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Nicholas Debenham & corporal punishment

Nicholas Debenham was the headteacher of St James (seniors) Boys Schools from 1975 to 2004.

In 1984 & 1989 St James schools attracted complaints and negative press coverage about excessive physical punishments, including the junior boys school.

Debenham promoted his stance as a proponent of corporal punishment in a series of television and newspaper interviews in 1996, shortly before he was forced to suspended it’s use at St James pending clarification of it’s legal status.

In 1998 the Schools Standards and Framework Act outlawed use of all physical punishments in UK schools.

Debenham participated in the St James Inquiry, which found that mental and physical mistreatment and criminal assaults on children occurred at the schools under his headship. To date he has not publicly accepted the inquiry findings or apologised. He concluded his only public statement on the inquiry, to Channel 4 Television News, by saying “I am of course pleased that Mr Townend found that corporal punishment administered by myself was entirely lawful and that allegations of sadism were completely unproven”

He is currently Chair of the Board of Trustees of the SES-run Education Renaissance Trust (ERT). The ERT aims to spread and promote worldwide the principles of  SES childrens’ education as pioneered at St James.

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PRESS & MEDIA COVERAGE

For details of 1984 press coverage of Parents Complaints, The Schools, and the SES

click here


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‘Public school head faces caning probe’
Evening Standard  24 October 1989
Newspaper report and interview with Debenham when “allegations of excessive caning” at St James were “being investigated by Government Schools Inspectors”

PDF file download 475kb

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Video clips of Nicholas Debenham on BBC Newsnight – CLIP 1
Reporter Mark Mardell visits St James (c.1996)

WMV file download 1.4mb

Video clips of Nicholas Debenham on BBC Newsnight – CLIP 2
Reporter Mark Mardell visits St James (c.1996)

WMV file download 2.8mb

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‘Love must come first but caning works, says head’
Daily Telegraph 30 October 1996

PDF file download 68kb

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‘Caring headteacher who believes beating can be good for his boys’
The Independent 30 October 1996

PDF file download 56kb

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St JAMES + DEBENHAM N - Pupils vote to keep can [Mail on SÉ

‘Even the boys here voted to keep the cane’
Mail on Sunday 13 October 1996

PDF file download 400kb

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‘Few still cling to discredited stick’
The Times 30 October 1996

PDF file download 12kb

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For Nicholas Debenhams response to the St James Inquiry see:

1996 Channel 4 News report on St james & the SES

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St James & the SES – Media coverage

The first critical newspaper article on the SES appeared in the UK in the Daily Mail in 1968, focusing on secrecy and a cult of obedience.

Since then there has been critical media coverage of the SES, its childrens schools, and its sister schools in a number of countries where the SES operates, principly the UK, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Malta.

In 1983 the London Evening Standard ran a special investigation into the SES and it’s St James and St Vedast childrens schools, publishing a number of articles throughout that and the following year.

In 1985 a book, Secret Cult, by the Standard’s investigative reporters was published.

A number of newspapers and Channel 4 television News covered the publication of the Townend report following the 2006 St James Inquiry.

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Media coverage

The secrets of the secretive sect (PDF file download 925k)

London Evening Standard - 8 June 1983

“A harsh and highly secretive religious cult with extraordinary influence over it’s members has been uncovered by a Standard investigation”

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Cult schools: parents seek a bigger say (PDF file download 530k)

London Evening Standard - 9 June 1983

“Parents at three London independent schools which the standard has revealed are run by a secretive religious cult last night had an opportunity to hear teaching staff answer criticism.”

[article outlining SES response to parents complaints, and revealing the involvement of David Boddy (current St James boys head) in meetings with parents in his capacity as SES media spokesman. Boddy later stated on channel 4 news following the 2006 Inquiry “this is the first time that the Governors had really heard of all of this.”]  see Channel 4 news special report

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Why I left the humbug cult (PDF file download 365k)

London Evening Standard - 13 June 1983

[Letter from a former SES member] “There must be many people who have left the School of Economic Science (SES) organisation who are grateful to see that someone has had the courage to take the lid off it.”

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Letter from Peter Green, SES Principle (PDF file download 475k)

London Evening Standard – 20 June 1983

“The school of Economic Science is not a cult or religious sect.”

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The SES and its strange schools (PDF file download 250k)

London Evening Standard - 9 September 1983

“Four independent schools in London are indoctrinating boys and girls aged from four to eighteen with the philosophies of the secretive School of Economic Science.”

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The cult that can crush a woman (PDF file download 570k)

London Evening Standard - 18 February 1985

Frith Oliver is 32, a secretary, divorced and the mother of two children. She would consider herself blessed now because she is happily “ordinary”. At 16 however, as a tutor in the bland sounding School of Economic Science, she was considered close to God, the Absolute.”

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Teachers hit and kicked pupils (no download available)

London Evening Standard – 20 January 2006

“Pupils were systematically beaten by teachers at a group of “cult” independent schools, an inquiry has revealed. Children at one of the St James Independent Schools, then in Kensington, were targeted between 1975 and 1985 by teachers “unable to control tempers”. A barrister has found boys were punched, kicked and “thrown around”. Police say no investigation would be launched without individuals coming forward.” [Page 10]

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Inquiry into pupil claims (PDF file download 225k)

Hammersmith & Shepherds Bush Gazette – 20 January 2006

“Internet chatroom led to probe into events in 1970s and 1980s. An inquiry called by a private school into alleged past mistreatment of pupils has found that some had been subjected to unreasonable punishments.”

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School admits past abuse (PDF file download 250k)

Teddington & Hampton times – 20 January 2006

The governors of St James’ Independent Schools have apologised unreservedly after a report stated some pupils had been assaulted by teachers in its early years.”

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Assaults on pupils were harsh and criminal (scan PDF file download 250k)

Richmond & Twickenham Times - 20 January 2006

The governors of St James’ Independent Schools have apologised unreservedly after a report stated some pupils had been assaulted by teachers in its early years.

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10 Years of abuse (PDF file download 250k)

Kensington & Chelsea News - 19 January 2006

“Inquiry finds pupils at independent school were assaulted. An inquiry has found that pupils at an independent school suffered 10 years of criminal assault at the hands of teachers.”

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Inquiry reveals culture of violence (PDF file download 250k)

Times Education Supplement - 20 January 2006

“Police launch investigation into independent school following accusations of assault on former pupils. One of the last private schools in the UK to ban the cane has been criticised after an independent inquiry found evidence of repeated “criminal” assaults on pupils.

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For 2006 Channel 4 News television report

Click here

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For press coverage of the Dutch SES Plato school Police investigations

click here (LINK TO BE ADDED)

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For Media coverage of St James head Nicholas Debenham and corporal punishment

Click here

St James – Leaked critical Governors report

The full extent of management failure and SES control of St James Schools revealed in a confidential internal report.


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The 1996 St James Report

A confidential internal report on St James was leaked and published in 2006, five months after the Townend Inquiry exposed how pupils had been mistreated and “criminally assaulted” in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The 1996 St James Report  details how teachers were also exploited, and reveals a catalogue of irregular practices, and attempts to recruit pupils into the SES. The author, himself a school Governor and senior SES member at the time, describes St James as “an SES controlled special school” and “closer to a sect than to the open and fully independent school that its name and prospectus imply’.


The report reveals:

- ‘Secret manipulation’ of the schools’ management and governors by the SES
- Teachers appointed directly by the SES over the heads of governors – who acknowledged the process of appointing the current girl’s school Head teacher Laura Hyde was ‘improper’
- Teachers who should have been sacked remained in post  ‘solely because of extraneous SES considerations’
- Pupils were pressured to take part in an SES initiation ‘ceremony’, children who refused were “considered as lesser people”
- Parents’ fears that children would be “taken away” by the SES
- SES involvement in disciplining pupils – the report described one incident as “Utterly unprofessional. Potentially explosive publicity.”
- ‘Exploitation’ of teachers leading to severe stress and the [mental] ‘breakdown’ of at least two teachers

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The report supports the Townend inquiry’s finding that the schools’ management and governors were failing to the extent that they “were not in any real sense in charge of the Schools”.

The author was commissioned directly by Donald Lambie, SES head, to compile a report on St James prior to its move to new premises in Twickenham. Neither the School’s governing body nor senior management formally responded to the highly critical report, and the author subsequently resigned as a School Governor.

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Download the 1996 St James Report

Author’s introduction 2006 (download PDF file 40kb)

Authors letter to the Townend Inquiry 2006 (download PDF file 65kb)

Full text of The St James Report 1996 (download PDF file 400kb)

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SES Financial Statements

SES Financial Statements from the Charity Commission for the last 5 years reveal a substantial interest in properties, as most clearly depicted on page 22 of the March 2005 statement:

St Oswald's Studios, London
Sarum Chase, London (sold 2005 for £9,300,000)
83 Brook Green, London
Waterperry, Oxford
Nanpantan Hall, Loughborough
Brinscall Hall, Preston
Chappel Allerton Hall, Leeds
13 Addiscombe Brove, Croydon
18 Chester Street, Edinburgh
265A Portsmouth Road, Guildford
11 Mandeville Place, London
Baker Street, Stockport

Local chapters outside of London have received help with acquiring properties as well, with substantial donations by enthused local members being supported by loans from London out of the Sarum Chase proceeds. Of course, the properties are then all owned by London, so it’s a splendid way to get £100,000’s transferred to London’s coffers.

Some interesting financial information (in £000):

      Courses/      Gifts, legacies                           Current
Year  residentials  and donations     Legacies     Cash       assets
----  ------------  ---------------   --------     -------    --------
2003  1,345.9        134.4                 0         651.5     2,593.6
2004  1,371.8        188.0                 0         393.2     2,320.3
2005  1,369.4        264.8              83.5       8,918.5    10,894.8
2005* 1,200.0        264.8              83.5       8,918.5    10,894.8
2006  1,256.9        348.8               N/A       8,179.2    10,138.0
2007  1,279.6        334.6            >137.0       7,992.0    10,019.6
2008  1,255.9        131.9                ?0       7,685.1     9,754.5
---- * reporting methods altered

       Legal
Year   fees
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2003    N/A
2004    N/A
2005    0.7
2006   55.5
2007   83.3
2008   37.0
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The accounting method for course/residential income was changed in 2005. The legacies were not independently reported after 2005, but the notes to 2008 indicate a drop in legacies of £137k and in gifts/donations of £65.7k, leading to the inferences in the table above. Interesting bump in legal fees, without further explanation. WATD?

The only mention of the WATD site et al is on page 6 of the March 2006 statements: “During the last year the School has been the subject of criticism and, in certain instances, strident attacks by some former pupils of the St James and former St Vedast Schools and others mainly via the Internet. The original basis of this was complaints by some former pupils, relating mainly to the period 1975-85 that they had been mistreated during their time at school. This led the Governors of the St James Schools to take the decision to arrange an independent inquiry into the complaints, which took place in the latter part of 2005. The Inquiry found that there was evidence of inappropriate punishment and some physical abuse during the period in question, and the Governors have instigated a process of reconciliation. Complainants have associated the School with this situation due to the fact that the children’s schools were effectively set up by parents who were students in the School, the head-teachers and staff were then all students of the School, and the former Leader of the School, Leon MacLaren, was closely involved in formulating the educational policy. The School has offered to assist the process of reconciliation in any way that it can practically do so. It should be stated that the children’s schools now have, and for many years have had a very good reputation in the educational world. The School is concerned that some of the material that has appeared on the Internet is inaccurate and misleading, apparently motivated by malice, and it will take steps to correct such misinformation so far as possible.”

Can others with professional accountancy skills find anything else of interest?

2004:  ses-financial-statement-march-2004

2005:  ses-financial-statement-march-2005 and  ses-summary-information-return-2005

2006:  ses-financial-statement-march-2006 and  ses-summary-information-return-2006

2007:  ses-financial-statement-march-2007 and  ses-summary-information-return-2007

2008:  ses-financial-statement-march-2008 and  ses-summary-information-return-2008

Abraham Lincoln School / Philosophy Day School religious philosophy, New York City, NY

From Hinduism Today (www.hinduismtoday.com) an online newspaper, April 1995:

On behalf of the Abraham Lincoln School, located in New York City, I would like to thank you for your coverage of the activities of the St. James School [January '95]. Our school, which opened its doors in September 1994, is closely affiliated with the St. James School in London, following a similar model and applying the guidance of both the St. James faculties and of the Shankaracharya. Like the St. James School we offer our student body the best education has to offer, combining it with the “deep spirituality” that you so accurately attribute to that institution. This includes the study of Vedic mathematics and basic Sanskrit as part of the regular curriculum, as well as prayer from various traditions, East and West.

Barry Steingard, Chairman of Board of Trustees, Abraham Lincoln School, New York, NY, USA

–excerpted from http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/1995/4/1995-4-08.shtml

NB: the Abraham Lincoln School changed its name to the Philosophy Day School in 2003. It is completely controlled by the SES affiliate in NY, the School of Practical Philosophy 12 East 79th Street, NYC, NY 10021, EIN 13-3107679.

St James Independent Schools’ religious philosophy

From Hinduism Today (www.hinduismtoday.com) an online newspaper, January 1995:

St. James School in Central London is an excellent institution in the finest tradition of English education. The student body (30% Hindu) is from decidedly upscale families-witness the Rolls and Mercedes dropping off students each morning-able to meet the relatively stiff fees. Prominent UK Hindus such as C.V. Patel send their children here. The academic and character building standards are high; discipline is strict. Meals are healthy and all vegetarian. There are actually four schools here with separate facilities and under separate headmasters-junior and senior boys; junior and senior girls-about 200 students in all. It appeals to Hindus because of its philosophically Vedic orientation; however, it is not a “Hindu school,” and according to Senior Boys Headmaster Nicholas Debenham “not a Christian one either. It is not a religious anything. It is intended to be something new. It is a philosophic teaching that should appeal to anyone, that would strengthen their own faith.” The school’s origins are unique.

St. James’ founder, Leon MacLaren, first founded the “London School of Economics” [actually the School of Economic Science] in 1920, a philosophy school based on the mystical teachings of Gurdjieff and his disciple, P.D. Ouspensky. St. James was begun as a place to educate the children whose relatively affluent parents belonged to the London School of Economics. Consequently, it has from the beginning been an unusual blend of the British upper crust and deep spirituality. In the 1960s MacLaren met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and through him, Swami Shankarananda [Shantananda] Saraswati, the previous Shankaracharya of Jyotir Mutt in India, with whom he developed a close association. Shankarananda [Shantananda] offered much guidance for St. James. As a result, the school is permeated with Advaita Vedanta philosophy, plus teachers and most students participate in daily meditation following Maharishi’s TM method. Students study the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Gita. An authentic form of Vedic mathematics is taught as well. Basic Sanskrit is a required subject and Sanskrit chants begin and end the day.

The school has an eclectic approach to religion. It is formally associated with the Church of England, and most teachers are members. The senior boys’ assembly has a 15-minute period of worship which includes the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, who art in heaven…”), responses, hymns and psalms-all drawn from the Church of England prayer book. The senior girls have the same service; the junior boys and girls do a Sanskrit prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and a scriptural reading which is most often from the Christian Bible, but also from Hindu scripture. Debenham said a few Muslim (but no Hindu) students had challenged the mandatory attendance and were told if they did not go to the assembly, they could not attend the school. He believes there is nothing in “the prayers that would upset anyone.”

On the other hand, ten years ago the Standard, a prominent UK newspaper, wrote a series of articles (later made into a book) accusing the school of being “some kind of cult.” The paper said they wear uniforms like a British school, call themselves St. James, but teach Hinduism-a backhanded compliment as far as Hindus are concerned.

So Hindu parents must weigh the benefits (first-class education and a spiritual environment) against the drawbacks (mandatory participation in Christian prayer and the predominance of Christian scripture) in deciding to send their children here.

–excerpted from http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/1995/1/1995-1-03.shtml

Channel 4 News report on St James and the SES

Channel 4 News feature on St James Schools and the SES. Social Affairs correspondent Victoria Macdonald interviews former pupils who were abused as well as the current headteacher and a representative from the SES. (2006)

Click on the images below for parts 1 & 2 respectively.

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Channel 4 News Report: Part 1 (WMV video file: 20MB)

Channel 4 News Report: Part 2 (WMV video file: 20MB)

Channel 4 News Report: Part 2 (WMV video file: 20MB)

The Townend Inquiry into abuse at St James and St Vedast Schools

Here is the full text of the Report of James Townend Q.C into abuse at St James and St Vedast.  The original location of this report is at www.iirep.com.

Click on the image below to open the Report.  It requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader (already installed on most computers).

Townend Inquiry Report (PDF file: 331KB)

Townend Inquiry Report (PDF file: 331KB)