1. GENESIS OF THE REPORT
I was appointed to conduct the Inquiry which has led to this report by the Governors of the St James Independent Schools on the 1st June 2005. They decided, perhaps uniquely in the history of independent education in this country, voluntarily to institute and fund this wholly independent inquiry into their own schools. I believe that it may lead to a more thorough understanding of the reasons for this Inquiry and of the manner in which it was conducted if I set out here the circumstances in which the Governors reached their decision. The reasons expressed by the Governors for establishing the inquiry were:-
· Concern for the welfare of former pupils.
· The need to establish the facts and undertake a process of truth and reconciliation.
· Informal approaches made by former pupils communicating distress to Governors and the present Headteachers.
· The more general gossip conducted on the internet.
· The fact that allegations were being made against current members of staff.
· The Governors’ wish to act conscientiously in the discharge of their duties as charity trustees and employers and to protect the present Schools from any slur or complaint relating to the past.
1.1 History of the Schools
1.1.1 Their origins
(a) The history of the Schools is intimately bound up with that of the School of Economic Science (“the S.E.S.”), the foundation of which preceded that of the Schools by some 40 years. The S.E.S. was the creation of Andrew MacLaren MP who started it in 1938 as a movement to promote economic justice through fair taxation and distribution of wealth.
(b) Andrew MacLaren had a son, Leonardo da Vinci MacLaren, a barrister, who like his father was for a time a member of the Labour Party. He left the Labour Party, however, in 1945 for the Liberal Party. More important he became Chairman of the S.E.S. in 1947. Leon MacLaren, as he was always known, extended the remit of the S.E.S. to embrace the teaching methods, if not the basic beliefs, of the Russian philosopher P.D.Ouspenski and the Central Asian mystic, Gurdjieff. The S.E.S. became more orientated towards philosophy and less towards economics. In 1961 MacLaren became acquainted with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and through him was introduced to the practice of transcendental meditation. In 1965 he travelled to India and met the Shri Shantananda Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of the North, who was a teacher of the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. From that time on the teachings of the S.E.S. became principally influenced by this Eastern school of thought as interpreted by Leon MacLaren, who continued to visit and consult the Shankaracharya regularly.
(a) In about 1974 a number of members of the S.E.S., being parents of children, approached MacLaren and asked him to set up schools for their children. (In this connection it should be noted that in the late 1960s Sunday Schools had been opened for the children of members by the S.E.S.). It happened that MacLaren independently had been thinking of conducting an experiment along these lines.
(b) It must be remembered that from 1965 onwards selection by 11-Plus was gradually abolished and with it most other forms of competition between pupils. From 1970 LEAs began voluntarily to ban corporal punishment (although such remained lawful in certain circumstances for a further 16 years in State Schools and for 28 years in independent schools). By 1975 the comprehensive system of education was perceived by many to be failing.
(c) In January 1975 St James Boys' School and St James Girls' School opened, each with 3 classes of children aged 5 to 7. It was planned to have all-through schools with juniors from 5 to 10 and seniors from 10 to 18. Pressure was then applied by the parents of rather older children who wished to obtain the same education. Accordingly and not without some reluctance on MacLaren’s part, separate St Vedast schools were established for older children, initially between 9 and 12.
(d) In 1985 the St Vedast Schools were closed and their pupils transferred to the St James Schools. St James Schools now had both junior and senior departments.
In the first decade of the Schools’ existence the pupil roll increased and there was an increase too in the facilities available both in terms of premises and teaching aids. The staff available also grew in size. By about the early 1980s it seemed that the experiment had succeeded. Sister schools were also established in other parts of the U.K. and in a number of other countries.
(a) When the Schools had first opened almost 100% of the parents of pupils were either members of the S.E.S. or spouses of members. As at today only about 15% of parents are in this position and about 85% have nothing to do with the S.E.S. Unsurprisingly, this, together with changes in the views of society at large on the question of corporal punishment and discipline in general and ultimately as a result of changes in the law, appears to have effected a cultural change in the Schools, noticeable in their discipline policy.
(b) At the beginning the curriculum was more limited than it is today. With the extension of the curriculum to include, for example, the teaching of modern languages and of scientific subjects it has been necessary to increase the size of the staff. The schools now have a total pupil roll of 750 with about 120 staff. Originally the staff was composed almost entirely of members, both men and women, of the S.E.S. I am told that currently 75% of staff in the Senior Schools are members of the S.E.S.
(c) Leon MacLaren died in 1994 aged 83. Everyone who knew him speaks of him as being a brilliant and charismatic figure and a man of strongly held opinions. Many admired him, some with great affection. Others speak of him as a highly intelligent autocrat, with emotional limitations. During his life and up until his declining years in the early 1990s he seems to have maintained a very close interest in the Schools (as well he might as their Founder) and to have had a powerful influence over their running, not only in general matters but in matters of detail too.
(d) When he died he passed on the position of Senior Tutor, (Head) of the S.E.S., to Donald Lambie who has given evidence before me. Others, including members of staff, have given evidence to me about him. Although Donald Lambie is also a barrister and is, no doubt, an educated and intelligent man, I am satisfied that, although I never had the opportunity of meeting Leon MacLaren, the two men are very different from one another. Moreover the evidence supports the view that Lambie is less interventionist in matters involving the Schools than was Leon MacLaren.
(e) Although there is evidence available to me as to the greater separation between the Schools and the Senior Tutor of the S.E.S. than existed in MacLaren’s time, I am nevertheless satisfied that as late as 1995, Lambie was in a position to exercise direct and real influence over senior appointments. He is still consulted over the appointment of Heads and Governors but the Heads report that he does not become involved in the schools' day to day management. None of this affects the position of the Governors in law: they remain responsible for the governance of the Schools.
(a) St James Senior School for Boys is now at Pope’s Villa, 19 Cross Deep, Twickenham, Middlesex, TW1 4QG. St James Junior School for Boys is now at Earsby Street, near Kensington Olympia, London W14 8SH as are St James Senior School for Girls and St James Junior School for Girls. All four schools have accreditation by the Independent Schools Council.
(b) The Schools are vested in the Independent Educational Association Ltd, a company limited by guarantee with charitable status.
(c) The Board of Governors is headed by Roger Pincham CBE, formerly a prominent member of the Liberal Party. Initially the Governors were chosen by Leon MacLaren. The position under Donald Lambie seems to be that, while he would probably be asked to approve a new Governor, it would be the Governors who would choose him or her. The Governors are also the Trustees of the Trust.
(d) For the purpose of discussing financial and general management matters and making recommendations to the Governors there is a Board of Management, consisting of the three Principals of the Schools, the Bursar and a Chairman, both of whom are also Governors.
1.2 Bad Press
1.2.1 The Newspaper Campaign
(a) On June 8th 1983, a newspaper carried an “exposé” of the S.E.S. and “its schools”. This had been written by two investigative journalists, Hounam and Hogg, who later published their findings in a book (see Appendix 3).
(b) It may well be significant that when this campaign was continued on the next day, the day of the General Election, specific mention was made of the Chairman of the Governors, Roger Pincham, who was standing as a Liberal Candidate for Leominster.
Corporal punishment was effectively made illegal in maintained schools by the Education Act 1986. It remained legal in private schools, though public opinion progressively reduced the number of such schools actively employing it. As contrasted with such schools there was always a body of schools whose Heads favoured retaining the cane as a last option before expulsion. In such schools the cane remained an option for a time though largely an unused one. The St James Schools resisted abolition almost until the end. Corporal punishment was finally made unlawful in all schools when the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 inserted section 548 into the Education Act 1996. All corporal punishment at St James ceased in the Junior School in 1993 and in the Senior Boys School in 1996. Nicholas Debenham was regarded by certain sections of the media as a principal protagonist of the cane. He was on a number of occasions interviewed by the media and was not reluctant to express his views. It is interesting to observe that when the question of the abolition of corporal punishment arose in 1995, the pupils of the Boys’ Senior School actually voted to retain it. In contrast to that, the Governors did not seek to join in the litigation resulting in R (ex parte Williamson) v. Secretary of State for Education and Employment and Others  UKHL 15 where they might have sought to argue that the abolition of corporal punishment in schools was an unlawful interference with their Convention rights. In the event they may have been wisely advised not to do so.
1.2.3 The Effect
That all this bad publicity damaged the Schools and threatened their precarious income and financial position is amply borne out by a report by Marco Goldschmied, referred to below. In the words of the Report “The early growth was halted but not reversed.”
1.3 The St James Schools Report
(a) This report by Marco Goldschmied, properly called “St James Schools Report”, was produced in October 1996 at the request of Donald Lambie. Its author was a senior member of the S.E.S. and a Governor of the Schools for upwards of a decade. He sent five of his children to the Schools and is prominent in his profession as an architect. He gave evidence before me.
(b) The report set out a number of suggestions for change in the way the Schools were run. The principal purpose of the report was to increase the pupil intake and improve the finances of the project. It called, inter alia, for a more open and transparent organisation, no S.E.S. involvement, and for the Governors to govern more proactively and to be seen so to govern.
(c) It concluded that the “St James set-up is, as yet, far from transparent.”, that it "is really still a school for the “S.E.S. families”, controlled by the S.E.S….” This may have been a little unfair since the Governors inform me that in fact at that stage (1996) only about 50% of parents were members of the S.E.S.
(d) It reported that in May 1995 the new Senior Tutor, Donald Lambie, regarded the position of the Heads of the St James Schools as depending on his (Lambie’s) consent.
(e) Lambie appears to have given this Report a very lukewarm welcome. The Governors were very reluctant to discuss it but finally did so at an unminuted meeting 3 months after its circulation. I only heard of this Report by a sidewind when it was mentioned by a complainant. By no means all of its recommendations appear to have been acted upon.
(f) The question which all this prompts is, “How much change has there been in the last ten years?” This is considered below in paragraph 6.
1.4 The Message Board
As explained in the Terms of Reference (Appendix 1) in about February 2004 an internet message board was established and a number of former pupils of the Schools began to exchange reminiscences of their schooldays. A great many complaints were made about how pupils, individually and collectively, were mistreated, unreasonably punished and assaulted. Some complainants gave their names; some complaints were anonymous. Some were made about identified members of staff, some not.
1.5 Governors’ Decision
Some contact took place between the Heads of the two Senior Schools and some of the complainants in an attempt at reconciliation. However, little progress was made. These facts were reported to the Governors. Accordingly at a Governors’ meeting in October 2004 it was resolved to establish an independent internal inquiry.