St Helena Online

Tag: Prince Andrew School

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

Stolen bikes and cash seized after import investigation

One of the stolen bikes has been donated to Prince Andrew School by its legal owner in the UK

An investigation into stolen motorcycles being imported to St Helena has led to the seizure of a dozen machines. They are to be sold at auction.

Police also found a large sum of money on the island. The courts in Jamestown have ordered that the cash be forfeited.

Several other motorbikes were sold to people on the island who were unaware they were stolen.

Inspector Rod Paterson said: “None of these motorcycles have been detained and there will not be any further police action with regards to these vehicles that remain with the innocent purchaser.”

The investigation was carried out by police and the customs service. A court case is pending in the UK.

One of the stolen motorcycles – an off-road bike – has been donated to Prince Andrew School by its legal owner.

Dean Barnsley, a mechanics teacher from Wolverhampton, “very generously requested that his bike is donated to Prince Andrew School as a teaching aid,” said Inspector Paterson.

The remaining 11 motorcycles were due to be auctioned on Saturday 10 November 2012 in the customs warehouse, on a sold-as-seen basis.

Back to the land? School campaign promotes traditional jobs

A row of fields at Deadwood
Fields of dreams? Young people could work the land again on St Helena

A campaign is being launched to make traditional work such as fishing and farming more attractive to young people on St Helena.

The Traditional Industries Campaign is to be tied in with teaching at Prince Andrew School. At the same time, a new policy to modernise apprenticeships is being developed by Enterprise St Helena (ESH).

Colin Moore wants to inspire future workers

The campaign was prompted by concern from the island’s education director, Colin Moore, about lack of interest from young people in such jobs.

Former governor Andrew Gurr had voiced the same worry in a talk to the Friends of St Helena in May 2012. He said: “The boys don’t want to go out in the fields and work, so there are all those lovely fields out at Longwood that haven’t been used for years.”

He said Saints needed to rediscover the desire to produce food on the island, rather than importing it – recalling the island’s history of supplying provisions for sailing ships. 

Shelco, the company promoting an eco resort at Broad Bottom, has declared its intention to source most of the produce it needs on the island – including from its own kitchen gardens.

And Stuart Planner of Enterprise St Helena has spoken of a scheme to restore the market building in Jamestown so it can be used to sell fresh, island-produced food.

Fifty years ago, Saints lived off the land. Picture: Bob Johnson

The campaign also follows an initiative by St Helena National Trust to revive traditional building skills, in order to restore the island’s many historic buildings using appropriate techniques.

Tammy Williams, of Enterprise St Helena has begun seeking support from people already working in traditional fields.

One of the challenges will be to make the work more appealing to young people in the age of the internet.

The ESH newsletter notes “the integral part traditional industries have played in shaping our history and heritage, but recognises that a progressive and innovative approach is required to engage young people.”

Changing mindsets will help the island’s economic development, it says.

Training will come under several headings: construction, fishing, agriculture, arts and crafts, hospitality, and Other Career Opportunities – covering new work skills that will be needed as a result of the island getting an airport.

Tammy said: “Support from those in the various sectors is vital to energise and inspire young people.

“We need positive role models: people who are passionate about their work, and people who can share their expertise and experience, to make the campaign a success.”

People who have “something to offer” are asked to email or call 2920.

Consultation meetings on the proposed apprenticeships policy will be held on August 6 and 7 at the Consulate Hotel. A draft copy can be obtained by emailing

Andrew Gurr on farming and work culture
Endemics for sale: St Helena’s new cash crop

Enterprise St Helena

Maths expert Hema steps up to ease teacher shortage

Hema Soni: facing a challenge

A maths expert who has taught at university is being brought in to try to end severe problems with teaching the subject on St Helena.

Ms Hema Soni was recruited after St Helena Government significantly improved the pay offer for the job, after the island was left without maths teachers because of illness and difficulties attracting and keeping staff on the island.

Colin Moore, director of education, said: “This is a crucial appointment for the island.  For far too long St Helena has not had sufficient expertise in Maths or a sufficient focus on the importance of mathematics as an essential skill, in both the workplace and in everyday life.

“If our young people are to be the island’s future engineers and scientists, then high quality maths teaching will be essential. Hema will help us make that a reality. She is a very experienced and successful educationalist who is going to be a great asset to the directorate.”

Hema said she was looking forward to working with colleagues in St Helena.

“I have not only the ability to take on the responsibility of this position, but also the enthusiasm and determination to ensure that I make a success of it. I look forward to meeting everyone in August.”

She will have to confront a serious backlog in learning.

Teachers from other departments had to try to prepare students for their GCSE exams this year, and parents at a public meeting voiced concern about whether pupils in other years groups would catch up on a year of inadequate maths teaching.

The island’s physiotherapist, who has a maths degree, was signed up to offer extra teaching after hours after an appeal was put out on the island for help from outside Prince Andrew School.

Hema has worked as an advanced skills teacher, a lecturer at a further education college, and as head of mathematics at a school in Essex, England. She has also been a subject leader for the full-time Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)  course at Brunel University in the UK.

She will arrive on St Helena on 3 August when the RMS returns from Cape Town.

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

Next Prince Andrew head brings his Saint family back home

head and shoulders shot of Paul Starkie
Paul Starkie faces a challenging job

The next head teacher at St Helena’s secondary school will be “coming home” after 20 years working away from the island.

Paul Starkie is married to Lisa, who is St Helenian. They will also be bringing their son.

He said: “Lisa, Zac and I are excited to be coming home, to see our family and re-connect with our many friends.”

Paul worked at Prince Andrew School as a UK government adviser between 1988 and 1992.

He is currently head of the secondary section of The British School of Brussels – in the Belgian home city of the European Union. He had a similar role at The British International School in Jakarta, in Indonesia. He is also completing UK training as a schools inspector.

He said: “There are challenges and opportunities for education in the years ahead and I am looking forward to working together with stakeholders to ensure that Prince Andrew School is a beacon of success in the future.”

The school has struggled with a shortage of maths teachers in the past year, though at least one specialist teacher from overseas has now been appointed after the pay deal was improved.

Paul will be taking on a tough job, with a target of doubling the number of students achieving five good GCSE grades. The advertisement said a “well developed sense of humour” would be an advantage.

Colin Moore, director of education on St Helena, said Paul would succeed current PAS head Abraham Swart when his contract ends in December.

Colin said: “Paul has a wealth of knowledge and experience and I am very much looking forward to working with him when he comes into post.

“I would like to express my congratulations to Paul and his family. I know that everyone will wish them a very warm welcome when they return home to St Helena.

“Whilst I am not able to give any date of when Paul will commence work, it is safe to say that he and I are already in regular discussion about school matters so that we effect a smooth handover of leadership.

“Abraham has led the school during a time of considerable change and we would like to wish him well and thank him for his services to education on St Helena.”

(All information supplied by St Helena Government).

We’ll help island teachers end years of failings, says director
Maths meeting (June 2012): full transcript


Prince Andrew School
The British School of Brussels

‘Our students make a difference in the world’ – new PAS head

website shot shows face of teenage girl
The British School of Brussels takes a wide range of students

Paul Starkie, the next head of Prince Andrew School on St Helena, gives a new twist to the old idea of teaching the 3 Rs. No longer do those much-used initials stand for reading, writing and arithmatic.

On the website of his current school in Europe, he says they stand for:

  • Respect for one another
  • Respect for our lovely campus
  • Respect for our learning and that of others

Like PAS, The British School of Brussels follows a UK curriculum despite being overseas, but with an international dimension.

“This means that at the age of 16 our students sit nine or ten GCSEs and International GCSEs.”

But at Francis Plain, he won’t find the same advantages his students enjoy in Belgium.

“We have small class sizes and well qualified teachers who give of their best to get the best from the students – inspiring and challenging them.”

He says, though, that it takes more than examination results to make a good school. Partnerships have been set up with institutions in several countries.

“Our aim is to send out from here well balanced, self confident, compassionate human beings who will be able and willing to make a difference in the world.

“There are always sporting, dramatic or musical activities going on which reflect the busy extra curricula life of the students and staff.”


Prince Andrew School
The British School of Brussels

We’ll help island teachers end years of failings, says director

St Helena’s own teachers must be properly trained and rewarded if severe problems in the island’s schools are to be resolved, according to its new director of education.

Colin Moore spoke candidly at a public meeting about a litany of problems with the way the island’s education system had been run, stretching back many years.

But he said a year-long shortage qualified maths teachers was not a crisis – despite a “creative” appeal for members of the community to help teach the subject in their spare time.

That help will have come too late for students sitting GCSE exams in June 2012.

Mr Moore said it would take most of his three-year contract to fix deeply-entrenched failings in the education service.

He revealed that one specialist maths teacher had now been recruited, to start work in September – but only after the salary for the job was significantly raised. He hoped to announce a second appointment shortly.

He paid tribute to “talented” Prince Andrew School staff from other subject areas who had tried to cover maths lessons when the island’s only specialist teacher fell ill.

“I know I have been very reliant on the goodwill, the high levels of professionalism, to keep things on track,” he said at the 13 July meeting. “We would not have got through without the help of those staff.”

He said highly paid teachers from overseas had a duty to serve the full term of their contracts. One maths teacher failed to return from overseas leave at the start of the school year, before Mr Moore came to the island.

A speaker from the floor 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: “That will not happen on my watch. When I was appointed I said those of us who come with high levels of remuneration have a duty to stay.

“We are not going to recruit anybody who is going to let us down.”

Parents complained that students in all year groups at Prince Andrew School had suffered from the shortage of maths teachers.

He said extra help would be given to current Year 10 students, though parents expressed doubts about whether that would make up for a year’s lost teaching in time for next year’s GCSE exams.

He also said pupils whose exam grades were lower than expected would not be penalised when applying for sixth form places.

Adult education also had to be improved to make up for years of inadequacies in the education service that were not the fault of island teachers.

“We just haven’t got the broad spread of local teachers, trained sufficiently to meet the island’s demands. Sadly, it is not a new phenomenon.

“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.

“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.

“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 training or employment.”

Sixth form courses might also be opened up to people who have already left school. “Rodney [Buckley] and I and other members of the education committee have been working on changed sixth form access so we are more flexible about how people access education on the island.”

The new specialist maths teachers will help colleagues in both primary and secondary school, as well as teaching students.

“We have to look to our own community to solve the issues,” said Mr Moore. “It is about ensuring we have a good supply of staff we are recruiting from within 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.

“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 been a small number trained.

“Maths isn’t the only subject that gives me cause for concern.”

He also suggested he was willing to be tough on teachers who did not pull their weight.

“Poor teaching leads to negativity and destroys self esteem. 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 lack of male teachers was also a concern. “Our young people need a balance of genders in the classroom.  We have a big job to do making teaching attractive to young men.

“There is a training plan for the island. Somebody mentioned overseas training and the disruption that causes for youngsters. We have teachers who go away for months. I don’t want to see that in future.”

Improvements were needed in several areas – not just individual subjects, said the director.

“I am talking about the art and craft of teaching itself. Teaching as a profession moves on. There is quite a lot of work to do to help our teachers with a range of teaching styles.

“This is a remarkable island. We have children who are very gifted, and children with quite severe difficulties. That requires a massive range of teaching skills. They’re not there at the moment.

“Our levels of achievement need to improve.

“One of the keys is giving youngsters belief and ambition. Some of pour boys don’t have ambitions 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 sometimes 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 Bowers, who chaired the public meeting, said: “We have major crisis, don’t we?”

Mr Moore disagreed. “We have significant challenges and difficulties,” he said. “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.”

In response to a criticism from the floor, he agreed that St Helena Government (“a very slow beast”) took too long to bring people to the island once they had been recruited.

He said: “It took six months, believe it or not, for me to get here. I have already speeded things up.

“Maths is a shortage area all around the world. We start from a more disadvantaged position than other states looking to recruit.

“If you are trying to recruit in an international market where there are shortages, if you wait, they are going.”

Mr Moore said his contract ran for three years. “People have come in for very short spaces of time to do a job that takes longer. I was very clear this was a three-year job at the very least.

“I have been a 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 convinced it is do-able.”

“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.”

“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.”

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.

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:

Meeting on maths teacher shortage – full transcript

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. Click here to read a full-transcript, as taken from a recording by Radio St Helena’s Ralph Peters – broadcast on the internet by Saint FM.

“I can’t not pay tribute to those teachers and staff of the school who have gone the extra mile for a number of months to assist with the teaching of mathematics outside of their responsibilities. I know I have been very reliant on the goodwill, the high levels of professionalism, to keep things on track.”

– Colin Moore, St Helena director of education.