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Day: November 3, 2013

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

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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