The Inquiry into the St James Independent Schools in London

History of complaints
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  1983: Criticism of the Schools in the London Evening Standard
  1983: meetings of parents and the schools
  1983/4: Pupil withdrawals
  1984: Call for a Government inquiry
  1985: the Secret Cult published
  1985: St Vedast closes
  1989: Government caning probe
  2002: Dutch children's school closes
  2004: Debenham retires and Boddy appointed
  2004: Requests for an apology
  2004: complaints & allegations on the internet
  2005/6 Governors' hold inquiry
  2006: Inquiry finds abuse
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A history of complaints and allegations m
No complaints?

On publication of the Inquiry report the Schools stated that “during the formative years, the Governing Body had received only one serious complaint about discipline policy”. According to the Schools, they only became aware in February 2004 via an Internet forum about past complaints against the Schools and responded by quickly launching an inquiry to find out the truth.

In our opinion this is not the full story. There may or may not have been many ‘formal’ complaints to governors but there has in fact been a long and well publicised history of complaints and concerns about punishment regimes, unorthodox teaching and the transparency of the influence and role of the School of Economic Science (SES / SoES) in St James. Alongside these complaints there have been pupil withdrawals. The Inquiry didn’t look at who had known what in relation to these complaints or how they were dealt with.

What did the Schools know about complaints and allegations?

Complaints and allegations about the Schools have been public for over 20 years. Critical newspaper stories were published by the London Evening Standard in 1983; these were picked up by the Daily Telegraph and the BBC. Subsequently meetings were held at which, according to the Evening Standard, some parents complained about the school’s punishment regime and the influence of the SES. The Department for Education was asked to investigate the schools by the Society of Teachers Against Physical Punishment (STOPP). Allegations and complaints were repeated in the “Secret Cult” book published in 1985 and in 1989 newspapers reported an investigation by the Governments' Schools Inspectorate into corporal punishment at the Schools.

The current Chair and honorary governors presided over the Schools for this entire period. Four of the current teaching staff have been at the Schools since the early years. In 1983 the current Head of the Senior Boys School , David Boddy, acting in his role as SES spokesperson defended the schools against complaints. And yet, the Schools suggest they only became aware of allegations in 2004!

The long history of complaints and allegations
1983 the London Evenings Standard criticises St James and St Vedast

In June 1983 the London Evening Standard newspaper published a series of articles about the School of Economic Science (SES / SoES) and the St James and St Vedast Schools. It said that many parents were unaware that the schools were run by the SES and claimed that pupils were “being indoctrinated with the philosophies of the secret cult”; an article on 9th June highlighted the use of corporal and other physical punishments. The Daily Telegraph and the BBC’s ‘World at One’ also picked up these stories. The Schools described the articles as “grossly misleading”


Click here for link to the article at www.ses-resources.info
1983 meetings of parents and the schools

Following the newspaper articles the schools held two formal meetings which were attended by more than 650 parents. According to accounts in the Evening Standard and the book the "Secret Cult’ a number of parents accused the schools of secrecy over their link to the SES - and they claimed excessive corporal punishment took place in the boy’s schools.  In the opinion of one parent “the boys obeyed because they were beaten into submission. ..I would stress that they were submissive rather than obedient".

The Headmaster of St James until 2004, Mr. Nicholas Debenham, denied there was excessive use of corporal punishments and reportedly said that nobody was ever harmed by the “occasional judicial use of pain”. The headmaster of St Vedast stated “the only physical punishment is me applying the cane, there’s no other. Someone may get a rap over the knuckles: I wouldn’t exclude that. Other parents including David Boddy, (current Headteacher of the Senior Boys School - and at the time the SES press officer) also defended the schools.

A significant number of parents reportedly called for the setting up of a Parent Teachers Association and for non-SES parents to be appointed as governors. The schools have refused to allow this to this day.

q Click here for link to the article at www.ses-resources.info Top of pagemm back
1983/4 pupil withdrawals
A significant number of parents withdrew their children from St Vedast and a number from St James following the publicity, contributing to the closure of St Vedast and its merger with St James in 1985.
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1984 STOPP investigation – calls for a Government inquiry
According to the ‘Secret Cult’ book, in June 1984, the Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment (STOPP) called for a Government inquiry into the schools after interviewing over a dozen cases. In a letter to the Secretary of State for Education they said “the disturbing complaints about frequent and severe beatings and other physical punishments will cause great public concern.  To safeguard the well being of children attending these schools we urge you to use your powers under Section 93 of the 1994 Education Act to establish an inquiry to investigate these serious complaints”. STOPP raised a number of specific cases of punishments at the schools.
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1985 the Secret Cult published
In 1985, two investigative journalists - Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg, published a book detailing their investigation into the School of Economic Science (SES). The book made a number of claims about the SES which it described as a destructive and a cult. One chapter repeated many of the allegations the Evening Standard had made about the punishment regime at St James and St Vedast Schools. The book went on to detail the SES’s involvement in the Schools and how their 'philosophy' influenced the curriculum and many other aspects of the Schools. Detailed responses from the headteachers and the Chair of Governors were quoted. The descriptions of what the children were taught may be of particular interest to readers.
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1985 St Vedast Schools close
In 1985 St Vedast Boys and Girls Schools closed after the withdrawal of many children following the negative press stories and the publication of the Secret Cult. Most remaining pupils were enrolled into St James.
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1989 Inspectorate caning probe

In October 1989, newspapers reported that “allegations of excessive caning” at St James were “being investigated by Government Schools Inspectors”.  One article went on report that a spokesperson from the Department for Education had stated “following a routine visit by inspectors, the department and the inspectors have been discussing the use of corporal punishment at this school”. Mr. Debenham the headmaster was quoted as saying “physical punishment is a useful aid to discipline and in some cases a valuable factor in molding character. Discipline should not be too soft, otherwise boys grow up weak”. 

He went on “I don’t believe in putting up with nonsense from the boys. I haven’t seen any reason to change my views on punishment”“They [the inspectorate] reminded me that an adult witness should always be present [during caning], but I haven’t always adhered to that”. The article also highlighted the head views on ‘pop’ music (which was banned at the school), girls and television.

w e Click here for article (58KB) Top of Pagemm back
2002 Plato school in Holland closes
It should also be noted that another member of the family of SES / SoES children’s’ schools, the Plato School in Amsterdam , closed in 2002 following two Police investigations into illegal physical punishments. It is unclear whether any of the former Plato School teachers subsequently or currently hold posts in any of the SES / SoES ‘family’ of schools in the UK and abroad. As with other SES related schools, some of the teachers at the Plato school spent time at St James as part of their training.
Top of Pagemm back Click here for link to translation of Dutch newspaper reports at www.ses-resources.info
2004 Debenham retires and Boddy appointed

In July 2004, Nicholas Debenham retired as headmaster of St James Senior Boys Schools following a period of illness. He was replaced by SES member David Boddy, previously press secretary to Margaret Thatcher and former press spokesperson for the SES.

f Picture: Leon Maclaren (foreground) with David Boddy (rear) 1984.
2004 Requests for apologies
In 2004 a number of former pupils contacted David Boddy and Nicholas Debenham, seeking apologies for their mistreatment. This was rejected by Debenham, although two former and one current teacher issued public apologies.
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Click here to read apologies (www.ses.whyaretheydead.net)

2004 complaints and allegations on an internet forum
During 2004 a significant number of former pupils of St James and St Vedast Boys and Girls Schools posted accounts of their experiences at the schools on an Internet forum. The forum had originally been established for discussion about the SES.
Top of Pagemm back Click here to read former pupils accounts of their experience of St Vedast and St James (www.ses.whyaretheydead.net)
2005 / 6 Governors' Inquiry

In October 2005 the Schools announced that the Governors would hold a private but independent inquiry into the allegations. Click here for more on the process for setting up the inquiry and our opinion on its limitations. The inquiry was held between June and October 2005 and chaired by Mr James Townend QC.

Top of Pagemm back Click here to read Schools' announcement of the Inquiry (www.ses.whyaretheydead.net)
2006 Inquiry finds abuse
On 14 January 2006, the general report of the inquiry was published by the Schools (a second confidential report was sent to the Governors). The inquiry found that there had been excessive use of corporal punishment, physical and mental mistreatment of pupils and “criminal assault” by teachers at St James and St Vedast Schools over a 10 year period.  The Inquiry also found that the Governors had had very little involvement in the Schools which had, in effect, been directly run by the SES - at least until the mid 1990s.

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Click here to view Inquiry findings

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