St Helena Online

Tag: Rodney Buckley

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

Public gets a vote as chief councillor plan is put on hold

The idea of electing a chief councillor for St Helena has been put on hold after a vigorous debate by the island’s Legislative Council.

It will now be put to a public ballot, to be held before LegCo’s next meeting towards the end of March.

The proposal would have seen one member elected to lead the Executive Council (ExCo) and choose its other four members.

Concerns about the idea – one of three suggested changes to the island’s 2009 Constitution – were expressed at public meetings across the island.

It was felt that people had too little time to understand the implications.

Local authorities in the UK all have a chief councillor – usually known as the Leader, and elected from the political group in control of the council. However, the leaders of opposition groups are entitled to attend and speak at meetings of the council’s ruling cabinet – the equivalent of ExCo.

With no political parties on St Helena, that safeguard would not exist. Concern has also been expressed to St Helena Online that the system could see non-executive councillors forming an unofficial opposition.

That could lead to them using their vote in LegCo to block initiatives by the executive, creating the kind of difficulties seen in the United States, where the President’s wishes can be blocked by policital opponents in Congress.

Rodney Buckley, who put forward the idea of a chief councillor, amended his proposal to allow a secret ballot among the public, with new efforts to explain the proposal.

He told St Helena Online: “The motion received a really good debate – likely the best ever seen in the Chamber.

“It was clear there was considerable difference of opinion, with no evidence-based mandate from the people, so I moved for an adjournment until the next meeting, to take it back to the people with a view to seeking their mandate through a consultative poll.”

Two other proposals were voted through: to reduce the number of government committees, and change the constitution to prevent executive councillors serving on the island’s main scrutiny body, the Public Accounts Committee.

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.

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: