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Posted: Thu Jun 30, 2005 1:56 pm
by Snowman
Well said, Kier

That teacher who had a mental breakdown was at the time my formteacher and I don't remember being told anything specific as to why he left other than he was ill. Naturally the unhealthy close-knit SES community soon had the grapevine blowing in the breeze of rumour and we all soon learned that he had suffered a breakdown. I remember feeling pity for him at the time but I am glad that he left the SES albeit under sad circumstances.

I was very interested to see that you mention the "institutional emotional supression that is practised by the SES..." as it is something that I attempted to demystify in one of my posts earlier this year. If you're interested it is on this page:

I have felt waves of relief wash over me over the past 10months that I have been dealing directly with the psychological issues that my experiences of St J and the SES left me with. I am glad that you have felt the experience has helped you too.

All the best and keep on healing

Posted: Fri Jul 01, 2005 3:34 am
by Free Thinker
Thanks for the link, Snowman. I have spent a LOT of time on this site, and still have yet to read all of the posts.

I liked the reference to the tactics and would add that McLaren also certainly read

Create a sense of powerlessness by subjecting the person to intense and frequent actions and situations which undermine the person's confidence in himself and his judgment.

I certainly experienced this big time when you have groups of tutors constantly giving you conflicting instructions about how to do something.

I remember a certain extremely aggravating episode of leaf-raking. There were a bunch of women from several groups raking the huge lawn at Wallkill and several tutors would walk around and "instruct" us on how to rake fucking leaves. Not so hard you'd think!

But as soon as I'd get it going the way I was told, another tutor would come and tell me to do it another way. But of course the language is so nice and condescending.


Posted: Sat Jul 02, 2005 3:32 pm
by RobMac
I completely agree with Keir and I certainly felt that having spoken to the chairman that this incvestigation is not going to be a whitewash altough only time will tell.

I raised the issue of the splinter schools as part of my submission to the inquiry.
The Chairman seemed more than a little concerned and has asked me to find out what I can.

I know that one exists in the Wigan/Bolton/Preston area as I have discovered that my brother, who is still a very active member of SES, has sent his own children there and was one of the "founders".

The fact that I am unable to find out so little and that it remained a family secret between my brother and parents who are still active members of SES is disconcerting to say the least.

Any and all information will be very gratefully received and passed on to the Chairman of the inquiry.

As long as sufficient information can be given to the inquiry on this subject, in particular whether they are being run in the same way that St James and Vedast were originally run, then then it is quiet reasonable for the Chairman to rule that they shoul be included in the investigation.

I believe that this could be a key issue to the outcome of the inquiry if it is discovered that SES have only changed there behaviour in relation to St James and St Vedast.

Posted: Sat Jul 02, 2005 6:46 pm
by RobMac
There are at least 12 schools worldwide so far

There is a SES organisation related to the establishment of schools worldwide

Splinter Schools discovered so far:-
St James School, Altrincham (North West UK) (may have now moved):-
This school is officially part of the London St James Schools and the
Independent Educational Association Ltd the charity SES use to run the schools . Formally approved by the Governors of the St James Schools in London.
North West Independent Schools Association Ltd
Type: Incorporated
Incorporation Date: 18-01-2002
Independent: Yes
Status: Dissolved
Last Accounts Filed: -
Last Accounts Analysed: 31-03-2003
The Alcuin School, Leeds (North West UK)
Address: 64 Woodland Lane, Leeds, LS7 4PD
St James School, Johannesburg
John Scottus School, Dublin
Philosophy Day School, New York
John Colet School, Sydney
Erasmus School, Melbourne
Ficino School, Auckland
San Fernando (Renaissance), Trinidad
Auburn House, Cape Town
A new school is to open soon

Nicholas Debenham

Posted: Tue Jul 05, 2005 7:19 am
by Arnold-Baker
I was not at St. Vedast's but I was a pupil of Nicholas Debenham at Westminster Under School for the two years before he took over as head master at St. Vedasts.

I cannot comment on the experiences of the boys on this website, but I can say that Mr. Debenham was hugely popular at Westminster Under School and for me he was easily the best master I ever had. As a teacher, he had an ability to approach a subject and take it to astonishingly high levels in a way which quite young pupils could follow. I remember quoting something in my English A level paper which he had said to us seven years before, when we were 11.

At Westminster Under School we had the cane, which was administered only by the Head Master. Other masters could send you to the Head to be beaten. I am pretty certain that Mr. Debenham never did this. The everyday punishment was writing lines, but Mr. Debenham invented, as a civilised alternative, the idea of learning lines of Shakespeare as an option. I asked him if we could learn Shakespeare lines in advance, and he laughed and said yes, with the result that he soon had a whole class of boys learing Shakespeare off their own bat.

He was the only Master at that school who ever bothered to use his own free time to take the boys out - I remember four of us squashing into his tiny car to go and see the Olivier film of Henry V.

He was very humourous and took a lot of care over the slower boys in the class. Above all, he was always extremely fair. Although his views on corporal punishment are unfashionable, they are not unique and I would be very surprised to learn that any of his pupils had found themselves unjustly treated by him, once the principle of corporal punishment is accepted at all.

Posted: Tue Jul 05, 2005 8:32 am
by a different guest
Arnold - I suggest if you read the posts here you will find that what Debenham did went FAR beyond what was normally "accpeted" as corporal punishment - but how jolly for you that you could pre-memorise bits of Shakespeare and escape such nastiness. Oh no, I shoulnd't say "nastiness" should I? It was just a "fashion".

Posted: Tue Jul 05, 2005 9:44 am
by Arnold-Baker
Different Guest: You wrote

Quote: I suggest if you read the posts here you will find that what Debenham did went FAR beyond what was normally "accpeted" as corporal punishment - but how jolly for you that you could pre-memorise bits of Shakespeare and escape such nastiness. Oh no, I shoulnd't say "nastiness" should I? It was just a "fashion". Unquote

- I think you have missed my point, which was that when I knew Mr. Debenham, he could have sent boys to be beaten, but didn't, and instead invented punishments which were designed to be more lenient than the existing ones.

Furthermore, the one thing he was known for was being consistent and fair.

Should I apologise if my experience of the man is different from yours?

Posted: Tue Jul 05, 2005 11:14 am
by Snowman
Dear Henry

Thank you for joining the discussion and thank you for reminding us that former St Vedast and St James staff had (in many cases) lives before St James and St Vedast were formed.

Reading your initial post made me very sad - not for you - for Mr D. The man you describe sounds like the kind of inspirational teacher that we all wish for for ourselves and our children. The Mr D that most pupils of St V and St J remember is very different and it begs the question, what changed in him that created the latter-day Mr D?

The founding principles of the schools that he joined in 1975 evidently made him alter his approach to education from one of "carrot" to one of "stick". The SES, of which he was a member, devised for it's members a school for children which would seek to educate those children in the ideologies that the SES promoted. I won't go into too much detail here as there are many posts on this forum and books available that explain very clearly their philosophy (you may already be familiar with them anyway).

In my opinion it is this philosophy, which dictated every policy, principle and academic aspect of the schools for children, that altered Mr D and his personality. You may say that this is impossible but I can assure you I have witnessed many strong and characterful individuals submit to and change under the influence of the SES. If the SES dictated a mode of behavior or a principle of education or a method of action most people followed without questioning. As pupils at St J we were built-up to believe that we were at the forefront of a new renaissance in philosophical thought, artistic skill and social perfection and that the schools were educating children from the age of 4 years old to be future leaders of this enlightened mission. Mr D genuinely believed this.

On the road to self-realisation (the prerequisite for enlightened thought) SES students were required to deny their individuality, through supression of their ego and thought, and strive to become one with the Absolute. How better to destroy the ego and crush individuality than to break a person's confidence and make them dependent on the regime that has forced this upon them? The teachers at the schools were granted freedom to administer the 'teaching' of the SES in the classroom and to use discipline as a means of educating children in those principles. The result was that the schools were frightening places for children to be. Such was the indomitable control of the SES that children at the schools often felt anxious, afraid and lonely and the use of physical and corporal punishments designed to humiliate children perpetuated and strengthened those feelings.

Mr D was the man presiding over this regime at St J and St V and that is why he has come in for such criticism and blame from former pupils.

We know that he believed he did nothing wrong and that he is proud of the legacy that he has left at St James and he obviously does not understand that he caused so much misery to so many children. He is still blinded by the influence of the SES and it's strange philosophy. The sooner he realises what he actually did the sooner he will be able to rest. I don't believe that he was born a violent person but I do believe that the SES influenced his life greatly and resulted in his subsequent actions as headmaster of the two schools.

Sad but probably true.

Nicholas Debenham

Posted: Wed Jul 06, 2005 1:52 pm
by Arnold-Baker
Dear Snowman,

I am in fact quite well aware of the SES, not only because I read the book Secret Cult many years ago, and also the Evening Standard articles, but also because I lived as a boy in a flat on the staircase where Leon MacLaren had barristers' chambers (I am certain Mr. Debenham had no idea of this) and years after I left prep school I once went to an open air performance of a play about Leonardo da Vinci which the SES put on. However, I never felt the least inclination to join the SES.

While what you say seems plausible, I cannot comment. I can only repeat that I am extremely grateful for having been Mr. debenham's pupil.

Kind regards

reply to Henry

Posted: Mon Jul 11, 2005 11:08 pm
by dan
Henry, your memories of Debenham are interesting. Thanks for your contribution.

Debenham's change of behaviour/ teaching style could be an example of the old adage 'power corrupts'.

Under decent guidelines he was obviously a good teacher for you. However when those controls over him were removed (at St Vedast/St James) he was free to show his true nature. He became, to many of us, a monster with a strong desire to inflict physical punishment on children which was so uncontrolled it became abusive and compulsive for him.

In most schools every employee is answerable to a higher authority. At the SES childrens' schools the chairman of governors has never taken any apparent interest in his real responsibility - the protection and education of children. The current chair of guvs is the same man who held this position when these schools were at their abusive worst. Yet nothing changes...he remains uselessly in this role.

The danger with small cult-controlled private schools (such as St James) is that they still have no real checks and balances to control teacher behaviour.

Posted: Mon Jul 18, 2005 6:33 am
by Keir
Alternatively his change of behaviour could be due to his enthusiastic embracing of the disciplinarian ideas of MacLaren. You only had to read Appendix 1 to the enquiry ToR - written by Boddy, to realise that Mr Debenham along with all those other enthusiastic well-meaning sorts, thought that society had got it wrong and they had got it right.

The great shame is that the SES did promise access to some highly challenging material, at the same time as enclosing it within what is essentially a top-down bullying and sexist organisation. So enthusiastic and altruistic sorts like the Mr Debenham Henry knew and loved, were captivated by the idea of a 'new wisdom' which led to the sometimes reckless employment of similar firebrands with little teaching expertise.

I think his behaviour is entirely consistent with an idealistic romantic sort of person, who has been converted to the cause of an organisation not known for it's self analysis or doubt, or teaching expertise.

It would be interesting to see when Mr Debenham first attended the SES in relation to leaving the Westminster Under School and forming St James.

Dont suppose he ever mentioned to you anything of his nightime activities, Henry?

Posted: Mon Jul 18, 2005 10:03 am
by Arnold-Baker
You had probably better ask him, but I imagine Mr. Debenham was already a member when I was his pupil. We once spent a lesson on Sanskrit (which we all found interesting - I subsequently followed it up when it was offered at Westminster School as an extra); and we also did some Vedic arithmetic which seemed such a good method that we all wondered why it was not more generally taught.

Posted: Mon Jul 25, 2005 1:38 pm
by Keir
It would be good to ask him, and if for one moment I felt I could have a full and frank discussion with the man, with some sense that he was at least equally respecting the value of my experience, I would get in touch with him.

It is a remarkable coincidence that a large number of current st J and SES members can not offer that politeness, and that many who have left can understand the importance of highlighting what has been highlighted on this BB.

For me, the importance is fundamental, as we learn by our mistakes. if I think nothing is wrong why would I try and improve a situation, or work to correct a problem that I dont believe exists? I am more interested in talking about what was wrong on this site as I am altogether familiar with what was useful about both organisations, but there is enough puff about that we dont need to make this site another PR vehicle for the organisation.

The chant that I have heard from current St J pupils and some pro leavers is why cant we let bygones be bygones. If I felt that anyone in the senior echelons of the school or SES was even remotely inclined to fully acknowledge the mistakes of the past, and apologise where appropriate, we could all have moved on so much easier.

The way that this has been handled has been apalling, and has smacked of arrogant disregard not only for the complainants but also for the current day school pupils and SES members. It is in everyone's interest to move on, but I think that some acknowledgement is needed from the current leadership before I am willing to stop posting to this board. By instituting an inquiry the Board of Governors are doing the impression of listening whilst framing it in the only language they understand. But the Law cannot deal with feelings, and as the facts being described on this board are in the past they are missing the point. The feelings on this board are current.

The popularity of this board is largely down to the fact that for so long there was no place where discussion of feelings were welcomed, accepted. No accident that a large number of the posters has mentioned some experience of counselling when the way that emotions were treated in ST J and SES was that they were suppressed and devalued, criticised and chided.

In a holistic sense that is a sickness. In many ways I have already moved on from the point where I need something from the SES, it is only out of a sense of compassion for the current St J students that I joined in with trying to get the management of SES ST J to acknowledge the failures in their application of the teaching. If they will not, I cannot force them to. If I am right, then there will be a succession of ex ST J students that year on year will find the existance of this site useful to fill in the gaps that their teaching left them with. Hopefully it will provide a place for them to find a way to come to terms with their difficulty expressing anger, their feelings of alienation, their confusion about the value of their education, and possibly feel part of the true 'old boys' association. If I am wrong then what harm can it do to have an alternative viewpoint from the school?

Punishment records

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2006 12:31 am
by mike_w
Does anyone else think it 'extremely convenient' that the punishment records for St Vedast seem to have gone missing. Black mark for losing your homework 'Sir' LOL

Also the widely erratic seriousness and sheer randomness of the so called 'offences' that boys as young as four where beaten for indicates something of the mental state of the man handing out the punisments - to me at least!

'Cheating in Greek' seemed to be a common crime

'Firing a gun in school' seems to be the most serious offence!

Looking back you've got to laugh about it or you'd top yourself if you took it all too seriously.

Posted: Wed Feb 01, 2006 10:16 pm
by Tom Grubb
I've been thinking the same thing, Mike!

From Townend's report: "Use of the cane was restricted to the Headmaster alone. To begin with the use of the cane was unrecorded and unwitnessed. Later in Autumn 1979 a punishment book was instituted by Debenham and purports [good choice of word!] to record the boy's name, the offence, the date of the caning and the number of strokes."

I am pretty sure that the one occasion that Debenham assaulted me with his big stick was on FA Cup Final day 1979, which, according to the Internet, was May 12th. I am even more sure that he wrote stuff down about my 'crime' in a book, even though this was a few months before he allegedly started keeping records! He used a fountain pen with red ink and he drew a line under it. (You remember this kind of detail when you're a 13-year-old schoolboy assaulted by a sadistic cane-weilding thug.)

Now, this may not have been his official 'punishment book', but he certainly wrote stuff down in it about my 'crime' - as I remember, possessing a personal diary with caricatures of teachers in it. I'd like to know where the book he used is, whether it was made available to Mr Townend and whether I can take a look at it.

As I remember, canings were almost daily occurrences in 1978 and 79. Strange how, when Debenham's official records begin (Appendix 8 of the report), they drop so dramatically. Surely Debenham wasn't withholding evidence...