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.



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

click here


‘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



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



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

PDF file download 68kb


CP5caringteacher-the independent-thumbnail

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

PDF file download 56kb


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



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

PDF file download 12kb


For Nicholas Debenhams response to the St James Inquiry see:

1996 Channel 4 News report on St james & the SES



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