Blog: September 2016

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Home education paves the way to Russell Group university

NEC learner Kathryn Corrall
Above: NEC learner Kathryn Corrall

Kathryn Corrall is on a high. In September, she’s off to King’s College London to study for an English degree. She can hardly wait to leave her family home in the countryside for a new life in the big city and is already getting her teeth into Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the first novel on the syllabus.

Going to university has long been Kathryn’s ambition but her experience of education has been far from plain sailing. She was severely bullied at primary school and in the early years of secondary school, suffering from anxiety and panic attacks as a result. Home schooling was the answer, despite her fear that she wouldn’t be able to gain recognised qualifications if she wasn’t at school. Her concern was misplaced: all her GCSE-level and A level qualifications except maths (for which she had a face-to-face tutor) have been gained through distance learning, studying at home at her own pace. Her younger sister, a keen photographer, is home-educated too and plans to do a degree or an apprenticeship in photography.

Kathryn knows exactly why distance learning suited her so well: ‘Tutors tend to be less invasive than teachers and that’s one of the things I struggled with at school. I tried to go to a college of further education to do my A levels in 2013 but by then I was used to the freedom that studying at home offers. College just wasn’t right for me.’ What’s more, the experience of motivating yourself, organising your studies and writing essays unsupervised is ideal preparation for university.

NEC attracted Kathryn initially because of the wide choice of courses on offer and because the courses are set out in a style she was familiar with. She began studying with NEC in 2014, signing up for A levels in government and politics and religious studies. As soon as she got started, she found the course notes and exam tips outstanding. She was also impressed by the fact that each course made full use of the textbooks she had bought - an important consideration as textbooks are not cheap.

She says: ‘NEC’s course notes are the best I have encountered. They’re so thorough and well-written that even complicated topics are easy to understand - and that includes the ontological argument in RE! And I’m particularly grateful for the tutors’ ability to mark seemingly endless past papers!’

Kathryn’s advice for young people and their parents thinking about home education: ‘Distance learning gives you more opportunities to express yourself than learning in a classroom and you have as much time as you want to read around a subject. If anyone tells you that you can’t study properly at home, don’t believe them. You can get good results and take exams in just the same way as you can at school.’

If you would like to discuss how NEC can help you, get in touch with our friendly Course Advice Team who will be happy to answer your questions. You can call our UK freephone number, 0800 389 2839, email us at info@nec.ac.uk, talk to us via Live Chat, or find out more through the information on our website.
 

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Monday, 26 September 2016

Festival of Learning: Highlighting the importance of lifelong learning

Ros Morpeth and James Smith at the 2016 Parliamentary reception for the Festival of Learning
Above: Ros Morpeth and James Smith at the 2016 
Parliamentary reception for the Festival of Learning

Recently a parliamentary reception marked the close of this years festival of learning. Educational experts, award winners and MP’s came together to celebrates the achievements of adult learners throughout the country.

The Festival of Learning (formerly Adult Learners Week) is a national celebration of lifelong learning organised by the Learning and Work Institute (formerly NIACE). Through the remarkable stories of how people have used their learning experiences to change their lives and the lives of those around them, the festival is essential in highlighting how lifelong learning can and does benefit society and the economy.

The festival brings together have a go events from across the country to promote the benefits of lifelong learning by giving people a chance to learn something new. It’s also an opportunity to shine a light on the stories of people, organisations and projects who have received awards at the various events held throughout the year.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Robert Halfron MP was at the event and described the festival as doing everything he believes in. ‘They (the learners) show us it is never too late to learn something new or develop our skill sets’ He said. ‘Education does not have to stop after school and it exists for anyone interested in taking it up. The Festival of Learning is testament to that fact-one I’m proud to get behind and support.’

NEC CEO Ros Morpeth was delighted to accept her invitation to attend the Parliamentary reception and had this to say about the event.

‘Being a second chance learner myself and working with thousands of learners each year who are trying to change their lives with NEC, I certainly know the value of lifelong learning and the positive economic and social impact is can have, not to mention

I believe in the importance of keeping pathways to learning open for people at any stage of life. The transformative effect it can have on people should be encouraged at any age or stage of life.

One Person who agrees that pathways to learning should be kept open is James Smith, 2016 winner of the Outstanding Individual Award. I spent time with James at the event and found him inspiring. He is an excellent example of a life transformed by learning.

James, or Jimmy, left school with no qualification and has was working as a market trader when he gave assistance at the scene of a serious medical emergency.

The incident made Jimmy re-evaluate and he realised that to work in the emergency services he would need to return to learning. He found the experience very different to his low expectations of what going back to learning would be like. ‘I was bowled over!’ He said ‘I found the tutors engaging and encouraging and developed an appreciation for Shakespeare. I’ve even enjoyed maths... a bit.’

Jimmy has since written and passed the written entry exams for a role of non-emergency patient transport driver at West Midlands Ambulance Service, made lifelong friends with his infectious enthusiasm and gone on to enrol on an access to science course at Halesowen College. He plans on starting a Paramedic Science degree next year.

Jimmy represents someone who has made a courageous decision to change career and found that he couldn't move forward or even get a foot in the door until he got those core GCSE English and Maths qualifications. A story we at NEC hear often.

One of the additional benefits of learning is improved self confidence and the positive impact on the family and wider community. Jimmy told me that prior to starting the course, he would break out in a sweat if he was asked to write anything so he was amazed at how much he enjoyed studying and how much it has improved his confidence. He said that his success so far was due motivation and discipline but it wasn't hard because he found that he enjoyed studying so much. Jimmy has now received a grade A for GCSE Maths and a grade A* for GCSE English, what an excellent achievement.

Jimmy is one of thousands of learners that make the choice to change their lives by learning. You can read about the other award winners from the events this year on the Festival of Learning website.’

If their stories inspire you to get back into learning, take a look at the range of courses offered by NEC, including those all important GCSE maths and English qualifications.
 

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Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Celebrating one of the best creative writers of our time: Roald Dahl

 Jan Baldwin
Photo credit: Jan Baldwin

Roald Dahl was a children’s author, poet, screenwriter and short story writer. He was famous for writing the popular children’s books; Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits and The BFG - to name just a few! He was also famous for his inspirational and humorous quotes which helped people lead their day to day lives.

Roald Dahl Day - what is it?
Roald Dahl Day takes place on 13th September to celebrate his birth and this year marks 100 years! You can join in the conversation on Twitter using #RoaldDahl100. We hope our blog inspires you to get involved and help celebrate Roald Dahl Day. If you have any Roald Dahl books you loved to read, please do share with us by email.

To celebrate Roald Dahl Day, NEC staff share their favourite books and quotes. Here’s what some of them said:

Kirsty: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda were my favourite books to read and I loved the film adaptations too. They were really engaging, funny and emotional and the characters were portrayed well in the books and films. Matilda and Miss Honey were my favourite in the books and films. Matilda had great courage and strength dealing with her bullying parents but the fact that her determination to learn was incredibly eye opening. I also liked Miss Honey, she was caring and patient and went the extra mile to help Matilda learn.

"My favourite character from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would have to be Willy Wonka. His fantastic acting and inspirational quotes; “Time is a precious thing, never waste it!” “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination” as well as his funny sense of humour made the book and film come to life.  Unfortunately, Gene Wilder, famous for playing Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, recently passed away.”

Joanne: “Two of my favourite Roald Dahl books are; Fantastic Mr Fox - I just remember loving this so much when I was a child and George’s Marvellous Medicine - I read it with my daughter who loved it. It's funny, wicked, but nice”.

Louise: "My favourite books are The Twits and The Witches. Here are some quotes taken from the books that I love:"

“Mr. Twit was a twit. He was born a twit. And, now at the age of sixty, he was a bigger twit than ever.”

“It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.”

Carly: “My favourite was always Matilda, I must have read it 20 times as a child! I felt like I could identify with her being a bit of a bookworm myself and to be honest, who wouldn't want a teacher like Miss Honey?! I remember the first time I read the words 'somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world' and just thinking 'wow'! The BFG was a firm favourite too.”

Helen: “My favourite Roald Dahl book is The Twits. I love how devilishly clever the Twits are when they play tricks on each other. To this day I always check for worms in my spaghetti!”

If you would like to be a creative writer like Roald Dahl and learn about the techniques professional writers use, then why not try out the creative writing courses that NEC offers.
 

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Thursday, 08 September 2016

Questions to ask when shopping around for distance learning courses

Yellow taped note with question marks sketched on it using blue marker

As Autumn is now here, many people are currently looking for the right courses for them. Are you one of these people looking at shopping around?

It can often be difficult to know what types of questions to ask so we’ve put together a series of questions we recommend you to ask other distance learning providers when shopping around for information and guidance. Here are our answers to some of the questions you need to ask:

1. How many assignments does the course have?
This question will help you establish how many opportunities there are to get feedback from your tutor. If you’re looking for a lot of input from your tutor to help you track progress, the more assignments the merrier!

Our answer: It depends on the course. All new gold star A levels have 10 assignments (one for each section) plus an introductory assignment and a marked past paper.

Other courses vary depending on the course and qualification. For example our CMI Management courses have 2 or more assignments per unit which includes an NEC assignment and a CMI assignment.

2. Will I have a named, personal tutor and what qualifications will they have?
This will help you to establish whether you will have an expert guiding you through the course or whether work is marked by a pool of tutors. We think it’s important to have the opportunity to build up a rapport with your tutor, but you may not be looking for this.

Our answer: Yes. Once you’ve enrolled, we will assign a personal tutor for you who will be able to help provide guidance where needed. You’ll receive an email from us with the name of your tutor and they will also introduce themselves. When you log in to learn@nec you can view their profile to look at their experience, background and qualifications. Our tutors are experts in the subject, so you will have one for each course you study with NEC.

Majority of our tutors have a degree in the subject area they are teaching as well as a teaching qualification. All of our tutors have a profile on our learn@nec platform where you can find out more about them. You can also meet some on our website.

3. How can I contact my tutor?
You may have a preference for phone or email, this will help you to establish whether the contact methods on offer will work for you.

Our answer: Tutors are available to contact through the messaging service of learn@nec, email, or by phone. They will let you know their availability for calling and you’ll also be made aware of any dates they’re on holiday.

4. How is coursework dealt with?
This is critical if you are choosing a subject that has coursework. If the course provider cannot deal with the coursework, you might find it difficult to find someone who will and it will almost certainly carry an additional cost.

Our answer: If your course includes a non exam assessment (coursework), there are procedures you need to follow which are laid down in your course materials regarding deadlines, word length and format of work. You must also keep hard copies of all the work you have produced and the assignments you have submitted. This will protect you if your work is lost in the post, or as a result of computer failure. We deal with your coursework internally so we’ll let you know how we need you to submit it.

5. Can you guarantee an exam place and help me to book an exam?
It can sometimes prove difficult to find an exam centre as a private candidate. It can also take quite a lot of time to investigate and look around for a centre, not to mention the admin involved!

Our answer: We have 10 partnership exam centres across the UK where you can sit your exams. You can go to our website to find a list of these centres. If there aren’t any that are convenient for you, we can direct you to a list of other centres which may be able to help. If you choose to sit at one of our partnership centres we’ll take care of the admin. If you book an exam independently we’ll give you guidance on how to do this.

6. Can I see a sample of the course materials? Who writes you course materials?
It’s nice to know what you’re getting and seeing some of the course materials in advance can help you to decide whether distance learning is right for you. Think of your course materials as your ‘teacher’ guiding you through the course.

Our answer: Yes. You can download a course sample from our website. The course samples include the specification details, sample pages from the course materials and an introduction to the course, providing you with information you need to know before enrolling with us.

Our course materials are written by subject matter experts ranging from teachers to examiners and they are designed specifically for independent study. Our course materials are also used by other teaching professionals in the delivery of their own courses.

7. Are there any additional services that NEC provide?

Our answer: We provide a Young Learner’s Service for students who are under 18. Some of the features that are included are; Communication to parent and student to be decided by the parent and learner, a personal course coordinator, a learning plan and a three week deadline for completing the introductory assignment. Other additional services include financial help. We offer students an installment plan to help spread the costs into monthly payments, for a duration of six months. The requirements are you need to be a UK resident, are over 18 and working more than 16 hours per week.

8. Can you provide predicted grades for UCAS applications?
This is an important question if you are studying with the intention of going on to university. Particularly now that A levels are being reformed to be linear, universities will look at predicted grades as a way of making an offer of a place.

Our answer: Yes providing you have completed enough assignments for the tutor to work out a predicted grade.

9. Are there any additional costs that I should be aware of?
You’ll want to know what the overall cost of studying is so that you can make a realistic comparison between services. You also don’t want any nasty surprises later on.

Our answer: Our courses don’t include exam fees, these are separate to the course fee and are paid to the exam centre, or NEC if you sit through one of our partnership centres. Some professional courses require you to register with a professional organisation. NEC will help you with the registration process, but any registration costs are not included in your course fee. These costs will be clearly communicated before you enrol.

10. What are your pass rates?
This will give you an indication of how successful the provider is and maybe an important factor in making your decision.

Our answer: We have a very high pass rate. To give you an example, for the summer 2016 exam session, we received a 100% pass rate for our IGCSEs and GCSEs.

11. How long have you been providing distance learning?
A long history might give you the reassurance that you’re in a safe pair of hands.

Our answer: We’ve been providing distance learning for over 50 years and in 2014 our CEO, Ros Morpeth won an FE Leader of the year award and was also awarded an OBE by Prince Charles for Services to Education in 2015. You can read more about our history and contribution to lifelong learning in the back of our guide to courses.

12. Are your tutors DBS checked? Do you have a safeguarding policy and e-safety advice?
This is something you might be concerned about if you are looking at enrolling your child or children on a distance learning programme to support home education.

Our answer: Tutors who work with young learners are DBS checked. Yes, we have a safeguarding policy and e-safety advice. The e-safety advice is provided to students on learn@nec where there’s a section for you to read about how to stay safe online and the rules of using the forums. We have a safeguarding officer at NEC who’s in charge of making sure safeguarding procedures are put in place and that all staff are trained so they know what to do in the case of an issue. We take this matter very seriously and aim to help our students.

We hope this list will be helpful if you’re shopping around this Autumn. If you’d like to find out more about NEC and the courses that we offer, take a look at our brand new Guide to Courses.

Join the discussion on Twitter: #lifechanginglearning
 

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Thursday, 01 September 2016

Studying at a distance - you’re not alone!

A sign post with many different pointers in the direction of various major cities around the world

What is distance learning?

Distance learning, also known as home-study is a type of study that is available anywhere and anytime of the day - making it more flexible for you without needing to attend school or college. This may take place in the comfort of your own home, office, garden, travelling to and from work - the options are endless provided you have access to the internet. The flexibility provides you with that extra time to work to your own learning plan and working around other commitments such as your career and hobbies.

If I choose to study at a distance does this mean I will be alone?

You may think that if you choose distance learning then this means you’ll be on your own and you won’t receive much support, but that isn’t the case. At NEC, we assign individual tutors to students and our tutors are on hand to help support you for the duration of your course. The flexibility means you can work to your own learning plan and contact your tutor by email or phone. They’re there to answer your questions and to mark assignments.

Where do I sit my exams?

If you study with NEC, we have ten partnership exam centres where you can take your exams. The great thing about sitting your exams at one of our exam centres is that we handle the admin side leaving you with less stress of dealing with the examination bookings.

What are the benefits of distance learning?

Studying through distance learning gives you greater flexibility compared to if you were to attend school or college. There are no deadlines for submitting assignments, which makes it a lot easier to fit in study around work and other commitments. You can study for as many hours as you like, wherever you like (bus, train, garden, home, in your lunch break at work, by the swimming pool - anywhere you have access to the internet). You can even be your own boss and work to your own deadlines and create your own learning plan to adhere to. This style of learning makes it more flexible, approachable and puts less pressure on you to work to timescales, because there are none. You can either complete your course/s in six months, a year or even two years, it’s entirely up to you and by working at your own pace this is achievable. Enrolling on a course/courses also don’t have any deadlines so you can sign up at any time depending on when you wish to sit your exam.

Taking the distance out of distance learning

With today’s technology, distance learning isn’t as distant with the use of forums where you can talk to other students on your course as well as talking to your tutors, meaning it isn’t as daunting and you’re not alone. With the use of online learning, you are able to submit assignments for your tutor to mark and all of your course materials are accessed online as well as some courses offering short quizzes, videos and podcasts.

At NEC, we offer a range of different qualifications such as GCSEs/IGCSEs, A levels, CACHE and CMI which help you on your way to building a successful career. All of our courses are taught online through our learn@nec platform where you have access to forums, submitting your assignments, e-books, quizzes and online materials. We have a new Guide to Courses which you can download for free on our homepage, or if you’d like us to send you a copy via post, please fill out the form request. To stay up to date with the latest about distance learning and to join in the conversation, please use #lifechanginglearning on Twitter.
 

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