St Helena Online

Tag: education

No PE teacher? Appoint one of the pupils: first head recalls the challenges of creating ‘a school like no other’

JOHN BIRCHALL has proud memories of his time setting up “a school like no other anywhere else in the world” on St Helena. He shared a few of them in a special assembly to mark on the 25th anniversary of Prince Andrew School – in a video message from China.

Some of the teachers on St Helena were somewhat nervous about the idea of moving to the big new building that was going up on Francis Plain. But young Nick Stevens had little time to dwell on the prospect: a sudden staff shortage meant he was a pupil one day, and a teacher the next.

Click the pic to read about John Birchall
Click the pic to read about John Birchall

John Birchall shares both memories in an internet address that was played to current students and staff on 3 October 2014, a quarter of a century on.

“I arrived in early summer in 1986,” he says, “to be immediately involved in a ceremony on a wet grey day on an empty Francis Plain to lay the foundation stone for Prince Andrew School.

“I recollect touring the first and middle schools to try to reassure the teachers assigned to Prince Andrew School that working in a school of this size was not quite the daunting prospect they imagined it to be.

“I recall a young Nicky Stevens being catapulted from Year 11 student to PE teacher in the space of a day on the departure of a member of staff… and being even more surprised how he quickly grew into the role under the stewardship of your current headmaster.”

Nick Stevens in his Games kit
Nick Stevens in his Games kit

The new job was the start of a career that saw Nick go on to be the creative force behind the New Horizons youth centre in Jamestown, and eventually to head St Helena’s team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

He’s also been an occasional football pundit on the BBC World Service.

His mentor, Paul Starkie, was employed as an adviser from 1988 to 1992, sent out by the UK government. He went on to work in Indonesia and Belgium before returning to PAS as head teacher in 2012 – with his St Helenian wife, Lisa, and son Zac.

John Birchall has also gone a long way since leaving the school in 1989, having served as its first head teacher. He went on to work in Oman, Spain and Indonesia, before becoming academic director of a chain of colleges educating 6,000 students in China.

“The years I spent on St Helena were among the most challenging and the most rewarding I have experienced in my 42 years of education to date,” he says in an address he posted on the YouTube video-sharing website.

Paul Starkie returned as head
Paul Starkie returned as head

“When I lie at night and dream, I often find myself transported back in some way to find myself trudging up Ladder Hill, strolling Francis Plain or wandering around Longwood. Such is the lasting impact of St Helena,” he says.

In those days, some of the older pupils were paid to attend school in an arrangement with the Public Works Department.

“I recall paying wages to all the PWD students on a Friday, assisted by Miss Doris Peters and Miss Joy George,” says John.

“And I recall taking part in the community education classes, where I made what must have been the worst table every constructed on St Helena.

“My most lasting memory was leading the proceedings 25 years ago when we held the opening ceremony.

“I remember the enormous sense of pride which echoed round the hall as the entire school, resplendent in school uniform and Prince Andrew School ties, sang the Prince Andrew School song for the very first time under the musical direction of the late Mr Eric George.

Click the pic to watch John's video
Click the pic to watch John’s video

“I recollect to this day the true sense of community that prevailed, and the way in which students felt truly privileged to have such splendid surroundings to pursue their educational dreams.”

He tells pupils: “I hope this sense of Prince Andrew School being your school, and a feeling of pride in it being a school like no other anywhere else in the world, still prevails today as it did in 1989.”

He gives his congratulations for recent significant improvements in GCSE results.

John extends “a special personal thank-you” to Basil George, who was chief education officer at the time “and whose drive and vision contributed greatly to creation the school you enjoy today.”

He ends by urging the people of St Helena to “build upon the silver jubilee spirit to take Prince Andrew School to new levels in the years ahead.”

Governor Mark Capes and Basil George were among special guests who heard music pieces from the school choir and various pupils at the special assembly. It ended with student president Lizemarie Robbertse and vice student president Chrystabel Greentree speaking about the importance of striving for success.

Watch John Bircall’s address in full here

New school head brings Saint family back home
Nick Stevens goes global from St Helena

‘Island girl’ Kerisha masters the art of study

Kerisha Stevens MA
Kerisha Stevens MA

Kerisha Stevens didn’t want to leave St Helena to earn a normal university degree – so she stayed home and got an even better one.

She has been awarded a Master of Arts degree by the University of Leicester in the UK, after two years of studying alongside her full-time job as a government press officer.

Her qualification is in Communications, Media and Public Relations.

kerisha video 450Click the pic to see editor Kerisha on video (2009)

Her assignments included writing 15,000 words on the topic, Television, the Internet and Young Saints – reflecting technological changes that came to the island much later than the rest of the world.

Kerisha had already scored a distinction in a media diploma course.

She said: “Gaining this degree is my biggest achievement and after two years of intense study it is such a relief to have completed it successfully.”

She often had to work late and night and in the early mornings.

Kerisha met government minister Alan Duncan in London
Kerisha met government minister Alan Duncan in London

Kerisha left Prince Andrew School after serving as head girl, and found herself, aged just 18, editing the St Helena Herald – signing her weekly editorials simply, “Kerisha”.

In that role, she featured in a video made by island teenagers for the BBC’s School Report project, commenting on the prospect of local television news on the island.

On her personal website, she says that “being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” as an editor soon wore off, so she took a job as a press officer at The Castle in Jamestown.

“On an island of just 47 square miles it’s easy to dream of bigger and better things,” she writes.

“But, being an island girl at heart, I channeled my ambitions in to learning more and striving for the best that I could be on an island virtually in the middle of nowhere.

“I found myself wanting to play a part in the island’s future and get stuck into island affairs.”

She says trying to build people’s faith in government is challenging, but a role she enjoys.

Early in 2013 it took her to the UK to gain experience in the press offices of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development – where she met the Minister of State, Alan Duncan.

She also spent time with the island’s public relations agency, Keene, writing an article for its website about her experiences.

Ian Jones, chief public relations officer at The Castle, said of her degree: “This is a tremendous achievement and I pay tribute to Kerisha for all her hard work and her dedication to completing her studies – which I have witnessed first-hand.  She is a credit to the island.”

Kerisha’s website
An Island Girl in London – Keene website
We Want TV News – BBC News School Report


Care home residents ‘like prisoners’, says Derek

Elderly people have become like prisoners at care facilities on St Helena, Councillor Derek Thomas declared at the inaugural meeting of the island’s new Legislative Council.

He said they were trapped at the Community Care Home and other facilities because no transport was made provided to take them on trips – even though vehicles were available.

Other speakers also urged that the needs of elderly and vulnerable people on St Helena must be a top priority for the new government.

Councillor Christine Scipio o’Dean spoke on the importance of good education as a means to give Saints the key to their own destiny.

And two councillors praised the St Helena team at the Island Games in Bermuda for winning a gold and two silver medals.

April’s degree will help solve island’s social ills

April Lawrence BSc
April Lawrence BSc

University graduate April Lawrence will be returning to Half Tree Hollow in October 2013 with skills that could be used to tackle social problems on St Helena.

She has been awarded a strong 2:1 degree in Sociology and Psychology by the University of Portsmouth.

Her studies included modules on childhood, youth and social problems, crime and social control, risk and society, neighbourhoods and communities, and violence.

St Helena Online has been told there is disturbing anecdotal evidence of domestic violence on the island, and a campaign has been running alongside an initiative by police that has led to a number of arrests.

Prison sentences have been passed for child sex offences on a number of occasions.

St Helena Government has confirmed that April’s skills will be of special value in tackling social issues on the island.

Alongside her studies, April worked as a volunteer, supervising contact between parents and children who rarely saw each other.

The was also a trained mentor for Motiv8, an organisation that helps young people make better life choices.

Kedell Worboys, the island’s UK representative, said: “April has been a hard-working and dedicated student and thoroughly deserves her award.

“She will make a positive contribution to the social services on St Helena and is a shining example to other young people on the Island.” 

April will graduate from the University of Portsmouth on 23 July 2013, then return to St Helena in October.

Domestic violence story archive
UK offers to help reduce offenders’ risk to society

I’m stepping down from politics, says Rodney the reformer

One of St Helena’s leading politicians has announced that he will not fight to keep his seat as a councillor in the next election, due to take place before the end of July 2013. 

Rodney Buckley suffered a disappointment when he failed to persuade people to vote in favour of having a chief councillor – but that did not appear to be the reason for stepping down.

He delivered his news after Governor Mark Capes dissolved the island’s legislative council in readiness for the election, several weeks earlier than expected.

The law required an election to take place by the end of November 2013, but Mr Capes said waiting until then would mean new councillors could not adequately prepare for budget making and the annual visit of UK aid advisers.

He also said the last legislative council was dominated by older men, and he hoped to see more women and younger people standing for election. There were only two female councillors at the start of April 2013.

Rodney Buckley has overseen major improvements in teaching standards during his time as education chairman, as well as having to cope with a crisis when the island was left without enough maths teachers in the run-up to GCSE exams.

He spoke candidly about the sub-standard conditions of buildings in the island’s three primary schools, which were the subject of a public review.

He campaigned without success in early 2013 for the island to have a chief councillor. Legislative councillors voted to put the idea to a public referendum because of doubts expressed at public meetings.

In the end, he was unable to overcome a lack of public understanding about the idea, though two other changes to the St Helena constitution were approved by LegCo.

Only a chief councillor, he said later, would be able to do “great things” as a councillor.

In an interview with Saint FM Community Radio, he said: “I have decided with my family before Christmas that I would not stand for re-election and with my family we are going to take a new direction.”

“What I have learnt is that to govern an island you most certainly need to work in partnership. You cannot go to war with the government. You have to use strategy. 

“No words written on a piece of paper will run a system. No matter how good it sounds on paper, there will always be grey areas. The crux of the matter is, you have to work in partnership with what you have got.

“What we have got is a small island, a small bunch of people, and very complex issues.

“What I have learnt is the value of life is working together.”

Public gets a vote as chief councillor plan is put on hold
Vote on future of schools is treated with caution
Transparency campaign prompts fear of island tensions

Fragile school improvements ‘must be treated with care’

Massive improvements in St Helena’s primary schools have beaten ambitious targets – but the figures must be treated with caution because of the small number of children involved, warns the island’s 2013 aid report.

Exam results for 16-year-olds have also seen radical improvement, though performance is still well below the minimum standard expected in the UK.

The report, issued at the end of the annual visit by UK aid negotiators, says: “Data indicates good progress in education this year, though we have to be careful about sample size and the fragility of the improvement suggested.

“Primary education results have exceeded targets, with over 60% of children reaching Key Stage II targets in English and science and a dramatic improvement in maths, from 26% to 55%.

“Improvements are also apparent at secondary level with 19% of students attaining a minimum of 5 GCSEs (A-C) in 2012, up from a zero rate in 2011, but with much work still to do.”

The previous aid mission agreed three years’ funding to improve education because of its role boosting economic development.

The latest report says: “We are pleased to note that this investment already appears to be showing positive results at both primary and secondary levels, though further improvements are required and boys’ attainment continues to be a concern, especially in literacy.

“More technical assistance across a range of educational areas has been agreed this year, including modern languages, science, early years and raising attainment, with additional special educational needs assistance being considered.

“Meanwhile, SHG has lowered the age at which young children can access nursery school and agreement has been reached with Basil Read [the airport contractor] to enable school leavers to continue to pursue exams whilst working.”

Further talks are expected on a proposals to reorganise schools, a new funding formula for staffing, and teacher training.

Extra £1.4 million is proposed to boost health and schooling

Nearly one and a half million pounds of extra funding will pumped into St Helena to improve health care and education, if UK ministers accept proposals from the 2013 aid mission to the island.

That is on top of £12 million to cover the ongoing shortfall in St Helena Government’s annual budget.

The £12m amounts to a slight dip in funding – less than one per cent – but if the extra £1.4 million is approved, the island will actually see an increase in aid.

The proposal has emerged from the annual Development Assistance Planning Mission (DAPM) to the island, which has seen UK experts negotiating with a team of eight island councillors and officials.

They have agreed an aide memoire that reveals concerns that health and social services targets were not being met.

The extra funding is “to fill critical capacity gaps in essential medical services and provide support for education.”

But the mission has warned that some savings plans looked unrealistic.

It said: “We were concerned that some directorates may have suggested savings that could not be realistically achieved.”

It did not say which departments caused concern – but alarm has been raised on the island about cuts in health spending.

Savings should be made through administrative costs, not front-line services, it said.

It also saw a big opportunity to save money through more efficient procurement – buying-in of goods and services – with no progress in the past year on adopting agreed guidelines. An adviser arrived in January 2013.

The aide memoire says the mission was pleased that it had not have to agree the Grant in Aid package, except on shipping.

The mission found a “mixed” picture on the island’s home-grown economy. Work on the airport had moved quicker than expected, pushing up employment and population, but it was unclear how much this had boosted wages in the rest of the economy.

Investment in tourism had been slower than expected.

Inflation had fallen to 4%, from 6% at the beginning of 2012, but this was partly due to the weakness of the South African Rand.

Domestic revenue was forecast to rise by a million pounds over the year, to £11.3 million in 2012/13, in line with predictions.

Growth of 13% is forecast in the next two years, dipping to 10% in 2015/16.

Income tax revenue had gone up by a third (35%), driven by airport activity.

Spending was also broadly in line with forecasts, “leaving a near-balanced budget.”

The mission welcome progress on supporting economic development and said Enterprise St Helena had built a good platform to move forward on its objectives.

The government’s budget planning had improved, to fit better with the priorities of improving health, education and economic growth.

Improvement in tax collection had been “modest”, but more substantial gains were expected in 2013/14. A new computer system should improve detection of tax evaders.

“A rigorous audit of taxation returns is planned,” says the aide memoire. Fees are to be reviewed.

The aid mission welcomed plans to publish meaningful information on the government’s performance. Information on the SHG website need to be easier to understand, it said.

Vote on future of schools is treated with caution

The idea of a single new primary school for the whole of St Helena has won support from two-fifths of Saints who responded to a consultation.

But slightly over half preferred to see bad conditions put right at the existing three schools.

Education chairman Rodney Buckley said the 90 responses should be treated with caution, because some appeared to be motivated by personal concerns.

In a radio interview, he said: “There is a bit of a maintaining the status quo – ‘keep the schools in my district.’

“We need to be careful the information we are getting back is not strictly focused on individual people and children. We need to make a plan that is going to suit the island as a whole.”

The parent teachers’ association has asked for more detail.

Statistics are to be prepared on expected population growth, to help in drawing up a ten-year plan for education.

The consultation results showed 51 percent supported refurbishing Harford, Pilling and St Paul’s schools; 43 percent preferred a single new school; six percent favoured having two schools.

Alfreda lands a first in live internet ‘exam’

Alfreda Yon achieved something of a world first when she secured her degree-level qualification in management.

Completing her final assessment was a feat of management in itself.

It was meant to involve a face-to-face interview with her examiners – in the UK. It evidently took some effort to persuade the Chartered Management Institute that she really couldn’t travel thousands of miles by sea and air, just to have a chat.

In the end, she was allowed to undergo her final professional interview via an “intercall”, by computer.

An SHG spokesman said: “The Chartered Management Institute do not normally hold the professional interview until they have more than three candidates, and they were hoping Alfreda could make the trip to the UK for this.

“After much explanation about St Helena’s isolation, CMI agreed to do an intercall session, which was conducted in April 2012 in SHG’s server room. This initially proved difficult as it was the first time something like this was held.”

“The intercall session is similar to a video conference or tele conference, but via a computer instead.  An invitation was sent, which provided passwords to give Alfreda access to a conference room in UK.

“Alfreda uploaded her presentation on the screen and they were able to follow, and speak through headphones and mic.”

In the end, Alfreda got the news she was hoping for: that she had earned a Level 5 Diploma in project and programme management, equivalent to a university degree.

Tutor Charlene Farley congratulated her, saying: “Alfreda should be exceptionally pleased with her achievement.

“An astonishing number of delegates who start their studies do not actually finish, due to the sheer amount of work involved.”

The course involved completing 13 units of study, on top of a busy job as a manager in SHG’s corporate procurement unit.

Most units involved writing a submission of at least 5,000 words.

Alfreda said: “I am very pleased with the result. Even though my assignments were completed over six months ago, the wait has been worth it.”

Her boss, Dr Corinda Essex, said: “She deserves to feel very proud of her achievement. Her success is a shining example to other young professionals on St Helena.”


Another proof that the Saints have great potential! Congratulations Alfreda!

– Doreen Gatien, USA