Performance Audit: Benchmarking Primary and Secondary Education
There is significant room for improvement in St Helena’s schools’ performance, says Chief Auditor
The attached report is the first in a series of performance audits that seeks to benchmark St Helena Government’s (SHG) performance against that of comparable places overseas. In this report, we focus on primary and secondary education as provided by SHG’s Education and Employment Directorate (EED). In addition to examining EED’s budget and spending for FY 2018/19, the report assesses the performance of St Helena’s schools against EED’s own targets and against the performance of a sample of schools from relatively poor rural areas in England.
The scope of this report does not include an evaluation as to whether SHG is achieving value for money in its provision of education. Instead, readers may wish to use the report to ask further questions and investigate how performance can improve.
The report finds that spending on primary and secondary education is substantial, with technical cooperation (TC) resource and broadband representing significant costs in those sectors. For the most recently audited financial year (2018/19), SHG’s spending on education including allotments from the TC budget was £3.9 million, or 11.4% of SHG’s total operating expenditure  (£34.5 million). Spending on primary and secondary education amounted to £2.0 million from EED’s budget, with TC positions adding another £0.5 million to that total. EED spent almost £76,000 on broadband at each of the three primary schools, for a total of £227,290 – £6,314 per school per month, or about £53 per month per primary student (for reference, the current price of a Silver Plus package at Sure is £54.34 per month). This spending on broadband accounted for 22% of the £1.0 million SHG spent on primary education in FY 2018/19. Broadband at single-site Prince Andrew School cost £65,730 in the same financial year, which represented just 5% of the £1.4 million spent on secondary education.
 We use the term ‘operating expenditure’ to mean SHG’s recurrent expenditure across all departments excluding pensions and benefits.
The report further finds that EED’s performance against its own indicators was mixed. EED monitors performance via a series of indicators featuring target percentages, derived from its strategic priorities for both primary and secondary education, focussed on “improving student attainment and achievement at all levels, particularly in the key areas of literacy and numeracy”. One way EED measures this is through monitoring students’ performance against age-related expectations (ARE) in English and Maths in key stages 1, 2 and 3 (Years 1 to 9) with a target percentage of 60% meeting ARE in each subject. In addition, EED tracks the percentage of Year 11 students at Prince Andrew School achieving GCSE pass grades in five subjects – English, Maths and at least three others – with a target of 45%. Not only does the report find that this target is under-ambitious, performance on this indicator at Prince Andrew School has been poor – 43% for school year 2018/19, following results of 22%, 45% and 37% for the three school years from 2015/16 through 2017/18. This warrants serious reflection by EED. The schools’ performance was mixed for EED’s remaining eight indicators related to primary and secondary education (see report Figure 5).
The report benchmarks St Helena’s schools against schools from comparable communities in England to provide further context for EED’s performance. Our detailed methodology, alongside its limitations, is outlined in part three of the report. The analysis finds evidence of a lack of effectiveness based on the student performance data we collected for the year. Across the three primary schools St Helena’s students met Year 6 ARE in both English and Maths at a lower rate than the schools in our English sample – 36% against a sample average of 59% for the 2018/19 school year. We focussed on Year 6 results because they are an assessment of literacy and numeracy as students prepare to enter secondary school. Performance was not the same across primary schools: in one of St Helena’s schools, only 20% of Year 6 students (3 out of 15) met ARE in both English and Maths, compared to 46% and 44% at the other two schools. At Prince Andrew School, 43% of Year 11 students achieved a standard pass or better in both English and Maths GCSEs, 13 percentage points lower than the English sample average of 56%.
Chief Auditor Phil Sharman said today:
“The future of St Helena depends on SHG’s effective investment in its young people. Today’s report highlights that our schools are not delivering the results they should be. In light of the performance highlighted in this report policy makers should objectively consider whether the education system is adequately serving the young people of St Helena as the future human resource capital of the island. The report also points to clear improvement opportunities in the primary sector, and policy makers should revisit the case for rationalisation of primary provision at a single site at their earliest opportunity”.
For more information, please contact Damian Burns, Principal Analyst, or David Brown, Senior Analyst by email or telephone on +290 22111
Press Release 28 August 2020