Education failings ‘go back years’ – director promises action

Students on St Helena have been going into maths exams after months without qualified teaching. At a public meeting attended by 160 parents, staff and politicians, new director Colin Moore said failings in the island’s education system went back years – and promised strong action. Read a full transcript here.

CATHERINE TURNER picks out the key points from the meeting.

Colin Moore explained how the situation had arisen: not enough investment in training and retaining local maths teachers, and a worldwide shortage that meant the island struggled to recruit from overseas against tough competition.

It had failed to recruit locally, despite raising the salary.

One qualified maths teacher was now recruited from overseas, to arrive at the end of August. That person will teach maths at PAS but will also train local maths teachers, including in primary schools.

The department is trying to recruit more staff from overseas.

An appeal has produced some part-time fill-ins from qualified local volunteers in the meantime, but offering only very limited help in the evenings, and only to GCSE students.

The department is looking at using video conferencing with a teacher in the UK, but because term dates don’t match up this is difficult. UK schools are about to break for the long summer holiday.

Concerns were raised by parents that year 11 students sitting exams at present had not had  suitable preparation – and if they don’t get grade C or above they won’t be allowed to do A levels. The education director promised that pupils who performed less well than expected would be considered sympathetically.

Question: could students re-sit exams if results are poor? Answer: Yes, but it would be done through the adult education service and Enterprise St Helena (alongside helping adults who have also lacked adequate maths teaching in past years)

Colin Moore said the Department for International Development had agreed an extra £1.3m funding over three years for catch-up teaching.

Can the current year 10s be helped to catch up in time for their GCSEs next year? Answer:  the school will do its best.

The head, Abraham Swart, said parents should help. [in the meeting, Catherine Turner said many parents did not have the maths skills to do this].

The island’s physiotherapist, who had a maths degree, had offered to do two hour-long teaching sessions each week after finishing work. He was applauded for this, but concern was expressed that students were already tired by this time.

Father Dale spoke of teachers being “poached” by St Helena Government for better-paid jobs. Colin Moore acknowledged the problem and said he would be reviewing the salary structure for teachers to try to stop that happening.

James Greenwood, a UK teacher working at Prince Andrew School, said the gap between salaries for overseas and local teachers was too great.

Director Colin Moore said teachers were “unsatisfactorily rewarded.”

He said more training was needed but sending teachers abroad for months at a time was disruptive. He wanted training done on the island.

Penny Bowers, a teacher, said teachers were stressed: she said teachers from other subject areas were teaching maths to students who knew more about maths than the stand-in teacher.

Councillor Rodney Buckley said councillors “don’t micro-manage” education and it shouldn’t be the responsibility of politicians.

The overall feeling of the meeting was that teachers were working hard and doing their best to help the students.

SEE ALSO:
Education – new section
Meeting on maths teacher shortage – full transcript (note: unedited first draft – 5,000 words)
Maths crisis prompts appeal for teaching help
Must do better: poor school report spells ‘bleak’ future
Education on St Helena: ‘Teachers can earn more as cleaners’

The director of education was extraordinarily candid about the long-entrenched problems in St Helena’s schooling system, and especially in maths. But he said the severe lack of qualified teachers was not a crisis, because he and colleagues knew what needed to be done. Share your views here:

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