Students in St Helena have been struggling without enough qualified maths teachers for most of the past academic year. Year 11 pupils have gone into GCSE exams in the subject with help from stand-in teachers. On 13 June 2012, the parents’ association at Prince Andrew School called a public meeting on the issue – which the director of education insisted was not a crisis.
This is a transcript of the meeting, taken as a recording by Radio St Helena’s Ralph Peters was broadcast on the island, and on the internet, by Saint FM.
Father Dale Bowers, chairman of the parents’ association, opened the meeting:
“We must have about 160 people here. The whole idea is to deal with the serious situation of no maths teachers in Prince Andrews School. Obviously we want to bring it to the attention of those who are responsible for education.
“I hope no eggs are in the audience here.
“We invited the governor who has another commitment, which is a by-election and we also invited Eddie Palmer because Department for International Development. He can’t make it.”
The director and deputy director of education were present, along with the head.
“We do have a shortage of maths teachers. Tonight is not about mud-slinging. Tonight is about finding solutions to the problem. There is the immediate situation we need to address as well: it’s not just about September.”
The director of education said:
“This is not a new situation we are in. It is not a situation I discovered when I sat at my desk for the first time. I was aware of the situation before I arrived on the island.
“The shortage is part of a wider international problem. Maths is a shortage area all around the world.
“We start from a more disadvantaged position than other states looking to recruit.
“I don’t think that it’s been helped over the years by the number of teachers that have been trained on the island in specialist subjects. There have only beebn a small number trained.
“Maths isn’t the only subject that gives me cause for concern.
“Next week, next month we are still going to be in the same position, but by late August we will have recruited a specialist maths teacher with very good credentials to assist us across the island.
“I have an advert out at the moment for a second overseas specialist.
“We put out an advertisement a couple of weeks ago asking whether any maths specialist instructors would be prepared to offer their services in the short term. I am pleased to say that we have had a good response to that.
“Today we have had an additional maths instructor, qualified teacher, working in school.
“We have also had offers of support outside the school day. We will put on the transport if we need to, down to the education centre in Jamestown.
“We have been using our contacts in the UK to see if we can do some video conferenceing to provide lessons. That will be coming along soon.
“I can’t no pay tribute to those teachers and staff of the school who have gone the extra mile for a nubmer of months to assist with the teaching of mathematics outside of their responsibilities
“I think it is a real tribute to them.
“We have tried to assist them. For me coming in as director to a very difficult situation I know I have been very reliant on the goodwill, the high levels of professionalism, to keep things on track.
“We would not have got through [the exam period] without the help of those staff.
“Clearly it is an opportunity for all of us to explore not just how we have dealt with it but ideas too.”
A speaker from the floor (Carol) said:
“We have had highly qualified teachers in maths. None of these have stayed their time and given the time to our children that should have been given to them.”
The director said: “When I was appointed I said those of us who come with high levels of renumeration have a duty to stay. That will not happen on my watch.”
“Poor teaching leads to negativitiy and destroys self esteem. That’s why we’re recrui9ting advisers – raising attainment advisers – to work with our teachers.
“The vast majority of your teachers do a first class sterling job. It is contaminated, it is destroyed, by one or two who let the situation down.
“That is why I acted in one situation to alleviate that.”
A speaker from the floor said: “Why did it take so long to rectify it? Can we for God’s sake learn from this and make sure we have a fall-back plan?”
The director said: “The island has had difficulty recruiting to maths, partly due to past salary levels. We have increased the salary quite significantly. That’s why we have been able to recruit.
“But I share your views.”
A female parent said: “I watch my child struggle. I even phone one of the old teachers to tutor my kid. For the past year our kids been bounced around so many teachers teaching different things.
“My daughter came home almost in tears. How do you think that made me feel?
“We make sure we push our kids to show up for these things. I think it’s a real negligence.”
The director said:
“This situation is absolutely not one we would wish to see and that’s why we have taken ste3ps to alleviate it.”
The mother said: “My daughter came home with papers, and said the teacher gave her the papers but didn’t really explain. Now the tutoring is not use to them… they have to sit an exam tomorrow.
“Tutoring too much information into their little brains is not good for them. They can only take so much.”
The head teacher said:
“When we discovered September last year we only had two maths teachers instead of three, one of the maths teachers decided not to come back from his leave.
“We asked a retired maths teacher to come back and help.
“What then happened was the persons who assisted can only do what they can do. If I don’t have a maths specialist the best person to rely on is existing staff.
“I wholeheartedly agree, a non maths teacher compared with maths teacher, is two different animals.
“That was the best that could have been done.”
The floor speaker said: “Last year I rang you three times. My daughter wasn’t learning anything. I rang you three times and nothing go done about it.
“We attempted to resolve it. Then the maths teacher couldn’t be at school for health reasons so we only had one maths teacher.
“We then requested more staff members to assist. It’s not a specialist but to me it’s better than nothing.”
The mother said: “At the moment, our kids is going to fall short.”
The head said: “We then lost that maths teacher.
“We also attempted to recruit staff in Septeberm. The response was very low. There weren’t any qualified candidates. It was then advertised with a higher salary. We didn’t get the quality we needed.
“I feel your pain but this is the situation we are in.
“I have been here nearly two years and our recruitment process needs to be reworked. Instead of looking at the current situation through the government, we need to employ an agency.
“We need to look at retention of staff as well. Hopefully the future will be much better.”
The mother said: “It won’t help my kid, though.”
The head said: “The fact that we only had one teacher will affect not just the year 11s. It goes wider than that, right down to Year 7.”
Father Dale said: “If these children can prove they are victims of the situation, if they fell short of their projected target, will the department do anything to enable these young people to have good qualified teaching in the next year to rectify the problem?”
The director said: “Coming new as director of education, my responsibilities are wider than schools. I also have responsibility for all the training for the adult community too.
“There are already a number of young adults who are very talented, who are very bright, who haven’t got the level of qualification you would expect them to have.
“We just haven’t got the broad spread of local teachers, trained sufficiently to meet the island’s demands.
“I understand as Abraham says your pain and frustration but sadly it is not a new phenomenon.
“There are already a range of courses I need to put in place for young adults. I am determined we will do that, not just in maths but in areas the economy of the island needs.
“I have already nailed my colours to the mast: marine technology is part of that. You can’t do marine technology without mathematics.
“We will be doing all we can to ensure they get the courses they need as they move into the next stage of trianing or employment.
“Rodney and I and other members of the eucation committee have been working on changed sxth form access so we are more flexible about how people access education on the island.”
(In other words, adults could join classes)
Abraham said: “We have already had a discussion in the past few days [about below-expected performance] we have already made a decision we will consider each case on its merit but we will not disadvantage any students [on sixth form access].
“We have been working as a team at school to make sure students have access. In the past half term I have become a maths teacher. Each of us we are pulling our weight.”
Carol, from the floor, said: “You said you have recently recruited but on the basis the salary has been lifted. All those teachers from PAS, when is somebody going to recognise those people and actually give them a pay rise?”
“One of the tasks on my desks at the moment is to look at the scheme for teachers. I need to take it right back to basics.
“I relates to how many we recruit. We have not been recruiting enough.
“This audience is really interesting, it’s 50-50 men and women. For some reason we just do not recruit men.
“We also have a gender imbalance. Our young people need a balance of genders in the classroom. That’s what you find in most developed countries.
“We have a big job to do making teaching attractive to young men.”
Father Dale said: “SHG is also responsible because they poach our teachers. “
He named several senior officials recruited from the education service. “This list can go on. If you want to retain your teachers, they have to be qualified, they need to be good. If Mr Buckley and people who are the high policy makers are serious about educaton and the resource we are depenbdent on to drive our economy forward, that is the level you need to be looking at if you want to retain these people.”
Rob, from the floor, a male speaker said:
“What you have been doing is better than nothing. Is it correct there have been occasions when there have been no teachers pre3sent in the classroom?”
Abraham replied: “No.”
Rob: “That’s not the feedback I have had. There has been a concern because the child concerned will sit down and do their own study but not when they are being disrup-ted by other students because there is no student present. “
Catherine said: “I’m delight you have had volunteers but having done a similar thing myself, it is an incredibly difficult job for anybody who has not been trained as a teacher to know what level to put things across. Will people be given support in that.”
The director replied: “Yes.”
A young female speaker said: “Part of the strategic plan says education is a top priority. I am not so sure. It indicates in there we have serious educational problems. It has been going on for a while. The boys are very low indeed. It also talks in that document about all the opportunities that are going t come about.
“If the educational system is failing us, [those opportunities will never come about].”
The director said: “Education is the priority for SHG. I have been deputy director for two places in the UK for about 16 years, one in London and one in the far West of England. I applied for this job because I knew it was a really big challenge but I am convinceed it is doable.
“Somebody mentioned overseas training and the disruptin that causes for youbngers. We have te3achers who go away for mobnths. I dobn’t want to see that in future.” [He wanted training on the island]
The young speaker said: “What is Plan B if these people being recruited now change their minds?”
The director said: “There is a training plan for the island. The other thing is in the short term we have tried to be as creative as we can to extend that invitation out into the community to share their skills.
“It would be very wrong of me to stand here tonight and say it will all be okay. It is going to be a difficult job for two years. We are determined to recruit people who can do the job. We are not going to recruit anybody who is going to let us down.”
Mr Buckley: “I want to reassure you education is our priority.
“We got an extra £250k for training over the next year and £1.1million over the next three years.
“It is not just lip service any more. The current government, education is the top priority.
“The directorate has been instructed to bring to the table a plan to revamp adult education and training.
“We have discussed the problem.s The island is going to have serious problems with recruitment in the next couple of years. But the director has been instruction at the next meting to brng that to the table.”
Father Dale said: “I hope this won’t just end up with professionals coming here and producing a report. What we don’t want to see is experts writing reports and we can’t follow up on reports becau7se we’ve got a problem.
“I want to see that money going to teachers.
“If we don’t do that, £1.3 million will be wasted and at the end of the day we will be crying again.”
Councikllor Buckley said: “The job of the committee is a political job, to monitor, scrutinise and evaluate the education system. The work to deliver that is up to the director. It is up to the4 director to see to it that the staff deliver.
“The committee on my watch is not going to be interfering with how it is delivered.
“I have a job to do, it’s a massive job. I am of the view that the problem has been with the education systme of the island for some years. One of the main roots has been the political system. I do not believe the committee is the right body to drive education. Politicians have no experience of education.
“We are charged as a political body to deliver a long term educational plan for the island.
“I am proposing it goes out to consultation that the education system be managed by a goverbning body, bot a political body. That governing body is people like yoursleves who call the director to account.
“The political responsiblity is to find the money.”
Father Dale said: “All I am saying is if we are being given money it has to be put into training and retention of teachers.
“Don’t waste this opportunity.”
Councillor Buckley said: “That money is being allocated to training.”
Clarence: “I was told a person on the island who has an A level has offered their services to the island and had no reply and that person is now delivering private teaching.”
The director said: “Everybody I know of has been responded to.”
Rebecca Cairns Wicks said: “We have had a year that has been incredible. It has put a huge amoung of strain on our teachers.
“We have students who have not been givebn maths teaching for a year. You talk about one specialist. It seems to me not enough.
“How are we going to support that person and existing staff to catch up.
“I have a year 10 student, I have a year 9 student, I want them to have good GCSE grades. How are we going to do that?”
The director said: “We have to look t our own community to solve the issues.
“It is about ensuring we have a good supply of staff we are recruiting to our books from wiothin the island. That is the only way of getting over the attrition.
“The two teachers from overseas will have a major job in developing staff we recruit from within the community.”
Rebecca said: “To deliver the curriculum and a year of catch up requires additional support. Who is going to deliver that without putting additional strain on the teachers you are bringing in.
“Teachers are stressed, they are tired, they are worn out.
“It is years. It’s repeatedly throughout their whole education that continuity of teaching has not been supplied.”
The head said: “I have had a response of aobut four people and have enlisted the support of two of those people.
“All the people who responded, I got back to.
“All our children are different, they have different learning styles. Everyone does not match up to the learning needs of our students and that is what we need to consider as well.”
[The male speaker was Clarence]
A speaker asked: “What are the other areas where there are going to be these big needs?”
The director said: “There are several areas. Not just subjects. I am talkin about the art and craft of teaching itself. Teaching as a professional moves on. There is quite a lot of work to do to help our teachers with a range4 of teaching styles.
“This is a remarkable island. There aren’t many places in the world where you have the full range of abilities in one school. We have children who are very gifted, and with quite severe difficulties. That requires a massive range of teaching skills. They’re not there at the monent.
“Our levels of achievement need to improve.
“One of the keys is giving youngsters belief and ambition. Some of pour boys don’t have amibtions that are high enough or meet what ought to be their level of aspiration.
“They have the ability but they don’t recognise it. For some boys it is sometime3s not cool to be seen as a learner. It is cool to hang around and look as if you’re not doing your homework.
“That has to be turned round. I know it can be turned round because I have done it.”
Father Dale said: “We have major crisis, don’t we?”
The director said: “We have significant challenges and difficulties. A crisis is where you don’t know what to do. We have plans. Crisis is an emotive word and it doesn’t help the community.”
Father Dale said: “Today is the 13 of Jubne 2012, 25 to nine, and I will remember that time.
“You said there is aproblem recruiting maths teachers worldwide. Now you are telling me we have the resources to deliver it. I will come back to that next year.”
[A qualified volunteer is to offer evening classes]
The physiotherapist has a degree in mathematics.
Well done to sumit, I take my hat off to him.
A female speaker said: “A lot of our children are leaving home at seven in the morning, so at half past five in the evening they are still studying.” [referring to lessons from 4.30 to 5.30]
The head said: “It is open to all year 10 and 11 students to take the opportunity.
“It is a long day. I work 16 hour days. The point is we need to put the extra efforts in as parents too. Is education everybody’s business? Yes it is? It is the whole St Helenian community’s duty.”
Sunut is a St Helena government emplolyee. Why can’t St Helena Government re3leqase3 him from his job fr one hour a day if education is everybody’s business?”
The director said: “Sunit has made that offer. Sunit is a busy man. Sunit doesn’t want to let down the clients he works with. It isn’t a case of the government saying he can’t do it.
“It’s a great offer. We should all be full of admiration for him.”
The floor speaker referred to teachers now working in high level in government: “Can any of those people be released for an hour?”
The director said: “I am in discussion with some of those people but I am not going any furhter this evening.
“What was inferred was we have lost teachers to other jobs. Yes. That is the same the world over. There is nothing wrong in people wanted to move on in their careers.
“The issue is we haven’t been smart enough in succession.”
Catherine Turner said: “It is a parent’s responsibility. When it comes to maths, where education is not has good as it should have been, sometimes it is beyond the parents. We may be able to help with some of the subjects, when it comes to GCSE maths and science, not everybody is equipped to deal with that.”
James Greenwood, a UK teacher, said: “I have been here a year. There is some exceptional quality in teaching, much of which comes from people without degrees. A lot from people without A levels in that subject. There is quality.
“A crisis isn’t quite what we have. We do have issues with maths. This hasn’t been one of the highlights of my career. Its been the highlight. I have an an incredible year with the people I have been working with.
“We need to look at renumeration.”
Father Dale referred to people leaving for higher salaries in the government. “We are just training people for other people.”
James Greenwood said: “There are massive disparities between people doing the same job. A lot of that is advisory versus local rates but I think the gaps need to get smaller. If anything is going to happen, pay needs to go up.
“If education is SHG’s number one priority, salaries have to go up.
“It looks as if you get a job in teaching and then you get a proper job, you go and work for SHG. And that’s worrying, because teaching is the proper job.”
The director said: “And that’s why I said at the outset, we need to look at the scheme of service.”
A young speaker said: “Yes, we are tired I guess. We cover every day. I think for the staff we do it willingly. I have been teaching a year 11 class, trying to teach maths and doing my best which means a little bit of extra study for myself. I don’t want to go in the class and look like I don’t know how to work out a+b=c.
“Our grave concern is we really need the maths teacher in the classroom, doing the maths.
“We don’t want the children to be disadvantaged by not teaching the maths correctly. We are picking up where we can. We need maths teachers as soon as possible.
[other teachers agreed, without speaking].
“We are doing what we can to try and help.”
Mr Roberts said: “I like to take my hat off to ‘em ][th teachers]. Going to cover and not knowing about the subject is daunting. Going to cover when there’s kids in the class who know more about maths than you is daunting.
“As the island is very small, there’s a rumour going round Mr Greenwood won’t be teaching IT next year. We hope it’s not going to take a year to replace Mr Greenwood if he’s going to teach another subject. From all the parents, we take our hat off to you people.”
A young female speaker said: “It do make me worry, we all concerned about one another, but because of that they have done this for so long now. It has not been recognised how mucgh cover has been going on because it has been accepted as normal. Teachers, thank you.”
Gerry: “Just on the international advertising front. Having experienced it fairly recently, it took an awfully long time with the end result being I sat twiddling my thumbs for a month waiting to come out.
“We know SHG is a very slow beast. It is not an organisation that responds quickly. This requires a rapid response.”
The director said: “It took six months, believe it or not, for me to get here. I have already speeded things up for all those reasons. If you are trying to recruit in an international market where there are shortages, if you wait, they are going. so I have already done that.”
Father Dale said: “You mentioned video conferencing, which is linking with a school elsewhere.
“The children will then receive quality maths teachers. Is that something which can happen to deal with the immediate situation.”
The head said: “Margaret Barnett was the temporary head of science up until April. She is back in the UK. Through the connection with theShropshire network we have been able to find one person who can offer maths lessons to year 9s and 10s by conference.
“She needs to be able to teach within a term. The British terms and ours don’t match up. We have managed to pin her down for next week but for only two sessions. Then they go on summer break.
“The video conferencing suite can only accommodate 20 people.
“Once again, our students do not have the necessary skills for that kind of teaching. They are used to having a person walking amongs them. It is a learning experience for all of us.”
Dulcie, a teacher said: “By having your support really encourages us.”
Nickie Crowie: “You mention the kids here might not respond to . Wouldn’t you say it would be a setback for children having to do that?”
The head said: “What we are trying to do is have a trained maths specialist teaching it the way it should be taught. What I said was our students will need to learn this new style of teaching.
“The students are not alone in that classroom. There will be a staff member in the class assisting where they can.”
Joy George, a retired teacher still working at the school, said: “Like Dulcie, I am impressed by the number of people who turn up tonight. I am impressed you have shown how much interest and concern you have. I have been over here every year since I supposed to have retired.
“Mr Plato is one of the people who tell me without fail, ‘Go home Miss George and put your feet up.’ Staff know I will continue to be very passionate about Prince Andrew School and passionate about our young people and I cannot bear to stay at school when I know young people need my help.
“People have been speaking tonight about past teachers. Every year, styles, techniques change. I try to come for staff training days.
“Even though I try, I cannot get away with my formal, old-style teaching. I mix and match. People will get by if you got sound control and a little bit of the modern techniques.
“All the staff are willing to go to that modern machine called the computer, which I won’t touch, to help me.
“I have been sitting here and thinking, I have counted up that 11 members of the staff here, I think myself included, have covered maths regularly on time table. That means three periods a week on top of the work they do.
“In addition to that, others have covered the odd lessons. sometimes we are not well so there are covers teaching for the covers.
“This school has a policy that at no time should a class be without a teacher. If I can paint a picture where it might have happened, because I have been filling in from the earliest stages, there have been times when the only maths teacher had to go round the maths block and give instructions to the teacher wqho was filling in, find the work for all the classes who needed a classroom teacher, find the materials, because should could settle her own class. That is the kind of thing that is happening.
“The only think I need to do now is update the techical with Mr Plato and on the sports team and I will have done the lot.
“I have also taken on some other subjects to release people who have more knowlege than I have for maths so they can give better help. The school has done everything they have in their power to do.
“Long may Prince Andrew School progress. They have done marvellously well and I am proud of the school.”
The director said: “It may be of comfort to some of you as parents is one thing I am doing is going round and meeting as many young people in discussion groups as I can. If there are youngsters who don’t feel they can speak tonight they will have their opportunity to speak over coming days.”
The director said he was in post for three years. “I was very clear this was a three-year job at the very least. People have come in for very short spaces of time to do a job that takes longer.
“I do think three year is an ample time.”
Rebecca Cairns Wicks said: “Continuity is a factor that affects all our lives. I’m hoping it is something you are going to be looking at very closely.”
Father Dale said: “The PTA [parents' association] should have a wider role than fundraising but we want to make the things we talked about tonight part of our agenda.”