St james Girls School - remembered

Discussion of the children's schools in the UK.
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St james Girls School - remembered

Postby dan » Mon Dec 20, 2004 11:27 pm

Written by Clara

Well done for starting this website.
I went to st james from 1975 until I was 'asked to leave' in 1982. Unfortunately, being in the guinea pig class of the whole hideous idea of a school my form teacher was also the headmistress which meant there was never any respite.

I feel I would like an apology or at least an acknowledgment from ms Caldwell before she snuffs it. Apart from all the usual punishments and craziness and endless accusations of 'rotten apple in a box of good apples', things turned vicious when I was molested by a builder in the toilets. Stupidly I reported the incident to ms Caldwell, (as he boasted to me of other girls he had touched up) and her response was to take me downstairs and ask him point blank. he denied it and she apologised telling him that I'd always been a liar.

My punishment was to stay in her study until I confessed to the lie. Apparently I continually flirted with male teachers and even curled my hair before school in order to get their attention (?!). Meanwhile she told me she was organising a court case in which I would have to stand up in court and tell my lie with him, his manager, his employer all speaking out against me etc etc. Eventually (three days later, no meals, no conversation - stood up in assembly whilst everyone told that I was evil and anyone caught talking to me would be punished) ..eventually another teacher saw me standing outside the ms Caldwell's study, face in the corner sobbing and asked me what was wrong. It transpired that she had had the same builder and he'd touched her up as well. So, no apology or anything I'm sent back to the class.

A few days later I am sent to her study and asked if I have 'any crimes of the land to confess to?'

Again I am to stand in her study, no meals writing out straight lineswith a Sanskrit pen, until I confess. I have absolutely no idea what I am meant to have done but this makes no difference whatsoever.
I begin to stop talking altogether over the next few days as I am now accused of ringing her up and making obscene telephone calls every day for nine weeks. She knew it was me because she 'recognised my voice'.
Despite several of the calls coming when I was travelling home from gym club at eight pm, she was convinced that I had got out of the tube at Leicester Square and made the calls.

The next accusation came within the same week. I was now not eating or talking, about the only two things I could control. I had apparently sent her a box load of sex magazines. By this stage I had decided that the only way to end this hell AND to make a statement was to jump in front of a tube at Embankment station. Bizarrely at the planned event, my father turned up on the platform at the same time. Within days I was asked to leave.

I cannot speak for anyone else's causes but there was certainly one suicide whilst I was there and another attempted.

I found it almost unbearable when i had the misfortune to meet her again years later that she actually mis pronounced my name. This woman who had so bullied and harmed me couldn't even pronounce my name.

Any way, there goes.
Last edited by dan on Sun Dec 26, 2004 7:06 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Postby Daffy » Tue Dec 21, 2004 9:05 am

Clara, thank you for recalling what must be very painful memories for you. There are comparatively few stories on this board about the girls' schools and yours shows once again that abuse wasn't just limited to the boys' part of the organisation.

The fact that Caldwell continued to call you a liar and to punish you, despite corroboration of your story from a teacher, is absolutely disgraceful and borders on the criminal. Many millions of dollars have been paid in compensation by the Catholic Church in the US for doing precisely what Caldwell did.

Will you be giving your evidence to the inquiry? I think St James will have trouble wriggling out of responsibility for such a gross dereliction of duty on the part of its headmistress.

Sarah M
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Postby Sarah M » Tue Dec 21, 2004 11:41 am


I'm really shocked and angered by what happened to you. I remember you as having lots of spirit and personality and there's nothing St James hated more than a spirited child. You were held up as an example of evil incarnate to the rest of the girls, this must have been hellish for you to live through - well done for surviving.

The events you describe show that it is essential that the girls' school is included in any inquiry into abuse at the schools.


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Postby sescaped » Tue Dec 21, 2004 2:42 pm


I have a lot of respect for you for posting your experiences; it can?t have been an easy thing to do. That this should have happened to you is inexcusable. It is time for the way that the teachers behaved and the belief system that allowed them to behave like that was fully investigated and discredited. The present schools must condemn the way in which students were treated in the past and make totally sure that nothing of the ethos that allowed and encouraged the teachers to behave like that remains.

I would have been just starting in St J girls school at the time you describe. What your experience brings to mind for me is being told that women bore the entire responsibility for the effect that they had on men. In philosophy lessons we were told that women who were raped brought it on themselves by the clothes they were wearing ? hence the ankle length skirts. The sad fact is that even if you had been believed I doubt you would have received much sympathy or support.

Hope the inquiry is widened to include the girls school. Best wishes.

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Postby gadflysdreams » Tue Dec 21, 2004 10:25 pm

Clara, did you have any friends in your class?! I'm pretty sure that those from your class who have gone on to become staunch members of SES have indeed perpetrated the idea that you did, in fact, supply Shiela Caldwell with pornography through the post. Certainly those of us who were around in any relationship whatsoever to St. James schools at that time were led to believe that your expulsion was the result of your having sent this illicit literature to your headmisstress!
Did you relate all this to your parents at the time? What kind of a hold did SES have on your folks, if they were unable to protect you through such a vicious attack? And what kind of girls were in your class that they did not rally round to support you? And what kind of teacher was she who, having corroborated your evidence, sat back and watched you go through all that?! What manner of insane regime allowed all this to take place? Could it have been the wisdom of SES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tom Grubb
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Postby Tom Grubb » Wed Dec 22, 2004 1:10 pm

Clara, thank you for your brave and moving testimony.

SES apologists: Is Clara making this stuff up? Or does the SES continue to harbour child abusers? Katharine Watson apparently finds it hard to answer this question. Do you?

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Postby rachelS » Sun Dec 26, 2004 1:37 pm

Clara, your testimony was indeed moving. I was in the SES for over 20 years and have children about your age. Thank goodness I was not able to send them to the SES schools for various reasons but I dearly wanted to do so at the time as we were told that only the children at your school were having a decent education.
I have been following this board fairly closely for some time now and have pondered about why an organisation which (I think) started with good intentions went so horribly wrong. These are the answers I have come up with.
I think the SES did start with a genuine desire on the part of Leon MacLaren to do good in the world but it became infected with a number of things.
1. Collective delusions of grandeur. The members of the SES were under the delusion that they were somehow more conscious, capable and had access to knowledge that was not available to 'ordinary man'. The idea is that they were awake and the rest of mankind was asleep. There were some laughable manifestations of these delusions of grandeur. I remember Miss Rosenberg remarking rather smugly that "Ladies in school do not follow the fashion, they SET the fashion" Long dresses were in at the time and she really belived the rest of the world was following the SES!! The dreadful thing is that I believed her. I was every bit as smug at the time and suffering from the same delusions.
The less amusing result of these delusions of grandeur was the arrogance with which the school was staffed with untrained teachers and a contempt for modern educational advances.

2. There was a culture within the SES of bullying. Leon Mac used to roar at people who questioned the party line and the questioners would be humiliated and isolated. This was copied by other school leaders throughout the world and many tutors. They say that if you want to produce torturers you first have to torture them. I think the teachers at the school had all been bullied themselves and it came naturally. The female tutors( some of them, anyhow) were more subtle but equally bullying. A particular Mrs P was an expert at reducing the women students to a sodden mess before embracing them, having broken their spirit. Women stood up to her were treated appallingly. This was as recently as the 90s. The sad thing is that some of these bullies are so lacking in self knowledge they probably don't even now acknowledge what they did.

3. There was/is a culture of snobbery and elitism. Powerful and rich people were treated differently. One has to ask too, why two prominent New Zealanders in the SES developed over-the-top posh English accents a short time after arriving in England. How 'truthful" is that?

I think the two different views of Mr Debenham can be explained by the principle of SCAPEGOATING. This can happen in both families and schools. A teacher will pick on one or more children and, particularly in private, can vent his/her speen but be perfectly nice to the more docile kids or those with powerful parents. This is a well documented phenomenon.

I remember once Donald Lambie saying that wives should go down on their knees begging their husbands' forgiveness for something or other. Perhaps Ms Caldwell might like to go on her knees begging Clara's forgiveness.

Good luck to all you young people. I hope you find satisfaction and then peace. Try to forgive your parents. They genuinely believed they were doing the best for you.


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Postby Matthew » Mon Dec 27, 2004 1:49 am

Rachel, thank you for your honest and I think quite accurate appraisal of where the SES went horribly wrong with tragic consequences.

rachelS wrote:I remember once Donald Lambie saying that wives should go down on their knees begging their husbands' forgiveness for something or other.

And this is supposed to be the new, and more moderate leader?!?

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Postby Alban » Tue Dec 28, 2004 1:22 am

Hi rachel, you've made some excellent observations which ring absolutely true for me too.

However, there is one point you make that is particularly pertinant....

rachelS wrote:They say that if you want to produce torturers you first have to torture them.

I have heard this said before, but it struck me that two of the three teachers that have come on here and admitted to having been over-zealous both also described similar experiences from their school-days. Interestingly enough, the third was not involved in any direct physical abuse.

Makes you wonder what attrocities some of the other "teachers" may have suffered!

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Postby Scotsman » Tue Dec 28, 2004 1:40 am

It's not possible to put my feelings in to words after reading Clara's post. There is just no excuse for such heartlessness.

I think RachelS is probably right. My wife and I met at an SES Residential, so we were both very much "in school" for many years. However the bullying by one of her tutors became just too much. I began to see how unhappy it made her and suggested she leave the SES, which she did.

Donald Lambie once bawled at me during a group meeting that he was tutoring. This was quite a few years before he became leader. I refused to give ground so it ended in stalemate and he always remembered me after that. Certainly to be bawled at by Leon MacLaren was a very unnerving experience.

Attending SES made one feel one was part of a rather exclusive genteel sort of club, whose members all adhered to certain standards. It was very easy to feel slightly superior, as though one had access to knowledge as a member of SES that other people, who were not members, did not have access to. And being a hierarchical organisation, you accepted that your tutor knew more than you did, and that the Head of Level knew even more.

This belief that as a member of SES you were more "conscious" than other people can easily lead to a feeling of arrogance. In fact it can cut you off from the rest of mankind. That was one of the reasons I left.

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Postby Clara » Wed Dec 29, 2004 8:38 pm

It is excellent to read all these responses i just wish I knew who people were; being new to this form of communication, is this the norm that everyone talks under a strange alias? Anyway, I feel really good to eventually feel that I got my version of events down on record. Thankyou, Sarah mc G for your note, hope you 're still reading. x

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Postby Daffy » Thu Dec 30, 2004 7:04 am

Clara wrote:It is excellent to read all these responses i just wish I knew who people were; being new to this form of communication, is this the norm that everyone talks under a strange alias?

It's not obligatory to use an alias but many people do, not just on this board but on many others too. It's part of the culture of the Internet!

If you want to know who another user is and think they might be willing to tell you, you could always send them a private message and ask them - click on the 'PM' button under any post of that user.

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Claras post

Postby sugarloaf » Mon Jan 03, 2005 12:59 pm

Clara?s post is probably the most disturbing I?ve read yet. But somehow it doesn?t surprise me, as the root cause of this was the same as that which resulted in the excesses in the boys school: the SES ideas and ideals that all the teachers believed in, and the undemocratic and hierarchical organisation that produced them.

Although I went to the boys school, I was aware of some of the goings on at the girls school. We were deliberately allowed little contact with any of the girls, but even at an early age I was aware of the supposed character traits of some of the girls. The only way I could have known this was through officially sanctioned gossip spread from parent to parent via the out of school SES groups (of which most parents were members), and on to the children.

I was quite surprised in my last year of school to have several much younger children come up to me and tell me I was a ?drug user?, something they had obviously been warned about via the same route. Somehow the school/SES didn?t think it important to inform me personally of their opinion about me.

I?m surprised so few girls have come forward so far, as I think there?s probably a lot more unpleasantness still hidden from view. I always found the practice of encouraging teenage girls (who showed the correct SES attributes of course) to marry teachers twice their age, immediately on leaving school, particularly questionable. (exactly when did these relationships start - while they were still at school?). And I was also aware of at least one girl who made repeated suicide attempts. I wouldn?t presume to know the reasons, but I do know from my own experience that the St James/SES?s attitude to child welfare was negligent, bordering on criminal in some cases. I would be very surprised if she received any support or help from the school at all.

If St James is in any way genuinely interested in investigating its past behaviour, any inquiry or investigation would have to include the girls schools as well as the boys. Personally I wouldn?t participate in it if it did not.

If the school now bears no relation to its former self, then I?d like to know at what point, and why it changed. If I were a parent of a child currently at the school, I?d also want those answers ? otherwise how could I be sure my child was in fact being educated in a genuinely safe environment, free from the SES?s ulterior motives?

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Postby Tamsin » Tue Jan 11, 2005 10:34 pm

Hi Clara. Thanks for your post. I was in Gay David' s class, the year just below you and remember you well as being articulate, smart and non conformist. You certainly bring back the days of witch-hunts' to identify the perpetrators of erroneous and sometimes quite bizarre perceived infractions of the SES/St James worldview. As Janine describes in another post, you have also highlighted the common practice at St James of isolating and humiliating girls by painting them as sexually precocious and therefore dangerous. Best wishes to you and I hope that life since St J has been rewarding and fulfilling. Tamsin

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Postby Clara » Mon Jan 17, 2005 4:47 pm

Tamsin, I remember you well. In fact my son and tersa howell's are at school together (NOT st james, i can assure you) and she was talking about how much she missed seeing you, only a couple of weeks ago. So how strange. She would love to be in touch so I'm being a messenger. But good to hear from you and I hope life is treating you well. with love clara

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