Blog: November 2017

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

How does practical non-examination assessment work?

NEC tutor Jane conducting a practical science experiment

For some courses, there is a practical element such as science practical sessions. In our blog this week exams expert Louise talks about how this works for NEC students.

For A level science courses, you’ll need to think about practical work. This is easy to achieve in a conventional school setting, where students spend time with their teachers and the school will usually have its own science laboratories but can be difficult for distance learners, as they are studying remotely.

NEC has been working with awarding organisations to come up with solutions and I want to share with you how we can help you to achieve this.

Although you can opt not to complete the practical endorsement, NEC would always advise you against this. It won’t count towards your final A level result, but it will help you with the examinations and non completion could affect your entry to university. It is essential that you speak with your chosen university in good time to find out what they require as you can’t add on the endorsement at a later date without re-sitting the whole qualification.

Your entering exam centre must give you the opportunity to complete the practical endorsement, whether you decide to complete it or not. The endorsement is made up of 12 practicals which are assessed holistically. Rather than grades, you receive a Pass or Not Classified grade. If you choose to take your exams at a private centre, be sure to ask them to confirm that this includes the practical endorsement and provide you with full fees. If you decide not to complete the endorsement but choose to sit your exams at one of our partnership centres we will need you to sign a declaration to say that you have decided not to take the opportunity to complete.

All NEC students are given the opportunity to take the practical endorsement at four of our partnership centres. You can choose to sit the written exams at the same centre, or another NEC partnership centre of your choosing. All you need to do is fill out the exam application form and we’ll do the rest, making sure you are entered for the correct exams and endorsements and ensuring that we are then able to support you fully.

Even if you decide not to take the practical endorsement the written exams will require you understand the theory of practical work. Your NEC course will help you to get this through specially designed practical work that you can do at home and video and example results. By learning the theory of the practical work throughout your course you’ll be on the right path to gaining the practical endorsement.

Whatever decision you make, entering for your exams through NEC with one of our partnership centres ensures a seamless and stress-free service for you.

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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Why learning is a big issue for the homeless

Cambridge wildlife photographer and Big Issue seller Mark Siequien is bursting with ideas for the small business he wants to set up. Stored on a computer hard drive he has 10,000 images of wild animals in South Africa, taken when he worked as a volunteer at a primate sanctuary two years ago. Mark envisages his images enlivening children’s clothing sold from a stall in Cambridge market, greetings cards in gallery and museum shops, and a website to promote his work. With the help of NEC and Big Issue Invest, Mark is starting to make his ambition become a reality. The future hasn’t always looked as positive for Mark as it does now. After periods of homelessness and struggles with drugs and mental health, he has a place to live. Earlier this year, he married Anita, whom he met in South Africa. Last week, Mark and former Big Issue vendor Harry Bowyer were each presented with bursary to fund courses with NEC. Mark will be studying Business Start-up and Harry is enrolling on Art Techniques.

Social investment in learning

Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue Group, helped finance the work of the NEC via Impact Loans England, a £5 million lending scheme aimed at enabling social enterprises to access loan funding of between £20,000 and £150,000, launched in 2016. The programme is funded through the Growth Fund, which is managed by Access – The Foundation for Social Investment, with funding from Big Lottery Fund and Big Society Capital. Big Issue founder Lord Bird spent several spells in prison as a young man and received his basic education while behind bars. As he explained to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire recently, the status quo isn’t working for people in terms of housing, health, education, and mental well-being. 
NEC argues that when it comes to education, an individual learning entitlement is what would make a difference to homeless people who want to get back on track with their education.

A lifelong learning entitlement

The idea of an individual learning entitlement has been part of education policy thinking since the 1960s, when it was championed by NEC founder Michael Young. The entitlement would be put into a learning account and accessed when the learner was ready to use it. Such an approach would open up lifelong learning and break down the age-related framework which front-loads funding for 19-24 years olds. 

NEC is looking forward to watching Mark and Harry see their confidence grow through learning and new possibilities open up for them. The support hundreds people throughout the UK are receiving from organisations in the not-for-profit sector, including NEC’s work with Big Issue Invest, is challenging the status quo that so troubles Lord Bird. There are thousands more people in the UK like Mark and Harry, just as keen as they are to study for qualifications and take charge of their own futures. A greater emphasis on broadening access to education would be an important step forward for them all.

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Friday, 17 November 2017

Booking exams with NEC

Students taking written exams in an exam room

At NEC we can guarantee our students an exam place at one of our partnership exam centres. In our experience finding an exam centre can take students a lot of time and be quite a difficult process. Entering privately/independently also means NEC aren’t always able to help you with any issues that may arise. With NEC, you just need to fill out a form and we’ll do the rest, leaving you to get on with the important business of learning and preparing for your exams.

We’ve spent years building up strong relationships with our partnership exam centres which means we can react quickly when any problems arise and we know that you’ll receive a professional service from them on exam day. You’ve got enough to think about so we’ll worry about that part for you!

If you’re planning to sit your exams in the summer next year (2018) you’ll need to make your exam booking by January. Remember, if you have any non-exam assessment to do, you’ll have deadlines for this too. We’ll keep you up-to-date and make sure you get reminders when final dates are approaching. We always recommend making your booking sooner rather than later.

As an exam centre ourselves, we understand how the process of exam booking works. You can be confident that you’ll get the right papers and all the information you’ll need to make exam day run smoothly. 

In fact, the only thing we can’t do for you, is sit the exam!

If you have special access requirements, such as extra time or use of a laptop, we’ll work with you and the exam centre to see what is possible. You’ll need documents that support evidence of need. Documents in support of the candidate’s claim must be in the form of a full assessment report and written evidence from an educational establishment, listing the special access arrangements required and your normal way of working.

We’ve got a number of partnership exam centres across the UK. You can view them on our exams page, which also includes a handy map.

If you’re outside of the UK and need to come here to the UK, choosing an NEC partnership centre is a sensible choice. Not only will we take the administration off your hands, we know the areas that our centres are located and can advise you on getting there and finding somewhere to stay.

If you want to take advantage of NEC’s seamless exam booking service, you can find full details and an application for in the ‘About Assessment’ section of your course on learn@nec. You can also get in touch if you have any questions and we’ll be happy to help.

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Wednesday, 01 November 2017

Five barriers to achieving GCSEs and A level qualifications that need to be removed to open the doors for distance learners

 #speakupforAdultEd #adulteducation

Education policy makers and the organisations that make up England’s exam infrastructure rarely give a second thought to independent learners taking GCSEs and A levels under their own steam. As an organisation working with distance learners every day, NEC knows that a small number of changes could make a big difference to thousands of people and help the government make progress in achieving its higher education and skills objectives.

On the final day of the 2017 Festival of Learning, organised by the Learning and Work Institute, NEC is speaking up for adult learners. The practical solutions we are advocating will benefit all learners who are studying at a distance, including young people being educated at home. As the annual celebration of the achievements of thousands of adult learners across the country comes to an end, here’s our five-point plan for addressing the barriers distance learners face to taking GCSE and A level exams as private candidates.

Barrier 1 - Finding an exam centre willing to accept private candidates

Private candidates studying GCSEs and A levels often struggle to find an exam centre in a school or college that will allow them to sit their exams alongside other students.
The solution: exam boards should be required to work together to sponsor and operate fairly-priced open exam centres for all students not studying at a school or college who want to sit GCSEs and A levels.

Barrier 2 - The cost of entering for A level science practical endorsements

As well as paying out of their own pocket for their course and exam fees, private candidates studying science A levels also have to pay several hundred pounds per subject to take the practical endorsement. For students taking two or three science A levels, the costs are eye watering.

The solution: the proposed open exam centres offer science practical endorsements for biology, chemistry and physics, with government bursaries available to help students fund the cost.

Barrier 3 - Exam centre requirements for candidates who need access arrangements

Supporting document requirements for exam centres that make entries for private candidates in need of access arrangements are obtuse, hard for candidates to understand and, in some cases, difficult to acquire. The accommodations learners need are not always available at exam centres. As a result, the centres cannot accept their entry.

The solution: candidates needing access arrangements would be better accommodated in the proposed open exam centres.

Barrier 4 - Publication of exam results

The exam results of people who sit GCSEs and A levels each year as private candidates are not published separately from the results of young people studying at school or college. This makes it hard for both providers and exam boards to plan for them.

The solution: exam boards should be required to report separately on the results of people who enter the exams as private candidates alongside the results of candidates from schools and colleges.

Barrier 5 – The status of AS levels

AS level results no longer contribute to a student’s final A level grade which means the decision to take an A level is significant both in terms of financial investment and time commitment for students fitting in study with a career or caring responsibilities.

The solution: a return to the modular system of AS and A levels so a student’s AS level result can contribute to their A level result and they can enrol first for AS level and subsequently for A level. This would also encourage students to be more adventurous in their choice of subjects.

Louise Tolhurst, NEC’s exam expert says: ‘Despite the barriers, we know from NEC’s experience that our students perform well as their exam results often exceed the national outcome. This is a tribute to their hard work and determination. NEC prides itself on providing a seamless exam service for students through a network of dedicated exam partnership centres. We are committed to campaigning to remove the barriers for all students, wherever they are.’

Why does it matter?

The government’s success in widening participation in higher education by people over the age of 21, and halting the 40 per cent decline since 2010 in the number of students studying part-time in higher education, relies on adults who have left compulsory education being able to access the qualifications they need to progress further in education and at work without having to confront barriers that for many act as a deterrent to enrolling.

Removing barriers to accessing GCSEs and A levels would also help increase the numbers of people studying STEM subjects and contribute to the government’s targets for recruiting teachers and nurses.

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