old girl by the name of Trisha, stopped her in the hall before first bell. Trisha was a hall monitor and had been given discipline duties that morning as all faculty would be attending the conference until noon. On this day classes would be tutored by fifth and sixth form girls.
"Stop right there, young lady!" shouted Trisha, who was only 18 months Ursula's senior but whose temporarily assigned authority made her feel like an adult.
Ursula reacted to the monitor's tone of voice as well as the stern look on her face. She froze still and bowed her head slightly, a demeanour suitable to the situation.
"Are those scuff marks I see on your shoes, little girl?" Trish was smirking as she took note of Ursula's apparently submissive response.
"I'm sorry, Miss. I must have rubbed one shoe against the other in my rush to class"
"I ask a simple question from a second-former and I get excuses," sighed Trisha as she rolled her eyes. Her next words came from behind gritted teeth. "The shoes are not of Uniform standard, take them off and hand them to me at once!"
The fact that Ursula shrugged her shoulders as she removed her shiny black footwear was not unnoticed. "Knee socks not pulled up tight enough too, I see. Washed too often are they?"
Ursula went to adjust the ever so slightly sagging hose when Trish slapped the one-former's hand away.
"Not up, you silly girl, Down! No second chances when it comes to your school uniform. Now take those knee socks off and, for good measure to remind you to be properly in uniform, I must insist you remain barefoot the rest of the day. So hand them over."
Ursula was not used to being spoken to like this, but she had to respect a girl in authority who invoked School Tradition and Strict Rules. So she dutifully pulled her socks down and in so doing had to lift her plaid skirt on high. That gave Trisha a brief glimpse of Ursula's briefs. Big Mistake!
Trisha could not believe her eyes. This two-former actually came to school with non-regulation knickers beneath her skirt, which, Trisha was musing, was a little frayed on the hem.
"Was that a blue pair of knickers I glimpsed beneath your skirt, little girl?" was all she said but in a very menacing way.
"Please, Miss," stuttered Ursula who was shocked and shamed to be found out. She had not bothered to open the new undergarment pack in her uniform set this morning and just used her own bra and knickers. She tried to explain. Second big mistake.
"More excuses?" growled Trisha. "Pull them down immediately and throw them away ... over there in that waste bin."
Ursula began to comply and now noticed a group of students had formed about her. They were from first to third form and were giggling at the sight of Ursula crouching to better preserve her modesty.
"Not like that, stupid!" shouted Trisha who was circling her prey and wanted everyone to see what would happen next, "You must be sharp about it when I give you an order. Bend from the waist and flip your skirt up so it goes over your blazer ... There, that's better" said Trisha. "Now pull it tight up so your panty hem shows. Good. Now stay there a moment. I have to get something from my locker."
Ursula stood barefoot and bent double with her skirt raised and her blue knickers on display for an ever growing crowd of girls. When Trisha returned, she had a table tennis paddle in her hand.
"Shoes scuffed, stockings disordered and non-reg knickers; that's two minor and one major offense. You know the rules, five each for a minor and ten for a major. Count them out as I deliver them."
.... There is more of this story ...