The Rambles of Neil Monnery

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Archive for November, 2013

Guy Whittingham sacked and the innocence of Pompey goes with him out the door

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So earlier this week Guy Whittingham was dismissed from his job as manager of Portsmouth Football Club. The former hero of the Fratton Park pitch has preceded over a disappointing start to the 2013/2014 campaign and finally was given the boot on Monday. This is because he had seemingly lost the support of the vocal proportion of fans.

Speaking to BBC Radio Solent, Mark Catlin said, ‘The team had completely lost confidence. It seemed to drain out of the team. As it drained out of the team, it drained out of the supporters as well and we just can’t have that.’

He went on to say that the club started off with a budget for mid-table but now has a borderline playoff budget, hinting strongly that this was the target and remit of the manager. When Guy Whittingham was sacked the club were seven points adrift of the playoffs with a game in hand. Oh my word. Seven points adrift in November with a game in hand. There was no way any manager could ever come back from that position. Sure was a good move by the board to panic and sack the manager.

I jest.

The thing is whether Guy was or was not the right man for the job, he wasn’t sacked because of his league position. He was dismissed because the board and the fans believe that Portsmouth are a big club and should be doing better. At the start of the season the team had a mid table budget and were only able to sign players on free transfers. Portsmouth cannot sign any player for a fee. So even to start with Whittingham was managing with one arm tied behind his back.

Am I impressed by all the players he brought in? No I’m not. As some of you know I now live in Southend and broadcast games here so get to see the club play a lot. Like Portsmouth they have financial issues and are unable to spend any money. Some of the players that Phil Brown has brought in on a free have worked, for example both full-backs, John White and Ben Coker were signed on frees this summer and are both better than anyone Guy brought in. Does this mean that Guy is a bad manager? No it doesn’t but it does go to show that you can bring in good free transfers. On the other side of the ledger, Phil Brown signed Craig Reid and I’m not sure he’s got the quality to be a good player in the conference let alone League 2.

When you are limited by who you can sign then the loan system is your life support system. A month ago Portsmouth and Southend were neck and neck in the division but now Southend sit in the promotion places whilst Pompey languish near the bottom of the football league pyramid. Southend have done two things that completed changed their fortunes, firstly they signed a guy called Rob Kiernan on loan from Wigan Athletic. He has completely changed the way the team defends and has made the team so much more solid at the back. Also they changed to a 4-3-3 formation and it is working.

Guy clearly wasn’t been able to either find the right personnel nor find the right way to train the defenders. Going forward Pompey have looked pretty good all season long but at the back they looked like they were at sixes and sevens. This was a problem that the manager needed to address, either by finding a good defensive coach or by finding the right players to play at the back. This was his biggest error in his tenure at PFC.

Still the football club itself is reeling a bit from this sacking and it doesn’t seem like they had anyone lined up. They got rid of him because they felt the fans were now not fully behind him and so they fired him. It shows a distinct lack of leadership at the very top of Portsmouth Football Club that they could fire a manager seemingly on a whim without having the proper procedures in place to ensure a smooth transition to a new man. It was sheer panic and pretty much what I’d expect from other football clubs, not the new fans owned Pompey.

Some of the names Pompey fans are talking about depress me a lot, Neil Warnock has cropped up on numerous occasions because he once said that he’d crawl over broken glass to be Portsmouth manager. Bit of a shame then that when the job was their for the taking he decided he didn’t want it. Warnock has had one good spell in charge of any team and that was Sheffield United. I don’t include QPR because with the resources available anyone should have gotten them promoted. Is Neil Warnock the guy that can take the club forward? No, no he isn’t. His track record isn’t half as great as people are making it out to be.

Another name out there is Martin Allen, who actually has history with Portsmouth having been a player and a coach at the Fratton Park club. He left under cloudy circumstances I think around 1999 if my memory serves me right although he did win an unfair dismissal suit against the club. Still do Pompey fans really want to bring him back in from the cold or does his impressive performance in getting Gillingham promoted with a team of free transfers negate any previous misconduct at the club?

I don’t know but all I do know is Guy Whittingham stepped into the breech and did a pretty good job last season with Andy Awford. I do wonder if the latter’s decision to step back down to the academy had a significant impact on the first team, my gut feeling is it did. I also wonder just how good the Pompey team would be as Awford stayed as Guy’s #2 this season.

Still what has happened as happened. The Pompey board have shown that they are like every other board in that the moment the fans want a manager out, they’ll shove him out of the door. Some Pompey fans believe that the club should be romping away with the division just because of the size of the crowds and the history of the club. The sad truth is the club has a lot of money to pay still and it will be a while until the club can stand on its own feet financially with no debts to pay. If the team could get promoted whilst having this weight tied around its neck then brilliant, personally just having a season of stability and joy in having a football team to watch was more than enough.

It seems though I’m once more into in the minority or at the very least the vocal minority. I didn’t expect to romp away with the league this season and I seriously question the fans that believed that we would. I saw people calling for Guy’s head after the first game of the season. It seems as though the fans can take over the club but the fans will always demand more from their team and the scapegoat will always be the manager.

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November 28th, 2013 at 4:34 pm

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The West Wing Review…

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The blog has been pretty quiet for the past few weeks. This was surely either because I had nothing to write or I had suddenly got a social life. However it was neither and the truth is if I wasn’t sitting watching live sport, Masterchef Australia or working I was watching The West Wing. Like most TV shows I didn’t get into it at the time but I enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom so thought I’d give his more famous show a spin. In the past month I have watched the whole thing, from season one through to the final show in season seven. This means I’ve averaged around six to seven shows a day. This proves why I’ve hardly blogged.

The fact that I didn’t give up is either a testament to how great it was or maybe I just kept going out of sheer forcefulness that I wanted to see it through. It was a bit from column A and a bit from column B, but there was one slowly developing storyline that I just had to see through to the end, the Josh/Donna one. They were found to end the show as an item. It was clear. The question was how would they get these two characters to finally get it together. I’ll talk more about this in a separate blog with the rest of this one talking about everything else.

It stunned me how I could watch seven season’s of a TV show without really liking many of the characters. I didn’t like Dr. Bartlet, I didn’t like Toby Ziegler, I didn’t like Will Bailey one jot, I wasn’t exactly a big fan of Leo McGarry either. I did like Josh Lyman but his character went a bit nuts and that had to do with Donna Moss so I can at least see why that character went that way. This leaves me with liking the aforementioned Donna, CJ Gregg and Sam Seaborn of the regulars in the first few season’s.

The final year with the campaign saw two major new characters in Senator Vinick (who I really liked) and Congressman Matthew Santos (whom I was indifferent to). Annabeth Schott came in and seemed a relatively pointless addition as did Kate Harper. So all in all I actively disliked more main characters than I liked, yet I stuck with it.

One of the really good things about the show however were the subplots. CJ Gregg was the Press Secretary and fell for Washington Post White House Correspondent Danny Concannon. However she felt it inappropriate to have an active relationship with a member of the press so didn’t pursue the relationship. This storyline ebbed and flowed and when Danny suddenly came back because he had the scoop on the assassination of the Qumari Defense Minister. It was a good move to bring him back to deal with that storyline but it was his relationship with CJ that needed a happy ending. In the final few episodes he returned in an attempt to reignite their relationship and it was he and CJ that got the emotional scene to seal their relationship:

What I love about that scene is how venerable CJ is and how she finally trusts someone and that person is Danny. He’s always been there in the background and in the end CJ realises that life isn’t easy but there is someone there ready and willing to help her through life. As we know from the flash-forward at the start of the first episode of season seven, Danny and CJ are together and have twins.

There were other enjoyable subplots and minor characters. I loved Joey Lucas. I enjoyed both Ainsley Hayes and Joe Quincey (Matthew Perry). I thought Admiral Fitzwallace was superb as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. However on the other hand I really disliked Amy Gardner and Debbie Fiderer. Why did they kill off Dolores Landingham? That just made no sense to me whatsoever.

Overall I think I enjoyed the show but I needed more characters to really like. Remember that originally Donna wasn’t meant to be a regular character and it was only when everyone noticed the chemistry she had with the actor who played Josh that she was essentially promoted to a main character. That may have been the best decision the show ever made. Martin Sheen too was originally only signed up to do four shows a year as President Bartlet, but that quickly changed when it was clear his character was a fantastic one.

So that is what I’ve been doing the past few weeks. The West Wing was good but the deterioration after Aaron Sorkin left was clear for all to see. Will Bailey was clearly no Sam Seaborn and the show lost a lot when Rob Lowe left. I did however really like the symmetry for Sam when Josh went and got him out of LA to work for him again, just like he did in the first instance. Clever touch that.

Still for me the Josh/Donna chemistry made the show and at some point I’ll go into more depth about that…

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November 28th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

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Could (and should) a strong commercial shipbuilding industry save Portsmouth dockyard?

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For years there was obviously a Portsmouth fan working on South West Trains who ran the electronic timetable displays. Everytime you’d get on a train to Portsmouth you’d see that Portsmouth was home of the premier football club on the south coast. For a handful of years Portsmouth was the best football club south of the capital. However sadly that has ended but those few years pale into insignificance compared with how long the city has been home to the Royal Navy.

If you ask non Portsmouth people about what they know about the city, then it would be all about the Royal Navy and our naval history. The Mary Rose, the Victory, the Warrior are all on display in the city. If I was to finish the quartet of house groups from Meadowlands Middle School where I went then throw in the HMS Alliance, which is a submarine currently on display in Gosport (for the record I was in Victory and we dominated everything, from sports to brains – we were kick arse).

The point is Portsmouth’s naval history isn’t exactly a new thing, it is something that identifies the city. The dockyard is still by far the biggest employer in the town and that doesn’t even include all the small companies supplying the dockyard around the place.

Now I’m all for moving forward and diversifying and I won’t change my approach on that. Having one sector that dominates the landscape opens up issues like what we are seeing now, a government decision has placed a real impact on the city. It has happened before and look at how the mining communities have struggled to recover from Margaret Thatcher sticking it to them. There is one significant difference between the two situations though – the shipbuilding industry isn’t being culled – it is just being consolidated away from its natural home.

I won’t sit here and type that shipbuilding on the Clyde is a new thing because it isn’t, the problem has been the lack of a long-term shipbuilding strategy to ensure enough work for both dockyards. The world isn’t what it was in the early part of the last century and as we’ve seen for many centuries before that, but we live on an island nation and our role in patrolling the high seas should not be overstated.

There is a report in the Portsmouth News today entitled Commercial hopes for city’s shipyard given a boost with interest from firms wherein commercial opportunities seem abound to essentially move into the dockyard and build non naval vessels, either ensuring jobs or indeed creating new ones. On one hand this seems like a great save and would go a long way to saving both the pay packets of many Pompey folk and the supply chain that has built up but it forgets one thing – identity.

Portsmouth was – and is – and will continue to be the home of the Royal Navy. However shipbuilding in the city has been around since King Alfred in the 9th Century although it wasn’t until King Henry VII when the city played host to the first permanent home of the navy and shipbuilding. It is believed to be the world’s oldest dry dock. Basically what I’m saying is without naval shipbuilding in Portsmouth then how long until the Navy itself gets moved to another location?

This isn’t about where is better to build ships but more about a cohesive long-term naval strategy, which is something that seems lacking. The Cold War may be in the rear-view mirror and if we were to see another major worldwide conflict, it would be fought in a very different way to the first two, still the Royal Navy has its place and the fleet needs to be updated. It seems to me that long-term planning is not something that is happening at the moment and that the defence secretary doesn’t seem to be undertaking. If we suddenly needed to build ships for whatever reason and the Portsmouth dockyard had been shut for several years then we really are in a bind.

With the Type 26 Global Combat Ships set to start being built in 2016, these ships are the ones that should be built in Portsmouth. It was understood that BAE were to build these vessels in the city, until last week it was considered that Portsmouth would be shut after the portion of HMS Prince of Wales being built in Portsmouth was completed. Of course shipbuilding has been halted once before in Portsmouth before being reopened and it is hoped that this will be the case yet again.

Back to the commercial aspect, it would keep the supply chain stocked and no doubt plenty of naval shipbuilding would be able to get jobs in the commercial shipbuilding industry, but at what cost? Portsmouth is a naval city and the Royal Navy should be at the very centre of the identity of the people and the city.

I’m positive we haven’t seen the last of this story and BBC Question Time is coming from Portsmouth this week. I wonder how long ago this was planned because either the BBC got lucky or they know it is going to be feisty. Expect a large demonstration before the broadcast and expect the atmosphere to be heated to say the least. If the government can put up the defence secretary then it might be one of the most memorable episodes in a long while, I may even watch it this week for the first time in years. If it was down to the audience I’d bet my bottom dollar on the whole show being about the dockyard but I suspect David Dimbleby will try to move it along, at some point, but I certainly don’t envy him one jot.

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November 12th, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Politics

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Mike Hancock’s major opponent in 2015 – the Pompey Party?

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Last week came the announcement that basically the government have shafted the people of Portsmouth. The city of my birth (so I have a tonne of bias) has been the home of the Royal Navy for eons and should always have that at its heart. So when it comes to building new ships for the Royal Navy then it should be Portsmouth first and anyone else second if there is enough business to go around. I know that sounds like bias (it kinda is) but the home of the Royal Navy is the home of the Royal Navy.

I’m not the only person to think this unsurprisingly. As of just now the Save Portsmouth Dockyards Facebook page had just under 73,000 ‘likes’ – not too shabby for what four or five days? It makes the No More Page 3 Facebook page look pretty stale in comparison with 15,000 likes doesn’t it? Well this blog isn’t about me talking about the pros and cons of boobs but about how a real issue that people care passionately about can gain traction.

Tonight at the Shepherd’s Crook in Portsmouth there will be the first meeting of the ‘Pompey Party’ which is advocating putting up an alternative candidate in I suspect Portsmouth South. I do not know if they plan on this being a one-issue party of the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern ilk that saw Dr. Richard Taylor spend nine years as an MP for Wyre Forest, but I will say this, if there is a constituency in the country that is ripe for a one-issue party then Portsmouth South is most certainly it. Lets be honest here if someone went to the 2015 General Election on the sole ticket of the Portsmouth dockyard then they wouldn’t be laughed out of town.

People are proud of where they come from and proud of their identity. I live in Essex these days and many people here revel in the Essex stereotype but Pompey folk are different. I think of Pompey people as roll up your sleeves and just get it done people. Look at the fact the football club is now owned by the fans and what people went through to get that done. I thought it had no chance because the obstacles were too great but I was proved wrong and if the ‘Pompey Party’ actually gains some good leadership and knows what its goals are and the infighting is kept to a minimum then they won’t be a joke.

Nearly 73,000 have clicked on a link to Save Pompey Dockyards, which is easy enough to do but there is something underlying here. Around 200 protesters braved the rain for an impromptu rally against the loss of shipbuilding at the dockyard, imagine how that would be with some proper planning and time to get the folk of the city educated and up to speed on this issue?

The sitting MP, Mike Hancock knows of the damage done by this decision and spoke about why shipbuilding for the Royal Navy will remain in Scotland but not in the home of the Royal Navy:

“It is a big mistake on the part of the government to put all their eggs into one basket and say that shipbuilding in Portsmouth should cease to exist. It is a very, very big mistake and one that they will live to regret.

“Whatever happens Alex Salmond in a no lose situation. He can claim credit for jobs being saved in Scotland because the UK government are running scared of him, or if they close a yard in Scotland he’ll say they are punishing Scots because of the referendum. The government ought to have seen through that.”

Leader of Portsmouth City Council was just as vocal in his opposition, saying the following on BBC Radio Four:

“Portsmouth is the last place in England that has the ability to build advanced warships for the Royal Navy and I’m very concerned that with a potential independence vote in Scotland, if Portsmouth shipbuilding is shut down, what would remain of the UK would have no ability to build advanced warships.”

“It would just mean either that that would have to change and the Royal Navy would have to buy ships from France or Germany – or we’d have to spend a huge amount of public money re-employing people, re-skilling people here in Portsmouth”.

Downing Street is on record as saying that the dockyard was closed in the ‘national interest’ which is basically them saying, ‘this is a sweetener to Scots not to go independent’ and that really hacks me off. Jobs and livelihoods should not be used as a political football but it seems as though the powers that be have decided that Portsmouth is a good sacrifice to keep the United Kingdom together. I suspect that sentiment is not exactly echoed on Portsea Island.

The 2015 Portsmouth South contest looked set to be one of the most interesting in the country before last week, with the sitting MP elected as a lib Dem but having been stripped of the whip because of a civil suit against him, the Tories had hoped to make inroads here and take the seat back. UKIP also have been praying to whatever God they pray to for a by-election here as after the success of Eastleigh, where they would have won had they just been a few days quicker off the mark. So throwing in an independent one-issue party if it does gain that all important traction and leadership would just make it fascinating.

Oh and you might wonder why Labour haven’t been mentioned as a potential winner. They aren’t a relevant force in this particular fight. If Mike Hancock (or any Lib Dem) wants to win in 2015 then they have to get this decision reversed. I think the Tories will be burnt just as much as Mike by this decision in Pompey South and it really does open the door to a potential four-way contest. I just hope that by 2015 the Dockyard has been given a reprieve and nice new orders for naval vessels to be built in Portsmouth because if it hasn’t then Portsmouth South will solely be a one-issue election.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.

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November 11th, 2013 at 3:12 pm

UEFA stick their middle finger up to UK Football fans as BT wins Champions League rights

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Head of UEFA Michel Platini is no doubt cackling to himself this morning. He is probably the happiest person in the world that UK football fans have been screwed over apart from Jake Humphrey. This morning they announced that after a long and profitable business relationship with Sky Sports and ITV, UEFA have walked away and gone with the biggest bidder, the company who know they’ve paid money that they can’t afford to get the rights to broadcast all Champions League and Europa League matches from August 2015 to May 2018.

BT Sport are paying £299m a year for the right, which is around £100m more than Sky Sports bid and have made the splash that they were determined to make. They’ve made it clear what their strategy is, they want to lose money in the hope that a few years of losses will lead to profit down the line when everyone is getting their broadband via BT.

It is a massive gamble but they have worked out one thing – that live sport is the only television that people will still watch live. Other shows are often recorded and watched at a later date, but sport is still watched live. Coupled with BT’s approach to dominate the broadband market then they see it as a big long-term goal to couple the two. With two million subscribers already it sounds like a strong start for the company, but the truth is the majority of them are not paying for the BT Sport channels, instead they are getting them for free. This is not exactly great.

However this blog is about why it is sticking it to the UK football fan. With now no games live on terrestrial TV (although BT Sport do say they’ll put some games on FTA television) it means that the biggest European club competition now doesn’t have a home on FTA television. With the Europa League also out and the Premier League having never had a home on FTA television then football fans will be forced into paying for a pay TV if they want to watch any club football.

If you want to watch all the games though, you are now firmly pushed into getting not one, but two pay TV subscriptions. Now as it stands I already pay for both Sky Sports and BT Sport because I get my fibre optic broadband through Sky. So my bill just to watch all the sport available is already through the roof. After tax, national insurance, rent and food, my next largest monthly outgoing is on my TV/Broadband packages. I spend more each month on TV than I do on electricity and gas and we all know how much they cost these days!

If I didn’t have to pay extra to watch all the sport then I’d easily be able to have a fortnight in a 5* resort every year. The thing is I don’t mind per se paying extra for sport but I don’t like paying extra twice, that galls, it really does. At the moment though BT Sport is I think £9.99 a month, so its basically the cost of a Chinese take-away every month but they’ll have to put up prices to cover the insane cost of this deal surely? So will they double the cost?

At what point do I just say enough is enough? Will Sky scale down their charges when they don’t have Champions League football? So many questions and none of them I expect to be answered positively. At this point I think all we can hope for is some football tips to help pay for all the extra money we’ll be shelling out to watch all the live games we want.

The biggest issue though is BT Sport’s coverage has been shocking so far. Genuinely awful. They have spent so much money and all they’ve got right is Ian Darke is the commentary box. Darke is a fantastic commentator and is without a doubt a first-class lead. Darke, along with Martin Tyler are clearly a notch above anyone else commentating on football in the United Kingdom at the moment. So adding Darke’s voice to the Champions League isn’t a problem. However they’ve partnered Michael Owen will him so far and Owen just isn’t up to it. They have Steve McManaman in the studio twiddling his thumbs whilst Owen is alongside Darke, why? McManaman and Darke built up an excellent pairing at ESPN (USA) and would be a first class pairing for BT Sport.

Next up is the Mark Halsey situation. I like Mark, I like him a lot, but he’s really not comfortable in the gig that he currently has. Having a former referee in the booth isn’t a bad idea. It works well in the USA on the NFL but Halsey has no confidence. BT will surely look at this and maybe having him in the studio for Half-Time and Full-time analysis would work better.

Then we get to Jake Humphrey. A man so self-assured that he makes Russell Brand look like a shy cherry-blossom when he approaches women. Jake has that ‘matey’ approach to TV presenting, which isn’t bad per se, the problem is you get the feeling that it doesn’t work when the experts don’t seem to like him. When David Ginola called him a wanker behind his back after Jake delivered a cheap shot about his trousers then it said everything.

‘This is how we do it on BT Sport’ exclaims Jake at every possible moment, what Jake? You mean you do is a lot worse and in a far more unprofessional manner than Sky, ITV or even the BBC? I know the BBC is often castigated for being a bit matey, but at least you know they all actually get along. ON BT Sport is just seems like Jake is hanging out with the popular kids and wanting to be their mates and they just laugh and snigger behind his back. Jake should watch how well Ed Chamberlain fronts Sky’s Sunday and Monday coverage, he knows Gary and Jamie are the stars of the show and lets them talk and doesn’t jump in with nonsense. It allows the show to flow and Jake needs to learn this.

So basically the fans are getting screwed by having to pay out yet more money to watch European competitions from after next season but they will also be forced to watch inferior coverage of the Champions League. Sky’s coverage is first-rate and BT Sport will get nowhere near that in terms of quality. Only Ian Darke as lead play-by-play will not see a big reduction in quality and unless BT make a radical decision by giving James Richardson the gig as the front man, football fans will be forced to groan through Jake’s candor far more than anyone should have to.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.

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November 9th, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Football,Media

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Carisbrooke College fails Ofsted and is failing their pupils and they failed me

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This morning someone posted a screenshot of the Isle of Wight County Press about an article where a UKIP candidate forged signatures on their nomination form. I didn’t really care about this story but at the bottom of the screenshot there was another story entitled ‘Carisbrooke fails Ofsted’ and I did some research. Basically Carisbrooke College has been on special measures since being judged inadequate in all four core areas – pupil achievement, the quality of teaching, the behaviour and safety of pupils and leadership of the school.

Now why do I care about a school that is 150 odd miles away from me?

Well this was my high school. It isn’t a high school any more as it has been rebranded a college but it is where I went to school, doing my GCSEs on this site and staying on to the VI Form to get my A-Levels. It is a shame to see the school in such a state but reading up on what has been going on, it isn’t the anomaly on the Isle of Wight, with three of the six secondary schools having been placed in special measures within the past year. The Isle of Wight is clearly failing its secondary school pupils, that is clear. Since I left the island they have really messed around with the school system and it doesn’t seem to have been for the better.

Now I do know people – friends – who work in the Isle of Wight school system as teachers. I do know people who work as teachers at Carisbrooke College and of course there are a handful of teachers who are still working there from when I was there, so it is a tricky one to be too critical of.

The thing is I have written about the school once before on this very blog, in a piece entitled I wrote about the current uniform policy and how much I despised it. My main beef was with these two lines:

Hair must be worn in an appropriate style.
No extreme styling or designs of hair or eyebrows e.g. lines, intricate patterns. Only hair of one natural colour allowed and no false nails or coloured nail varnish is allowed.

Look I understand the need for a school uniform as without one then you can easily have a situation where pupils are bullied for not having the latest style of blouse or the right trainers but I don’t think school uniforms should be very strict. No trainers, black shoes, white t-shirt or shirt and dark coloured skirts/trousers or whatever. I certainly don’t think that if you are all dolled up in a blazer then you’ll suddenly act like a better student.

However when it comes to hair then I believe children – teenage children – should be allowed to express some form of identity and individuality. Young people develop their own sense of who they are are at high school. Schools shouldn’t feel that purple hair for example will rock the boat. I don’t recall any such rule in place when I went there and I do recall people with what I’d call ‘extreme styling’ of hair. Has the school improved with such strict uniform policy? Clearly not.

The thing is I went to the Carisbrooke College website today and what is one of their latest news stories? – – Yes. They are still banging on about uniform and appearance. Ofsted believe that the standing of teaching is inadequate, too many teachers have come in from middle schools where they have been merged and they haven’t been trained to teach secondary school pupils, isn’t this a far bigger fundamental issue?

Whilst I may have left the place in 2001 after my A-Levels, one of the inadequacies the Ofsted inspection noted really hit home:

Students do not make enough progress because too many teachers do not have high enough expectations of them.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

I’m not going to sit here and say I was a great student because that would be a lie. In fact I was incredibly lazy and would always do the bare minimum to go forward. The fact is though I was (and still am) actually rather bright. I moved to the Isle of Wight after Year 8, so I had been at a secondary school on the mainland and was in all the top sets – and at the very top of them all as well. That school was a far better school than Carisbrooke but when I rolled up there, they placed me in the middle sets across the board and I was on the biggest easy street of all time. I wasn’t even placed in any set for maths (clearly a great school) and I just told the head of maths to put me in the highest set but she was happy to place me very low down, luckily I won the debate (even at just 13 at times I could stand up for myself) and I stayed in the top set throughout my stay at the school.

Basically Year 9 was a complete waste of time as I learned nothing pretty much. I was placed in set four (out of seven) for English and we did a spelling test. I got 50/50 but the teacher said I only got 49 and he said eerie was spelt eery instead of eerie. At the time we were actually reading a book that had the word eerie in it and it was spelt eerie. I pointed this out and he decided that both spellings were acceptable but it took a good five to ten minutes of shall we say ‘debate’ (it was really me lambasting him).

At the end of Year 9 we had the CATS tests (Cognitive Abilities Test) which are widely used to understand ability. According to their website, ‘The Cognitive Abilities Test Third Edition (CAT3) is the most widely used test of reasoning ability in the UK.’ I went into these tests in middle sets across the board (apart from in maths where I told them I was going in the top set as they didn’t have a set assigned to me) and promptly went and bashed the tests out of the park. So much so my mum was called into the school and told that I was a genius and in the top percentile in the country. This wasn’t news.

She knew I was gifted. I always had been. However my marks weren’t living up to my ability and they didn’t understand why. The fact is I wasn’t being challenged so didn’t bother. Children need to be challenged otherwise they’ll become disillusioned and just get by on natural ability. I have never failed an exam in my life and I have gone into many wholly unprepared. Natural ability though and what I call ‘exam nous’ can only get you so far though.

When I actually got challenged (or chose to challenge myself) I was right up there. For example in GCSE history we did the American West and it interested me. So I read all about it and actually ignored the teacher in class, instead choosing to read the text books and assimilating knowledge on the subject. I’m told that the person who marked my exam paper actually rang my history teacher to tell him I was a genius. I scored 100% on that GCSE paper, including writing an essay at the end of the exam talking about what a bastard the white man was towards the native American just for the hell of it and I wanted someone to know my thoughts on the subject.

In A-Level geography we did modules and had five exams with one piece of coursework. In two modules I scored an A/B borderline and I told the head of Geography that I wanted to resit as I believed I could get far better. He actually agreed and had faith in my abilities and I didn’t want to show him up so that he felt my resits were not worth the extra money. On the day of the results we also had a new module, so I had three exam results. We heard the news the results were in and basically all A-Level geography students piled into his office to try and get their results. I got there just as he said that he had to go and register his form so to come back at break, he stood up and saw me and said – and I remember the words well, ‘here comes the star of the show’ and sat back down and told me to come over. I had scored 119/120 in one paper and 89/90 and 88/90 in the other two. I had dropped four marks out of a possible 300 for a 98.7% result across those three modules. In another module I actually answered a question that we weren’t taught as I had a better understanding of it (renewable energy over ecosystems which we were taught) and I still got an A on that paper. So when challenged I came through.

The problem at Carisbrooke was they didn’t identify this. They believed they knew me better than I did. They failed me in not identifying my ability. I don’t know if they didn’t get my records from my old school or what but you don’t go from the top of the top at a really good school to being average at a much worse school based on exam results. I’m not guilt free in all of this but when you are 13 years-old and realise you can go through school basically in first gear, you don’t speak up. The Cats tests should have been the moment the school just threw me in the deep end to challenge me. They chose not to. This was a mistake that I believe has cost me to some degree in my life. I have many GCSEs, I have A-Levels, I have a degree so I’m still an educated man but I could have done better and I do believe that they failed me in that respect – and they are clearly doing it to many others.

Teachers and school staff need to get students interested and stimulated. Without that then they’ve already lost the war. Now of course if a kid has no interest in learning French for example then you can’t drum it into them, but school staff need to identify what makes every single pupil tick far more than they do. This sounds like a big challenge but surely that is far more important to spending hours of staff time on telling off students for not wearing a blazer, or having a blue streak in their hair or wearing brown instead of black shoes.

Until staff remember what their priorities should be then they will continue to fail students. All of us will be influenced primarily by our home life but after that our next biggest influences will be our schooling and the teachers we have. I won’t say I had any really bad teachers but I could sit here and name several who were just wholly inadequate. When studying GCSE English Literature we had a teacher who spent three to four months basically just playing us a recording of someone reading To Kill A Mockingbird. We weren’t asked questions on it, she just came in and played the audio and stopped it when the bell rang. That stimulated me less than a Michael McIntyre ‘joke’ stimulates my body into an attempt at a laugh. She was an inadequate teacher. There is no doubt about this. I won’t name her in case she is still teaching and more than three people ever read this blog, but she was not earning her money.

I did have some good teachers, I did have some that challenged me. I had a teacher I thought was a complete tosser but he challenged me because I thought this and wanted to prove him wrong. I did. Good teachers aren’t always the ones you like the most, they are the ones that get under your skin someway, somehow. Good teachers are the ones that let you realise your potential and not those who let you have a good time.

Carisbrooke College is an inadequate school as it stands. It wasn’t always this way. Carisbrooke failed me to some degree but I wouldn’t have ever said the teaching as a whole was inadequate like Ofsted did. I had a good handful of lousy teaching but I also had a good solid handful of good to inspiring teaching. I suspect if I was a student at Carisbrooke College now I’d be a lot worse off than I was when I went there and that makes me despondent for the young people of the west part of the Isle of Wight and those in Newport who go to Carisbrooke and not Medina. The fact that Cowes and Sandown Bay Academy are also in special measures shows that the problem isn’t specific to Carisbrooke, but instead a larger problem for the people who run education on the Isle of Wight and they need to answer questions, serious questions about how they are failing young people on the Isle of Wight.

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Written by neilmonnery

November 3rd, 2013 at 1:22 pm

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