Why I hate SATs testing – a note from an oncology Mum

My son will sit his SATs next week along with his friends.  I am so proud and grateful for this because in January 2016 he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and will continue to be in treatment until 2019.  I have watched him as he has maturely and determinedly prepared for the SATs by attending additional classes after school and completing reams of work at home without a fuss.

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Daily chemotherapy regime

I know he finds it hard.  It breaks my heart as I watch him trying to remember how to answer a maths problem or to apply the concentration that he needs.  It breaks my heart to know that when the results come out in July they will not recognise how hard it has been for him and many others because of the personal battles they face.  I know he will be ranked and judged against his peers who have been able to attend, focus and engage with education without interference.

When the results come out in July I will explain the following to him:

  • Government policy dictates that schools must objectively assess children at the end of each Key Stage to show how much progress you and your friends have made
  • The school will be judged on how much progress you and your friends have made
  • Your teacher will be judged on how much progress you and your friends have made
  • Your next school will be given your SATs results and you and your friends are likely to be given GCSE target grade based on these results
  • You and your friends are unlikely to ever be asked what you got in your Year 6 SATs
  • Your SATs results will not mention that you have and are fighting cancer

I will also explain to him that because of his bravery and courage he was able to prepare for his SATS despite the huge trauma he has been through in the last 16 months.    I will tell him that his results will differ from his friends because:

  • he had 6 months off school in Year 5 but attended school whenever he could despite being bloated on steroids, bald through chemotherapy and in constant pain.  
  • he has endured over 450 days of chemotherapy involving many general anaesthetics, surgical procedures and IV treatments 
  • he has taken so many medicines that we have lost count but included morphine for pain, anti-sickness and antibiotics
  • he has spent long periods of time in hospital separated from his Mum, his Dad, his brother and his sister
  • he has been so weak at times he couldn’t even get up the stairs
  • he has experienced the significant effects of steroids with changes in mood and increases in appetite
  • he has seen, heard and experienced pain, distress and fear which no child should

I will then go on to say that the following is far more important to us than his SATs results:

  • You are the most kind, caring and loving boy despite everything you have been through
  • You have never once said, “it’s not fair” or questioned “why me?”
  • When you were in hospital, you did your very best to try to keep other poorly children happy and entertained
  • During the darkest of times you turned cancer on its head and raised thousands of pounds for charity
  • You continue to face the daily challenges of being diagnosed with cancer with positivity, humour and humility
  • You are an absolute star in our eyes; we couldn’t be more proud

Next week he will stand tall and face the SATs with the determination and positivity that he has faced cancer with.  I only wish that he didn’t have to do them,  I know I could withdraw him but having been excluded from so many things already because of his diagnosis he wants to be ‘normal’; he wants to do everything that his mates do.

All I want is the government to stand up and recognise that children are not all the same, they are diverse and wonderful.  Many children fight daily battles whether medical, social or emotional ones which impact on how they can prepare for the SATs, how they cope and the outcome.

By testing them in this way you are only highlighting their difference not embracing it.

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I will run it next year…I know I said that last year! 

Good luck to everyone running the #LondonMarathon today. 
This was me back in 2007 with my good buddy Sarah. We aimed to finish before they opened the roads again and we did! We made a pact to run it again 10 year later to celebrate the passing of time and prove that aging is no barrier.  I was honoured to be offered a place to run for Children with Cancer and Sarah for Cancer Research UK. Despite numerous attempts to get our training off the ground it just didn’t happen.  The uncertainty of Felix’s treatment and starting my business just did not make the routine of running easy.  Fortuitously, our charities allowed us to defer our place for 2018. 
Needless to say we have beat ourselves up about our lack of determination and grit. Felix has been sorely disappointed that I couldn’t get my butt of the ground to train.  I now need to put my commitment and ambition into action.  I have been totally inspired by the #headstogether campaign and I am now even more determined to make it happen! Watch this space. 
#LondonMarathon #headstogether #childrenwithcancer

Survival of the fittest – welcome to the school holidays

Here we go, two weeks of unadulterated bliss.  No get ups, no lunches, no routine.  I love school holidays … after the initial 24 hours that is.

The first 24 hours of any weekend or holiday in our house is full of bickering and sniping between my 8, 11 and 12-year-old.  There are the constant put downs, ganging up on each other and sly accusations.  They will then move on to stomping around not knowing where to go, what to do, or who to be with.

I have put this down to them purely needing to reestablish the pecking order.  As in any species, the pecking order is sacred and there is a constant challenge for the top position.  For my children, a return to the family structure at weekends and holidays sees a return to the sibling hierarchy.  Whilst they are at school they know their place amongst their friends, peers and other students.  At school, my 11-year-old is Year 6 and thus ‘top’ of the school yet within the family hierarchy he has to readjust at weekends and in the holidays to being second to the first-born who has always asserted herself as top dog because of her age.  My youngest in Year 3 is one of the eldest amongst his peers being September baby, has a lot of confidence being the third born and also one of the tallest.  At home he has to accept that as the youngest, he is at the bottom of the pecking order which can be a huge adjustment for him.  My daughter, the eldest, is now adept at subtly ‘pecking’ the boys to make sure they know their place; whilst she is in the house, she is alpha sibling no question about it.  Sometimes, this tussle to re-establish their place can only last a couple of hours and they are able to co-exist together again.  However, on other occasions, it can take 48 even 72 hours for the struggle to result in the acceptable hierarchical outcome.  If this is over a weekend, then I am happily waving them off to school on a Monday.

I am intrigued by why children behave as they do.  The conflict at the start of weekends or holidays could just be because of their irritability and tiredness but for me that’s far too simple an explanation.  In my mind’s eye, my children are taking part in a battle of ‘survival of the fittest’ every time they break from school.  Dramatic yes, but makes dealing with these conflicts and battles far more meaningful and interesting!

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How to survive SATs Season – a guide for Parents and Carers

There are families and children up and down the country getting into a real pickle about the up and coming Primary SATs tests.  I am currently taking at least 3 calls per day from anxious parents and carers worried about how their children are going to perform in these assessments and what they should do to help.  All of these families are saying that they are worried that they are not doing enough to help their children and want to know what more they can do to.  There are lots of things that you can do to help your child but none of it should cause stress or anxiety for either them or you!

Children will most probably be spending the majority of their time in school on uninspiring SATs questions focussing on content, question type and exam techniques.  They may also be expected to attend booster sessions and complete further papers at home as a means of making sure they reach their target grade.  This is more than enough in my mind.

SATs tests have no real importance in the real world for your child or their future.

Therefore, in order to minimise any stress relating to these assessments I would recommend the following:

  • Praise hard work and effort  When you see your child trying their hardest, particularly in subjects they find tough, praise their determination and effort above any grades or scores they achieve.  This will help them develop a mindset that encourages them believe that they can get smarter.
  • Encourage a love of learning and exploration If these assessments have unleashed a desire to study and revise then you may want to invest in a quality tutor to satisfy your child’s ambition.  This is also the opportunity to develop a regular study regime in preparation for the transition to secondary school.  It is also   an excellent opportunity to introduce a wider range of subjects for your child to explore as any additional learning will expand vocabulary and critical thinking.
  • Cherish and promote play time Whilst schools and teachers will be encouraging your child to become an independent learner in preparation for the SATs they are still a kid.  Let them be kids, have fun and play.

And above all:

  • Limit SATs talk Unless there is an absolute need to mention SATs then don’t.  Keep the whole thing as low-key and stress free as you can.

Whilst many within the educational profession oppose SATs our children still have to sit them.  As parents and carers, it is our job to protect our children from the unnecessary pressure and stress and avoid the politically motivated furore surrounding them.

Of course, encourage your child to try hard and do well but more importantly let them have fun and play.  Their mental health, happiness and well-being is far more important that any SATs result.

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Normal days and cancer stuff

I feel as though I need to apologise for my lack of commitment lately.  I haven’t blogged for a month which is a sure sign that life is returning to some sense of normal with a bit of crazy stuff thrown in!

A year ago or even six months ago I could not have envisaged us having ‘normal’ days.  You know, those days which on the surface are completely unremarkable.  Those days which seem like an endless list of jobs:  birthday present buying for a family event we are ALL attending that evening, haircuts without needing explanations, picking up and dropping off three kids from various locations at various times.  Then there are the precious moments of joy: spontaneous drinks in the garden with close friends, booking a hotel room or hearing a glass smash in the garden which has been hit by a football.  This is us now.  We are planning again and we are looking forward.  These moments may seem unremarkable, but to us they are highly significant.

With these ‘normal’ days and our excitement about the future, we are still looking over our shoulders.  The recent crash in Felix’s bloods put us back on red alert.  He was to so close to needing a transfusion which would mean a cannula (I can hear his scream already) and an instantaneous time hop to the past.  It’s hard to think that last year I was so worried about his levels of anxiety and his constant fear that I sought help and advice from a psychiatrist.  I don’t want him to be teleported back to that point.  There was also his recent three-day wipe out which sent ripples of panic through every vein of my body.  He had a similar wipe out just weeks before he was diagnosed.  See this is the thing, whilst he looks every part a tower of strength, positivity and hope I know that there is a chance he could relapse.  When all the ducks are in line, this chance stays firmly in its box and doesn’t trouble me at all.  All it takes is one of those little ducklings to go on a little wander and that’s it – the lid springs off and all sorts of thoughts and feelings rush to the surface.

But hey, that’s the cancer stuff, let’s have more of the crazy normal stuff.

The craziest thing has to be being whisked off for a whirlwind 48 hours in Madrid where Felix got to meet his idol, Christiano Ronaldo.  It was truly something else, for all of us!  My business is booming and affording me the flexibility to be available for all the children when they need me.  It is also giving me the opportunity to help families and children reach their potential and solve problems which are proving to be a hurdle in their lives.  We are going away again for days and weekends and whilst I have the details of the nearest Children’s Oncology Unit close to hand, we are getting out and about.  This freedom is quite exhilarating.

From a parenting point of view, I am still trying to get the boys to actually wash their armpits and my beautiful daughter to stop leaving wet towels in her room.  The boys still insist on coming down in the morning half-dressed and then throwing their socks in all corners of the room when they come home.  I am still totally ‘cringey’ as far as my kids are concerned and I think this will be the case for at least another 8 years.  As for every day married life stuff, we managed to go ‘out, out’ the other night and are learning to leave Felix with family and friends again – it feels like he is a new-born again!  Life has moved from planning hospital trips and visits back to who’s picking and dropping the kids off again which is brilliant.  We don’t really talk about the cancer stuff – we’ll leave that for another day!

So in our crazy little #teambrown world life is full of normal days again.  There are snippets of cancer stuff here and there but more there than here which is just how we like it.

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What’s with the swearing?

Since when did it become OK to swear so readily?  Why has our use of language become such that it is deemed to be acceptable to profoundly swear when writing about everyday occurrences?  I am by no means innocent when it comes to swearing.  I love a good old swear every now and again but I carefully choose my audience.

Now it seems acceptable in writing to swear with reference to our children, our family or strangers on the street.  Why has our gift of language been devalued to the extent that we can no longer find words to describe our feelings, our surroundings or our thoughts without succumbing to using foul language.  I may be described as prudish or out of touch but I cannot and will not use swear words in my writing, whether a blog post or social media update.  The main reason for this is I know that my parents read them.  At the ripe age of 44 and a half I still do not want to upset of offend my parents or anyone else who stumbles across my writing.  Our use of language has evolved to the extent that I don’t think we should have to resort to expletives to demonstrate how we feel about something.  If we cannot construct a sentence that truly conveys our sentiment, there are plenty of resources online to help generate vocabulary and ideas.

Is this prudish?  Yes, it probably is but something that is important to me.  People are still offended by swearing and whilst, as I said before, I enjoy a bit of effing and jeffing in the right company, I would not do so about people, things or institutions I respect.  With this in mind I wonder how people can so easily swear about their children.  I fear that my views may warrant a backlash or a comparison to the legendary Mary Whitehouse of the 1980s but I don’t understand how people can, or want to be derogatory about their children through the language they use.  I mulled this over with a friend today; since when did it become OK to swear profusely about children?  Since when did it become OK to be derogatory about children using the guise of humour?  I do get that it’s a humour thing and that maybe I’m taking it too seriously but it makes me feel really uncomfortable when such abusive language is used to describe the behaviour, appearance or the personality of a child.  Using insulting language towards anyone, let alone children, shows a lack of respect.  The definition of respect includes a due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.  I understand that the writing is often exaggerated or fictional but for anyone reading it, adult or child, there is an underlying tone of disrespect.

I would like to see this current trend of normalising swearing fade away and instead a return to a consideration of purpose and audience.  When we are writing about children for example, does the purpose of humour trump the fact that this language could be viewed as abusive and emotionally damaging?  When a statement relates to “f**king children” do we perceive that to mean all children, my children, your children?  Does it really matter?  Maybe it doesn’t in the whole scheme of things. Yes, I don’t have to read it and to be fair I don’t but I do wonder what the impact of this accepted language of disrespect is having on our world view and the way we relate to each other.

This is purely a pondering, it is not a criticism of any platform, person or viewpoint.  I appreciate that we all have our own morals and values and that we promote these through the language that we use.  I just wanted to put the theme of swearing within a context of respect for others, particularly children.  Or, do I just need to get a grip and accept that I’m just not ‘edgy’ or cool enough for this day and age and stick with my suburban life and romantic novels?

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Life after Teaching

This is my 20th year as a qualified teacher.  Twenty years in a profession that has changed beyond recognition.  According to definition, a teacher is a person who teaches, especially in a school whereas a tutor is a private teacher, typically one who teaches a single pupil or a very small group.  I am now a tutor.

I love teaching.  I love being part of the learning process.  I love working with children.

What I don’t love is:

  • having my creativity stifled by indicators and outcomes
  • watching colleagues buckle under stress or being targeted rather than supported
  • being observed and judged by people who no longer teach
  • regularly meeting targets with token recognition
  • the expectation that you will work in your holidays
  • the school day starting at 7:30am and finishing at 9:30pm
  • the data driven ethos which eradicates the person
  • watching too many children struggle at school every day because they are not making progress according to an unrealistic trajectory
  • the lack of funding for schools
  • being blamed for a number of society’s ills
  • the constant change in policy, curriculum and practice
  • despite giving my all, it’s still not enough

For teachers who are reading this, thank you for all you do for our children, probably at the sacrifice of your own.  For parents and carers, please bear in mind that teachers are working under increasing pressure to meet targets and implement new policies; this is not their agenda but imposed on them.  For Justine Greening and all MPs who care about education, education in crisis.  Please act now.  Talk to children, talk to parents, talk to teachers – find out what it’s really like in schools beyond the OFSTED reports and league tables.  Education is in jeopardy.

For the first time in 20 years I feel free of judgement.  Teachers are constantly being judged both professionally and personally and this constant monitoring and scrutiny is both soul-destroying and damaging.  Of all the teachers I know, and I know many, very few are happy.  Many are considering leaving the profession because of the poor working conditions, unrealistic expectations and lack of recognition.

There is a life after teaching and it can be good.  I don’t want to see anymore committed and effective teachers leaving the profession but I also don’t want to see another colleague destroyed both physically and emotionally by the unrealistic demands expected of them.

As we settle in to half term I raise a glass to all who are defined as ‘teachers’.  I will always be a teacher at heart but thankful that I’m not one at the moment.

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The Dance of Life

It’s all so bizarre.  I laid in bed with my nearly teenage daughter before she went to sleep last night and she asked “how’s your blogging going Mum?”.  I was quite taken aback because if there is one thing that my daughter is good at is the whole ‘banter’ thing yet this was a sincere and genuine enquiry.  I answered her honestly and said I felt I had a bit of a writer’s block at the moment.  She came back with a wealth of advice about tiny things in a day that could be a great source from which to build a blog.  She further advised that I write down whatever comes into my head during the day, as she does, as this helps her make sense of her day and interactions. I kissed her goodnight and here I sit thinking about her words still in awe of my daughter’s insight and wisdom.

I feel slightly lost now when I don’t blog.  I feel invigorated and mentally revived after writing. Anyway, I digress.

Felix had a day off school yesterday.  His third Tuesday this term.  He was so wiped out he couldn’t even raise a smile let alone manage a day at school.  Twelve hours of silence and solitude and he is back in fine spirits but another reminder that he is still in treatment.  We kind of forget this now; or at least we try to.  Only this week I looked at our plans for this weekend and felt a surge of excitement.  We have things planned, normal things.  Things that we used to do.  Things that we used to take for granted.

And this is life.  A few steps forward and a few steps back.  A bit like salsa dancing if I remember rightly from the few classes I attended in the 90s.  Another ‘new hobby’ before kids, when I had so much time I literally had no idea what to do with it all!  Life is a dance and depending where we are will depend on the moves we are making.  At times, life might be graceful like the waltz, energetic like the jive or repetitive like the twist.  Whatever the rhythm, we are dancing to the beat and if we recognise what the tune is, it may help us make sense of where we are at.

Until Felix was diagnosed, I would’ve described our life as a jazz dance.  We shimmied along with highs and lows but little drama or recourse.  During the intense part of treatment we were dancing in time but in a trance like state; completely lost in the tune we were in, oblivious of the world around us.  There were days when things went as choreographed as a line dance yet other days when we were as emotional and passionate as the Tango.  Right now, I’d say we were dancing a salsa.  We are working towards keeping our body straight whilst our steps are constantly going backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.

Life is a series of dance moves.  What is yours right now?  I’d love to know.

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The Burb Guest blog: Who’s in charge?

So, blog post writing! Mmm, tricky! I used to write a blog. A blog about food, something I’m somewhat of an expert in, I love cooking food and I love eating it. My blog was there to show cooking is to be enjoyed, not to be a chore! My blog with the help and inspiration of my wife got me on a TV cookery show, a great achievement for which I’m very proud. Sadly due to my laziness and making excuses of being too busy, my blog hasn’t been updated in many years, but I do still do a great deal of eating. Anyone can write a blog, it is what you make it and if you have the right mindset, anything is possible!

Technology and social media are ever advancing and evolving. All of us have had to move with the flow. I’m going to make an assumption, if you reading this then I’m going to bracket you in the category of the most advanced within recent centuries. From what I can gather from history books (who remembers a book?), research, communications and social interaction were done face to face with very little electricity/tech needed (maybe a light, a torch or a candle if it was dark). I remember playing football down the park with my mates, jumpers for goalposts! This wasn’t arranged by a phone call, a poke, a snapchat, WhatsApp or text, it was a given we’d be there. The most technologically advanced thing I had was Casio watch (with multiple melodies for the alarm).

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Now I often wonder what I did without my IPhone (other phones are available but their mostly rubbish). It isn’t just part of my life, it runs my life. The internet went off for a few hours today, nightmare, it was an actual nightmare. The phone signal is not too great where I am (and they’re talking about 5G super fast mobile network,FFS! I haven’t seen the 3G work properly yet!). So a phone with very little ‘G’ and no internet is photo taking storage device. This was an ideal time to charge it up, since I wasn’t using it for scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. I have days when I think social media and technology are the best thing since….unsliced bread (doorstep bacon butties for example), other days I think it’s the worst discovery since prejudice. I’ve dipped in and out of the newest trends and apps too use, but ultimately they all get deleted.

My latest obsession is Fitbit. I have the Blaze, all set up, synced with phone. This is great, it knows when I’m active, when I’m asleep (it can probably hear me), counts my steps. As great as this all is, it’s given me data, for which, I never realised I cared about. By the time I’ll go to bed tonight I will have done 19,000 steps (about 12k). This to me has been an average day. If I hadn’t had worn the watch then I wouldn’t have known. But by wearing the watch it has made me aware of what I did yesterday and a need to beat that step count. And I feel better for it. The annoying thing is, I’m now wasting a lot of time by not walking in an efficient way from point A to point B, just to get a few extra steps in. I only did 13,500 steps yesterday, so you must understand my frustration and embarrassment of 5500 extra unnecessary steps. How would I explain that, if I had a boss?  I’m self employed which just makes it worse.

 

My name is Wayne and I’m an addict, I’m addicted to my phone, my iPad and my watch. Please don’t judge. I leave you now with a few thoughts and would love to know your views. Thanks Lady K for the Burb guest blog takeover. Has tech taken over? For better or worse?  Is it time for TV/Radio news to give up? Has social media changed the way we hear news? Clouded judgment from likeminded individuals within your community?  We’ve had ice bucket challenges, no make up selfies, planking, manikin challenge…etc. Maybe the real challenge for the modern world would be to swipe to off and spend time with the ones you love, but where would the kudos from that come, if you weren’t tweeting about it.

 

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There is only one sure thing that happens when you shout at a child. You scare them.

I was starkly reminded of this at the beginning of the week.

It was Monday morning and, as usual, I gave the kids their 5 minute nudge to get ready to leave for school: socks on, shoes on, lunches and water bottles in bag and coats on. Five minutes later I looked to see my youngest still laying on the sofa, lost in the world of YouTube. Grrrrrrrrr! So I shouted at him to move and get ready for school. He leapt up and did what was asked and off we went to school. I didn’t think any more of it.

The next morning the same routine. I gave the kids their 5 minute nudge and this time my youngest immediately jumped up and got to it.  Excellent you may think, but the speed at which he reacted made me think.

He was worried I was going to shout at him again.

This broke my heart. I don’t know many parents or carers that haven’t shouted at their child. We all know we shouldn’t but during times of frustration it’s sometimes difficult not to. Children can become so absorbed in what they are doing or at times or they will ignore requests as a way of testing boundaries or trying to get what they want. This can push the buttons of the calmest of us and it can be difficult to resist that urge to raise our voices. Yet, by raising our voices, we can make children feel intimidated and threatened.  If a child feels this way they may instinctively adopt a fight or flight response which, if not considered in context, may come across as argumentative or belligerent.  If you shout at them the likelihood is that they will either shout back or turn on their heels and walk/run away.  This is not your child just being awkward, difficult or rude.  Their response, in fact, is a primitive response based on our need for survival.

This understanding of our instinctual primitive response will help us see how shouting can trigger behaviours in children. If children and adults feel at risk or threatened they will adopt a flight or fight response.  If they go for flight they will be gone, if they chose fight they will shout back.  If we then consider how things escalate, it is often because we have raised our voice. Yes, we could say that they should’ve done what they were asked to in the first place but they are children, yes children.  They are learning and as they get older they will test boundaries.  This is absolutely normal in terms of child development.  It is how we respond which will determine if a situation is resolved quickly or if it will escalate.  If you shout, the likelihood is that things will escalate very quickly.

This is the same in schools.  A school I taught at had a ‘no shouting’ policy for teachers, for exactly the reasons above.  Of course, teachers shouldn’t shout anyway but they are human and get frustrated and desperate as most people do.  However, the impact of this policy was phenomenal and it helped create a supportive and safe learning environment because children knew they would not be shouted at.

This moment of clarity I had this week, with my own child, made me reflect and consider my parenting.  The way in which we manage our child’s behaviour will impact on how they respond and therefore we need to try to get it as right as we can.   And for the times when we don’t get it right we need to  reflect, reframe and carry on doing the most important job in the world!

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