Friday, 5 February 2016

Are you worried about SATs?

For anyone who doesn’t know, SATs are compulsory school tests for Year 6 children (10/11 year-olds).

To give them their full title, they are actually ‘End of Key Stage Tests and Assessments’, but as EOKSTAAs was a hard sell for any government, even in piss taking mode, they are sticking with Standard Assessment Tests, or SATs.

They are designed to measure whether a child is achieving national standards of education, as they end a key stage of schooling, where most children in England head to high school next year.

In reality, they are a mechanism for pitting schools against one another, and for governments to manipulate data to provide excellent sound bites in parliament and in press briefings.

They are of zero benefit to a child

I say, or type, zero, but actually I guess the main benefit is for a child to experience a formal test environment.   Which of course, is of massive benefit, because in adult life I’ve lost count of the times I’ve found myself in a test environment, where my future life quality hinges on if I score badly.

I sat through a recent parents meeting about SATs where all I learnt was that:

a) These new SATs have been designed to give the current government five straight years of guaranteed improving statistics
b) Parents ask the most pointless, meeting prolonging, questions
c) Loud sighs are still socially unacceptable
d) I’d lost a hour of my life I wouldn’t get back
e) I’m perhaps more bitter and angry that I thought

Of course I’m interested in my child’s schooling, and his educational development.
But I can keep a track of that by doing his homework with him, listening to him, and generally paying attention.  That sort of thang.

My little treasure, like many Year 6 children no doubt, has started to worry about his SAT tests.

I’m doing all I can to limit that concern, and telling him they shouldn’t concern him.  They count for nothing, and all he can do is answer the questions put in front of him.

“What if I get shouted at for doing badly?” 

I’m cut from a different cloth to Max, as I’ve never cared about shouting.

Even as a child, I was never really in trouble, but that certainly wasn’t because I feared a ‘telling off’ because I’d worked out that a telling off actually amounts to absolutely nothing.

They are just words delivered at a higher volume.

If a teacher shouts, unless its to get a quick response to a child safety issue, it’s generally a sign they’ve lost control and frustration has boiled over.  Let’s not forget teachers probably feel more pressure for SATs results than anyone.

I’ve been treading the delicate line of getting my son to adopt the same approach, without losing respect for his teachers, or missing the point completely, and deliberately winding up school staff and wasting his time there.

I don’t want him thinking that as SATs don’t really matter he shouldn’t try his best, as that’s not my point at all.

Any child whom can blank out pressure, analyse and interpret a question correctly, WILL do well as an adult, regardless of what test score they get, or whether their learning is secure, emerging, developing, exceeding or obliterating expectation.

SATs are a chance to practise that skill.

So should you worry about SATs?


Read my school reports, I never did enough, or supposedly paid any attention.

Read my exam paper scores, and I had eleven C+ GCSEs, three A Levels, a Higher National Certificate in Business, a Professional Diploma in Logistics and to top it all, this bad boy:

They knew nothing.

Beat the system before the system beats you dudes.


Friday, 29 January 2016

Should I stop blogging about my child?

“Is it true, is Max in a book?” 

When I started blogging in late 2008, I will be honest, my baby’s privacy wasn’t top of my list of concerns.

It wasn’t on my list of concerns.

Not even sure I had a list of concerns.

It would have been a spreadsheet.

Indeed, when writing about my little treasure back then, my only privacy concerns were revealing too much about our location, our daily whereabouts or personal details that would allow easy impersonation at a bank or other financial institution.

My online paranoia of being stalked, burgled, my child stolen or having a huge loan taken out in my name, drowned out any other privacy issues.

I didn’t really consider how my child - my baby - may feel about me sharing details of their life, their upgrades, their challenges, their excrement, even.

Thing is the writing was really helping, helping me at least, in so many different ways.

I found it cathartic to write about my experiences.  Writing stuff down would also force me to think about things from all perspectives, be instantly reflective, and ultimately, to make better decisions as a result.

It also generated some fantastic advice from other parents and bloggers, as well as friendships, at least one that will hopefully last a lifetime.

At times of loneliness and isolation it also made me feel connected to the world.

Then there were the opportunities it brought.  The toys, books, gadgets, car loans, days out, holidays, and ultimately, the commissioning and publication of my book, Parenting with Balls.

“Yes, Max is in a book.”

I wasn’t easily sold on the idea of writing a book.  My publisher was keen on me using the book as a vehicle to transforming myself into some sort of parenting expert, specialising in bereavement.

Publish books giving an added air of authority to someone hawking themselves for magazine or newspaper columns and even for spots on TV couches.

I’ve never really been comfortable or keen on that idea.

And one thing I’m aware of by knowing a few successful – and unsuccessful – parenting gurus is that at the very least you need to be committed and really want it.

I don’t.

And that’s before you even consider if I’d be any good at it, which I wouldn’t.

Anyway, I convinced the publisher to advance me enough to make it a barely financial worthwhile writing gig, and also set parameters for the book that I was happy with.

I went right back to the days immediately before being widowed, and the aftermath, as best as I could recall it.

Despite blogging for years, this wasn’t something I’d tackled.  I’d not found the motivation, or the courage, necessary.

Again I found it painful to revisit losing Max’s mom, but very soul rewarding, to go back in time, and put into words what happened, how I felt and dealt with the perceived chaos and being a dad often surrounded by mums.

Problem is, this book now exists, and folks read it.

The buggers.

I haven’t really picked up the book to read much since its publication; again fear beating courage on that score.

But some of Max’s peers clearly have, or at least their family have.

As I don’t have an eidetic memory, or the will to pick the book up, I’m not sure how much stuff, however intimate, should be of embarrassment to my boy.

And as well as that, I really should trawl this blog to delete any content that could perhaps cause humiliation if shared on a smart phone in the playground now.

“That’s not going on the Internet is it, Dad?”

Max does now ask if I’m going to share photos of him on Instagram or Twitter, and somewhat unconsciously I’ve taken to more often sharing pictures of my toddler nephew, who is obviously less aware of the public nature of picture sharing, instead of those of my son.

My child’s privacy is much more of a conscious concern, and of a very different nature to that I had back in 2008.

Should I stop blogging about my child?

I think it will just be a case of not sharing as much detail as I once did, and actually checking with my boy if I do, perhaps even sharing what I’m writing before hitting publish.

The internet has been very kind to me, and as a phenomena not renown for its generosity, bountiful anonymous love and support, I’m certainly lucky to have made it to this point with that statement still being true.

But I’m sure there are those that have suffered the exact opposite, and perhaps have children older than mine, that take them further down this road we’re on.

So, is this something you’ve also experienced?  Good and bad?

And have you changed, or stopped, writing about your family as a result?


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Second time luckier, and living LAGOM with IKEA

This was the second time I’ve successfully applied for something with IKEA.

The first time was for a part-time job twenty years ago!

I hope I enjoy being part of this project just as much as I enjoyed working for IKEA through my college years.

The Live LAGOM project really appealed to our household, as we like to think we live to its main principle.

Just the right amount is perfect.

It’s not a case of scrimping here and scrimping there and everywhere.  For our household of three it’s all about matching a desire to live life how you want, with as little waste along the way as possible.

I hoped to be a little awkward (that’s an ongoing effort BTW), as a family that likes to think it is pretty frugal and organised, we thought we’d provide a challenge to the IKEA project of making families think more sustainably.

We live in a modern property, one that we self-built only eight years ago.  Because of that, my belief was there wouldn’t be any obvious, dramatic or immediate sustainability improvements to discover.

Things like energy saving light bulbs, under-floor heating, efficient white goods, low energy TVs and an induction hob have been in use here for nearly a decade.

Which brings me neatly to our first discovery.

Technology moves on.  And we need to move with it.

Who knew? Apart from everyone, obviously.

After an excellent workshop run at IKEA Birmingham - by our equally awesome Live LAGOM project leader, Kevin – we left for home with a sustainable IKEA product goodie bag.

This included a pair of LED light bulbs and adaptors.

Now we’ve already introduced LED bulbs at home, to replace electricity hungry halogen spotlights, but hadn’t really thought of them as replacements for the other ageing energy efficient bulbs in our home.

Our thinking was we have energy efficient bulbs in all our pendant style lights, and how much more efficient could LED bulbs be?

Well, a lot, as it happens.


Hopefully that quickly put together video shows both how much money we were instantly saving (1p an hour/20p a week), and also just how quick and easy switching bulbs can be.

This was a little bit of a shock to us, and our OWL Electricity monitor, which I’ve been in love with for many, many years.

This little thing is a very simple smart meter that shows the amount of electricity you are consuming, so you can quickly identify spikes and roughly your increased consumption as you switch more things on.

It demonstrated immediately there were little changes we could make, that could still have a bit impact on the sustainability of our living.

Then there followed a home visit with representatives of IKEA and Hubbub the charity organising partner for the Live LAGOM project.

This helped us further, and easily, identify areas of our home that rather than introduce massive change to, could be updated and have us living a more sustainable life.

So I’m going to have to try to be more awkward.

Which isn’t usually a problem!

The Live LAGOM IKEA project invited customers and staff members to apply to take part in trying to live more sustainably.  Successful applicants were gifted £500 worth of store credit to spend on IKEA’s most sustainable products, in return for sharing their experiences and ideas.