Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Year 2 SATs - an alternative view

"What are SATs?" asked my 7 year old daughter recently, as I dropped them into a conversation about the state of the school hall and how I couldn't walk through it for all the exam tables that had been set up.

You see, neither she nor her twin brother have any idea that they are taking the tests this year.  That's how the school have played it with the Year 2 children and I'm rather glad.

Now I've been through SAT's many times before.  I blogged about the Year 6 tests that my middle child took last year, and how I thought that the hysteria surrounding them had mainly come from how so many schools/parents approach them.  Our own Primary School was particularly bad at this (working them hard and then promoting relaxation techniques to 11 year olds, FFS) .

With the Year 2 SATs I'm not so sure this is the case.  My children have been to two different Primary Schools between them and none of them have ever been aware that the tests are even taking place.  The school my eldest son went to did refer to them as "clever testing" which rather appealed to my son as he liked the idea of potentially beating a clever test.  Shame that he doesn't see his upcoming GCSEs in the same light but you can't have it all.

My twins have been given some practise books for English and Maths, but with the strict instruction that completing them is optional.  This means that my eager to please, rule loving daughter has finished them while my very laid back, homework hating son has just said he doesn't need to do them because he knows it all already.  I see shades of the teen boy in him which is a slight worry.

But none of this matters.  The tests are testing the school, not the children as I understand it, and why wouldn't you want to know how well your school is teaching your children?  I know I do.

And the results?  I can't actually remember how well any of my older children did in their SATs*.  The results were buried somewhere on the back page of their report along with an explanation of the grading system which resembled a light novel in size.  I'll confess, I got really bored and stuffed the whole lot in a drawer never to see the light of day again.  The kids didn't even ask how well they'd done.

In a couple of week's time nobody will remember anything about them anyway.  We'll all be talking about the end of year concert and how we can get out of being volunteered for the face painting stall at the PTA Summer Fair.

As for after SATs parties, we won't be going to one of those either.  They aren't finals for god's sake. Either that or I've missed the memo about what a life defining point the Year two tests are?  Don't even get me started on High School Proms - a blog for another day.

So, another year, another bunch of tests.  That's how I'm looking at it.

I just wish everybody else did too.

*  You can pop my 'Mother of the Year' award in the post now if you like.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Training for a marathon, it's just like having a baby?

I can't say that a marathon is something I've ever aspired to completing. Until recently.

The ballot for next year's London Marathon opened this week and my Facebook/Twitter/Instagram quickly became swamped with people declaring their entry.  Added to that, every weekend for the past month or more I've seen pictures of other people completing marathons of their own.  Ordinary people, just like me. Accomplishing something brilliant.

The feeling that I might want to do this myself, and soon, is becoming unshakable.

You see, when you take up running, distance and times all seem fairly irrelevant at first.  Then, as you start to improve you think, well, maybe I could.  I could run a marathon.  After all, last year I ran a half marathon and its just two of those.

Back to back. On the same day.  Just eight and a bit parkruns.

How hard could it be?

There is just one thing that worries me.  All that training.

Well, not so much the training as how much it takes over your life.  Rather like having children in fact (and I have plenty of experience of having children...).

Training for a long distance race for the very first time is a lot like having a baby.  A lot.

Maybe not exactly.  It's not as if you get a small human to take home when you run 13.1 or 26.2 miles, but bear with me here while I try to explain my thoughts.

1.  Fear and utter disbelief (aka submitting your race entry)

I can still remember the feeling I had when those two little lines appeared on the pregnancy test stick as if it were yesterday.  "What have I done?", "I don't think I can do this!"

Too late.

When I completed my first half marathon application, it took a week to be confirmed with my chosen charity and during this time I watched my emails with the same thoughts bubbling up inside my brain.

When the email finally came I realised that it really was too late to change my mind on that too.

2.  Buying all the things

When you are expecting a baby a whole world of retail opens up to you, as you discover shops that you previously had no interest in.  The latest baby monitor, moses basket, buggy and toys.  You decide you will need them all. In colours matching your nursery decor.

It's much the same when you start training for a race.  I'm afraid to say that the Nike outlet holds as much excitement for me now as Mothercare did back then.  What do you mean, I don't need another pair of running shoes? I don't have any that match my charity vest yet.

3.  Special underwear

You know the sort.  Sexless non underwired bras, reminiscent of something you imagine an elderly aunt to wear, coupled with Bridget Jones style knickers.  Sadly, while you may think I'm talking about maternity wear here, the same rules apply for comfortable running underwear. #chafefree

Oh, have you ever had those funny sock things in hospital after a c-section?  Well, runners have their own version of those too, specifically for after really long runs.  Luckily they come in funky colours (obviously this makes them loads better).

Fancy socks (its lucky for you that I didn't choose a picture of my underwear)

4.  The plan

What to eat, what to drink, how long to run for.  My running plan seemed OK to begin with.  Until I began getting emails telling me what phase I was in that week and how I should be progressing.  It's a bit like one of those baby development books that I bought when I was first pregnant, the sort that turn you into a complete obsessive over every detail.  What if I hadn't run the required number of miles?  What if I was 17% too fast? What if I didn't have any morning sickness?  What if my baby wasn't the size of a grapefruit?  FFS, it's all bonkers and none of it really matters anyway.  Except it did to me.  Both times.

5.  Two weeks before the big day

This is when most women start maternity leave, a blissful period of endless waiting and eating cake.

Runners have their own version of this called tapering, where they do very little milage, wait for an age for race day and then do something called "carb loading" which is basically eating lots of cake too.

6.  Labour and birth/Race day

I can confirm that for me both of these things started with a very early morning, nerves and excitement and intense self doubt.

Oh, and pain and exhaustion.  There was lots of that.

In pain, at least the photographer framed the shot nicely.

Also, some very unflattering photographs afterwards.

7.  Hanging out with your own kind

In pregnancy I had NHS Antenatal classes, in which we'd hang out at coffee shops and talk about stretch marks, piles and leaky nipples.  All morning.

Runners on the other hand have parkrun, where we hang out at the park and discuss appropriate training surfaces, running shoes and compare injuries (some of which include bleeding nipples and missing toenails *boak*).

There are genuinely no taboo subjects where both these groups of people are concerned.  Fact.

8.  Other people

From the moment that you announce that you are having a baby other people just love to pass on their helpful advice.  This ranges from how painful and difficult it's all going to be to how easy they found it to give birth themselves and how big their baby was/long their labour was.  People are obsessed with statistics I've found.

Runners are another good example of this.  So many people asked me what time I was hoping for in the lead up to my half marathon.  If not that then they told me how easy my target time would be to achieve.  Also, whenever you announce that you are planning to run a half or full marathon for the first time then there's always someone who replies that they've already run two (there's always one, eh?).  Or worse, the ones who ask you if you're going to stop running now, once you've completed it. Err, no.  I'm not.

9.  Post birth/race blues

You've had the baby and everyone's making a fuss of you both.  Things should be pretty great.  Except you can't stop crying or feeling sad that things maybe didn't go as planned or you are just overwhelmed with the whole experience and how exhausted you feel.  The three day weepy, as a friend of mine called it, is a very uncontrollable and real thing after you've had a baby.  But the good thing is that it passes pretty quickly.

Apparently feeling sad after your first race is also a real thing too.  Although you can't really attribute it to hormones, although I think all the post race adrenaline may have something to do with it.  From obsessing over the bad miles in your race where you know you could have improved, to wondering what to do with yourself now that it's all over and your charity has received their cash.  I even cried because I didn't get a photo of myself crossing the finish line.  I look like a state in all of my running pictures but I still wanted one *sulks*.  Thankfully this passed quickly too.

10.  I want to do it all again

When you suddenly realise that it's nowhere near as bad as you were told/thought and that maybe you are quite good at this and actually enjoy it.  In fact you wonder why you ever doubted yourself at all.  You've got this.  And, you feel an enormous sense of pride and achievement.  Your whole body may feel a wreck but you know you'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

Yes, on reflection, for me completing my first race was pretty similar to that too.

To marathon, or not to marathon?  The training may be as bad as pregnancy but I've survived that not once, but four times.

So, watch this space...

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