Schools' new statement on the Inquiry

Discussion of the children's schools in the UK.
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Ben W
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Suitability of James Townend

Postby Ben W » Fri Mar 17, 2006 8:25 pm

Hi Stanton,

Thanks for your response.

I am conscious(!) that my posting might be pushing the debate into uncomfortable territory.

As a new person to this web site I have not viewed everything that preceded the report. I have no issues (either way) with the selection of James Townend. I do not know him and, prior to seeing the report, have no knowledge of him.

I do have an issue with the relative weight he has given to the evidence. I strongly suspect that we have not uncovered the full depth of the abuses that went on. Chris's note hints at this. We know too (we really do know) that there are people "in the shadows" who had very terrible experiences who have not yet been heard.

We all seek reconciliation. This can only come after people have been heard and acknowledged. I do not believe the report goes far enough in this respect.

This is an important point - because it is clear that there is still a big gap between those who suffered, those who enjoy the current school, and those still in the SES.

If we could get genuine alignment around the depth of suffering, I believe a huge part of the fire raging through this web site would die down. I believe the right way to do this is to acknowledge the report as a single step only, albeit a significant one, and to continue to ask people to have the courage to step forward and tell their story.

Cheers,
Ben
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Stanton
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Postby Stanton » Fri Mar 17, 2006 11:39 pm

Ben - fires are not usually put out by continuing to stoke them up. For my own part I encouraged former pupils - right from my very first post - to contribute to the enquiry, as I did. This was a one-off inquiry, a unique opportunity and it was important that anything that was to be said was said then. Put it another way, if you're invited to the party and you turn up late then don't be surprised if the food has all gone. I apologise if this sounds impatient, but, really, if you had anything material to contribute to the inquiry why did not you or your brother do so at the time? To complain afterwards that the report is not quite how you would like it, is to miss the point. You had your opportunity - as others did.

Alban
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Postby Alban » Fri Mar 17, 2006 11:58 pm

Hi Ben (and welcome).

You raise a good point about the severity of the beatings although I personally have nothing to compare it with. I do know however that he broke the cane on a number of occasions, which is a pretty hard thing to do. I can confirm from personal experience that massive bruising always took place and the skin was broken on several occasions - again not easy to achieve through trousers.

As to the report, it's true as a number of us have said before, it did not go anywhere far enough, and it would have not even gone as far as it did without the pressure that was applied through this board. Bearing in mind that the school were calling the shots on (and paying for) something that was possibly going to be a painful bit of publicity, then it went further than most of us had dared hope. But you're correct, there were a number of omissions and a number of suspect assumptions. One of the biggest for me was that on publishing the report, Townend states that he attached less weight to written submissions. That pissed me off because I spent a long time writing my submission and at no stage was I informed that the testimony was only to be treated as incidental.

If an inquiry was to be held properly, then it would take a very long time and cost a large sum of money because of the massive scope - who would pay for that.

You are also quite correct in that we do know of a number of other ex-pupils (quite a few who have been in touch privately) who have much more to add - a great deal of it damning. The trouble is that it is very difficult to exhume things that have been buried a very long time ago. It is a major emotional upheaval, and just because some can do it, it doesn't mean that we all can. To be honest, some of the people who I know haven't come forward suffered a great deal more than me, so it is a safe assumption that it will be so much harder for them to speak out.

I mean, lets face it...you were abused a long time ago, you have since managed to re-build your life. What is the motivation to open up those old wounds again - it will only cause you pain, possibly cause problems with your family - all for what?

You can see where I'm coming from here. There is a big chance that the world will not get to hear a number of those stories. It is sad - really sad, but nothing can be done. No pressure can be applied to those people for fear of alienation - if they don't want to talk, then they're not going to. One man's meat is another man's poison.

What we do have is a report that has been accepted by all sides as a pretty good attempt by an outsider to describe what went on in the given period (which itself in another contentious issue). The report, while far from complete certainly gives us enough to go on. It's there in black and white that criminal abuse took place. As you say, all involved should not ever be in a position of having responsibility over children ever again. I don't care if there's been 20 years of good behaviour - you only get one chance when dealing with children.

The problem is for the schools that if the individuals concerned deny it, it is going to be hard to prove things that happened such a long time ago. As a result, if the schools did dismiss the remaining teachers, then they are opening themselves up for legal action. So the teachers would have to be suspended on full pay - indefinitely - which could be a problem.

We've asked for honourable behaviour, but as yet both governors and teachers have refused to resign. So we're at a stalemate. We will continue to tell of our experiences, and the very weight of numbers is going to make it difficult to disprove them, but likewise it is going to be difficult to pinpoint individual acts of abuse. For this reason, I would imagine the courts will not get involved as any litigation by either side will be prohibitively expensive and likely to be relatively inconclusive.

The only act that an break the cycle is if the schools pull their heads out of the sand and act responsibly. IMHO it is the only way they are going to survive as schools, but I guess we'll see.

Alban

leon
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Postby leon » Sat Mar 18, 2006 12:35 am

Stanton wrote:Ben - fires are not usually put out by continuing to stoke them up. For my own part I encouraged former pupils - right from my very first post - to contribute to the enquiry, as I did. This was a one-off inquiry, a unique opportunity and it was important that anything that was to be said was said then. Put it another way, if you're invited to the party and you turn up late then don't be surprised if the food has all gone. I apologise if this sounds impatient, but, really, if you had anything material to contribute to the inquiry why did not you or your brother do so at the time?

To complain afterwards that the report is not quite how you would like it, is to miss the point. You had your opportunity - as others did.




Why is it unique?
If you didn't take part in the enquiry you are not allowed to criticise it? I can't see the logic there.

You had your opportunity, you missed it, now be quiet? Why should SES be given the lead in handling this issue?

And what of those past pupils who did not know of the enquiry? What of those past pupils who had no faith in it, or those who did not wish to partake in it? They have as much right to be heard as anyone else. One thing SES hoped was that the enquiry would "draw a line" under the matter and it would go away. Unfortunately life is not so simple.

Hi Ben welcome to the forum. I also wandered around those various grounds and signed my name with an Osmiroid. I think your points about Townsend are very valid. It is clumsy to compare an emotional turn of phrase (100's of canings) with entries in an unverifiable (no witnesses present as the law required) punishment book that mysteriously appeared 5 years after the schools creation and containes some odd trends. It is also curious he was not able to see through what was obviously an emotive statement, perhaps expressing the feeling of being under constant threat of being severly punished for any minor random "crime", and factor this against accounts from more emotionally detached staff who still no doubt believe in their own rightness. Townsend found criminal behaviour from the teachers, yet there is only mild criticism about Debenham who was directly responsible as headmaster for checking and stopping any abuse. Why is the punishment book given more weight? Because it is written in flowing script? If less weight is given to written material then it should apply across the board. Only a complete fool when presented with the evidence available could deny that criminal activity took place. This report does not even scratch the surface, the real issue being about the relationship between a cult and a school. Thats where the crime originated.
It's worth repeating over and over again, it was not just a strict old fashioned school, it was a post Guirdjieff inspired disaster. It's interesting to talk to people who studied under Guirdjieff's followers, they too had a penchant for big country houses. The ones I have spoken to all mention about how macho the tutors were, often spiteful and sadistic and constantly using humiliation and bullying to "wake" 'students" up. The method, the material. very close.

I find that posting by the governers laughable. A teacher reprimanded for throwing chalk? Please. A formal mark on a record? As if the teacher concerned is thinking of leaving the "truth" and finding work in a normal school.

(post edited, toned down my reply to stanton)
Last edited by leon on Sat Mar 18, 2006 12:05 pm, edited 4 times in total.

leon
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Postby leon » Sat Mar 18, 2006 12:59 am

chrisdevere wrote:Ben yes the force of the canings was excessive (More akin to a flogging) I have no problem with caning if used in moderation and as alast resort. judging by the poor discipline in schools today it might be worth bringing it back!!! however, what was metered out at St vedast was brutal. I have compared notes with several friends who were beaten at schools considered to be "tough" and they were shocked by what I told them. (At the time i took it to be the norm). the severity of beatings was not just the cane but also the slipper etc given out far more liberally. sometimes I would receive up to 6 strokes a day for the most trivial of infractions (Smudging ink in my book, not understanding something etc.). In my oppinion, this is when corporal punishment stops being a punishment of last resort and starts being a form of sadidstic entertainment for the person delivering it.


I agree. The net effect is that the child loses all sense of perspective on the severity of the 'offenses' committed as even tiny transgressions (fidgeting during meditation) are met with extreme severity. I believe some staff were often working off their inner rage / guilt / frustration caused by their inability to follow SES deliberately impossible teachings. There was obviously a transference going on between some staff and pupils. Disobedient Kids became metaphors for the kali yuga

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Ben W
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How does one put out a fire?

Postby Ben W » Sat Mar 18, 2006 1:12 am

Hi Stanton,

Thanks for your response.

I agree that stoking a fire does not put it out.

Nor does ignoring it.

I am attempting neither.

Only part of the visible fire is acknowledged by the report. There is an even greater fire burning out of control and out of sight.

My view (subject to Alban's point that some may never be able to talk) is that we need to know what we are dealing with. As far as I can see there is no alignment around this. How can reconciliation be achievable in such circumstances?

As to your point about turning up late to the party... I may have turned up late for your party - but (again subject to Alban's point) I believe the real party has yet to occur.

The report as I am happy to keep saying, is no more than a first step.

Cheers,
Ben
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Ben W
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Those in the shadows that may never speak

Postby Ben W » Sat Mar 18, 2006 1:27 am

Hi Alban,

Thanks for your message. I condemn those responsible for your suffering. I admire your courage in speaking out. You write very eloquently.

I accept that there are those who may never be able to speak. It is our duty to speak for them.

I believe there are others who may be able to speak if the circumstances are right.

I do not believe we serve either group well by giving credibility to or accepting a report which so starkly misses the mark.

If there is genuinely no appetite for this particular battle I will (after a good effort) drop the issue. For now I remain of the view that it should not be accepted in its current form as anything more than a first step towards recognition of what actually went on.

As to those who have dealt with the issues and moved on. I salute them too. They may yet have a role in speaking out - not necessarily for their own benefit - but for the benefit of those less fortunate than themselves who remain in terrible places.

With best wishes,
Ben
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Ben W
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Late to the wrong party?

Postby Ben W » Sat Mar 18, 2006 1:34 am

Hi Leon,

Thanks for your note. You sound familiar. My name back then was Amin.

I agree strongly with your words.

As to the Osmiroid. I am intending to write about my own experiences pre St Vedast on the thread "Introducing myself and opening comments". I'll see you (hopefully) there.

Cheers,
Ben
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Stanton
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Postby Stanton » Sat Mar 18, 2006 4:04 pm

I don't want to upset anyone but I think my point was quite clear - the inquiry was an opportunity for former pupils to record their complaints to an independent chairman. Many chose to do so, setting aside any doubts or fears they may have had in order to bear witness. Everyone had that chance. If you chose not to do so then where does that leave you? If you had experiences to contribute - but sat on your hands - then the force of the inquiry was lessened to that degree. If you saw injustice - but chose not to speak about it - then you effectively witheld support from your fellow pupils. If - on balance - you decided not to participate but to just get on with life - that's a very understandable position. But then to complain about the report?

mgormez
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Postby mgormez » Sat Mar 18, 2006 5:40 pm

That sounds a bit like "only people who drive cars can complain about the congestions".
Mike Gormez

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Stanton
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Postby Stanton » Sat Mar 18, 2006 5:50 pm

I would say, rather, it's more like an inquiry being called into, say, a traffic hot-spot. Car-drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, anyone using the road may contribute to that inquiry. Some do but others - who may have been as badly affected - do not. Rather than thank those who did the work, they then complain that the inquiry report did not fully represent them.

leon
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Postby leon » Sat Mar 18, 2006 6:47 pm

No, everyone did not have a chance. Only a very tiny fraction of past pupils had a chance, those that actually new an enquiry was taking place. That in itself gives enough reason for deciding to decline participation. I still cant follow your argument as to why those who did not contribute in the enquiry do not have as much right as anyone else to criticise (your use of the word "complain" is noteworthy) the report.

I took part, and I do not feel I am "unsupported" by those "complaining hand-sitters" who chose not to, I totally sympathise and understand any reservations and concerns they may have had. I would go so far to say that the final reports disgraceful omission of the girls school, it's findings re Debenham, and the ignorance shown about SES have confirmed these initial suspicions. And as for 'withholding support from fellow pupils', I am sure they supported each other very well at the time when it really mattered and are quite happy to do so now. I have not expected thanks from anyone for contributing myself. You really protest too much, your rather pious posts are really starting to smell like you know what!

sparks
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Postby sparks » Sat Mar 18, 2006 7:10 pm

Stanton wrote:Ithe inquiry was an opportunity for former pupils to record their complaints to an independent chairman. Many chose to do so, setting aside any doubts or fears they may have had in order to bear witness. Everyone had that chance.


Stanton, you are misinformed..

EVERYONE did not have the chance to participate...many former pupild were not even aware of the inquiry.

The schools simply did not do enough to contact former pupils. I am aware of a number of former pupils who only found out about the inquiry after it had concluded. Yet the schools had written to them only a few months earlier to invite them to attend Debenhams retirement party.

If there are former pupils now raising the fact that they were not able to contribute because they were not informed this is entirely legitimate.

There is also the issue of whether the inquiry was set up in such away that it limited participation even of those who were aware of its existance.

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Ben W
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The status of the enquiry

Postby Ben W » Sat Mar 18, 2006 9:25 pm

Interesting contributions. There is another gap here which needs to be acknowledged I think.

In normal circumstances (e.g. a planning application for a school which impacts the local community) I would agree with Stanton. You run the enquiry, make reasonable efforts to publicise it, take into account the submissions, determine an outcome and move on.

The school has made a significant effort to run an enquiry with input from as many people as possible. A lot of voices were heard. Many more were not. If this is about the school being seen to do the right thing then, subject to a debate about the objectivity and the quality of the inquiry and the report, I can follow Stanton's arguments. As you can see from my posts I do have difficulty over a number of issues, not least being the totally inadequate response of the school to the findings of its own report, and secondly the one eyed approach to evidence. (I still cannot get over the weight given to Debenham's records - it's like taking Harold Shipman's medical records as the most reliable evidence in that case.)

The trouble is this is not a normal circumstance. It is about as far away from normal as it is possible to get. In such circumstances the normal rules simply do not apply. This is about those who are able, working patiently and energetically to create the right circumstances for the truth to come out.

One has to praise the school and others for having the courage to hold the enquiry. But let's not make the mistake of allowing this to change the course of the debate. It is no more than one piece in a jigsaw - albeit (if we approach it properly) a corner piece.

From a personal point of view I had no idea the enquiry was taking place until my brother wrote to me earlier this month. I visited the site, printed and read the report, and started making my contributions to this site.

My persective (prior to this point) had been that my brother was particularly badly treated. What the report does allow me to understand, for the first time, is the systematic and widespread nature of the regime. I can hear many voices on this website, and am hearing of many more not on this website, who suffered as much as my brother did. This moves the nature of the debate in my mind from sad tragedy to horrific disaster - and has moved me to become active on this site.

[I do intend to put more of my personal experiences in a separate thread which may help anyone interested to understand more of where I am coming from. The impact of the SES on me personally was much more to do with my experiences in the home where I experienced sustained physical and mental cruelty between the ages of 6 and 17. It took the entire decade of my 30's to address the issues and become reconciled with my stepfather. There is a part of me which has been changed forever. My mother, brothers and sisters all have their own journeys to make.]
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Ben W
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Received an error message when posting

Postby Ben W » Sat Mar 18, 2006 9:32 pm

Seems to have been posted ok though.
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years


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