Thursday, 05 October 2017

Teachers, technology and the future of learning

Woman wearing an augmented reality headset

This week’s blogger is former NEC GCSE English student Naila Din. Now a freelance arts advisor and business coach, Naila turned to teaching as a second career after studying graphic design at university and working as a graphic designer in the world of web design before embarking on a career in education. Her enthusiasm for education and the integration of technology into the classroom prompted her to further develop her knowledge in this field with a Masters in Digital Media, with a particular focus on the future of education. This blog post is the first of two about the impact of technology in the classroom and looks at what technology means for teachers. The next post, which will look at the impact of technology on students, will be published in the new year.

Whether we teachers like it or not, technology has firmly established itself in the classroom and education is evolving fast as a result. Rapid technological change puts pressure on teachers to redefine their role as they must continue to be students themselves throughout their teaching career if they are to be fully effective practitioners.

Many, perhaps most, teachers are in an unfamiliar place, with little idea where technology is going to take us next in education and what systemic impact it will have. What’s more, we are pretty much in the dark when it comes to understanding the world we are preparing our students for once they leave compulsory education.

We take it as read that technology dominates the lives of students when they are outside the classroom. Virtually every student in secondary school, college and university carries one or more personal devices with them. The numbers of pupils in primary school with a smart phone is growing. From the age of two or three, children are proficient users of i-pads, with their intuitive learning platform.

One thing we can be sure of is that the degree to which teachers embrace technology varies across the education sector. Why is that? A 2008 study by Baek, Youngkyun Jung, Jaeyeob, Kim and Bokyeong in Korea demonstrated that external factors influence the extent to which teacher integrate technology into their classroom practice. The researchers found that many educators are reluctant to experiment with technology, a reluctance that is more pronounced the older they are. The study also shows that the strength of teachers’ desire to appear competent, cooperative and conforming to technology standards is a strong determiner of the extent to which they integrate technology into their classroom practice.

Many teachers continue to see technology as a teaching tool that helps students communicate in a learning environment and gives them a means to demonstrate their learning. However, educational institutions that aim to give teachers training in technologies for learning with the aim of them being always on top of relevant technological developments are fighting a losing battle (an expensive one), such is the speed at which technology is evolving.

So on what principles should schools, colleges and universities base their approach to technology for learning? These are the two I would propose above all others.

First, the creation of a flexible learning environment that enables teachers and students to be partners in learning.

Second, a shift in thinking about the dynamics of the teacher-student relationship to one that encourages innovation rather than conformity, and recognises the importance of emotional intelligence in collaborating to achieve a shared goal.

This is tough in a sector in which team work is liable to be viewed as cheating. It demands recognition by educators that learning be seen as a series of challenges rather than a cycle of lessons. Such an approach enables gaming technology to assess the progress of individual students, making possible differentiation of teaching, for example. Games-based learning can already record and report on students’ engagement and progress in real time on digital tablets, including the monitoring of students’ eye movements.

Gone is the option students once had of being passive receivers of instruction. Increasingly, technologies such as augmented reality are placing teachers in the role of facilitator rather than educator. As a result, continuing professional development for teachers must begin to include as standard coaching and mentoring skills to support students in thinking creatively, with the emphasis placed on how to think rather than what to think, a theme I discuss in 21st century teaching: what and how to think, a previous blog post I wrote for NEC.

Under this pedagogic model, students cannot be other than active agents in their own learning. Children starting school in 2017 will reach retirement age somewhere around 2084. No futurologist can tell us in detail what the future looks like for that generation, or for their teachers. One thing we can say for certain is that adaptability to change will be vital for teachers and students alike.

Current comments: 0
Thursday, 28 September 2017

How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?

NEC CEO Dr Ros Morpeth, NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner
Today's blog was written by NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury, pictured here (centre) with NEC Chief Executive Ros Morpeth (left) and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner (right)

How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?

There was a 24% drop in applications from mature students, defined as those over the age of 21, to study at undergraduate level in the 2017 UCAS cycle, according to a House of Commons’ briefing paper published in June on higher education student numbers. This is coupled with a 56% fall in part-time participation in higher education since 2010, a trend which disproportionately affects mature students (Higher Education Statistics Agency).

At NEC, we know there is no lack of ambition to study at higher level among adults beyond the standard undergraduate age of 18 to 21. Of the thousands of students from across the UK and beyond who enrol with us, 56% state that their motivation for studying is to go on to further and higher education. So what’s going wrong?

Reversing the decline

NEC’s is one of the voices campaigning to reverse the decline in the number of students studying part-time. For example, we are collaborating with the Open University to remove barriers for adults who want to continue studying, formalising our joint work with a recently renewed memorandum of understanding.

Figures published in September in the Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 show that at some universities, including the OU, Birkbeck, Wrexham Glyndŵr, London Metropolitan and Suffolk, mature students make up over half of the undergraduate intake. When compared with other higher education institutions, these universities also admit a high proportion of pupils from state schools.

Conversely, Loughborough, St Andrews, the London School of Economics, Imperial and Bath are amongst the universities taking in the lowest number of mature students. Bath, at the bottom of the list, takes in only 2.2%. As Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education states: “The downward trend in mature student numbers is now one of the most pressing issues in fair access to higher education...universities and colleges should look to do what they can to reverse the decline in mature student applications, as a matter of urgency.”

Why universities are missing out

As an organisation with over 50 years expertise in distance learning, NEC has countless student stories to tell that show just how much some universities are missing out on by failing to recruit mature applicants. Here are just two of them, both about students who took A levels with NEC this summer and who are now starting undergraduate courses in STEM subjects.

Robert studied A level Physics with the NEC and is studying for an engineering degree at the Open University. He is in the process of changing careers, from RAF aircraft technician to engineer in the aerospace industry.

Ellena studied A level biology, achieving a grade A. In her mid-twenties, she has exchanged working as a receptionist at a London law firm for life as a full-time pharmacy student at Nottingham University.

The case for life-long learning

Last week, NEC presented the case for lifelong learning to Daniel Zeichner MP, who represents the university city of Cambridge. We talked to him about the barriers that currently face adults learners. One is finance. Changes to student finance in the higher education reforms of 2011 that mean students have to borrow to fund their fees and maintenance rather than receiving a grant, and loans for maintenance support for part-time study have only become available through the Student Loans Company from academic year 2017/18. A second is ELQ [Equivalent and Lower Qualification] rules prevent graduates from receiving a student loan for a second degree if they have studied earlier in life at undergraduate level. A third is disability and long-term illness. A fourth is confidence and motivation.

What we also highlighted are the many opportunities to bring about positive change. For examples, the 2016 Adult Learner Survey, a Research Report commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education (APPG), found that 51% of respondents thought that hearing from others who had already completed a course at whatever level would attract others to enrol themselves.

An achievable goal

Along with other organisations encouraging adults to study beyond the age of compulsory education, at NEC we give learners a voice by publishing their stories in the media and on our social media channels. We reach out to adults through partnerships with organisations like the Prisoners’ Education Trust and the Workers Education Association.

We believe that universities have a responsibility to devise imaginative approaches to attracting mature students, and to devise them quickly. It is encouraging that the new Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has given his support to the creation of a national system of Learning Accounts, an approach to funding lifelong learning which we have always supported. What’s needed next is cross-party support in the form of a commitment to fund lifelong learning and to stand up for private candidates studying under their own team and without the support of a college or school.

The United Nations’ fourth sustainable development goal reads: ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’ The UK hasn’t achieved that goal yet but we are convinced that with continued campaigning by organisations giving adult learners a voice, commitment from across the political spectrum, and creative thinking by the higher education sector, it is achievable.

Rea Duxbury

Rea worked with NEC as a marketing intern this summer and has now returned to the University of Cambridge, where she is studying in her final year for a degree in human, social and political sciences. Look out for Rea’s next blog on her experience as an intern.

Current comments: 0
Friday, 22 September 2017

Making the most of your tutor

Student communication with tutor online

Making the most of your tutor

Your tutor will be the person most closely involved with your work on your course, guiding your studies and giving you feedback. Your tutor will be an experienced teacher who knows your course and subject extremely well and who has helped many other students succeed. We’ll look at how you can make the most of the support your tutor can offer you.

What support can your tutor give you?

It is important to be clear about the kind of support your tutor can give you. Read the next case study for some ideas before you do the activity which follows.

Case study:
Kevin is 19. He talks about the support he received from his tutor when he was working on his A levels in Geography and Economics. ‘Working on my own has meant that I’ve really relied on my tutor for support and motivation. When I first enrolled for my A levels she contacted me by email to introduce herself and she sent me a few background details about herself, just so I could picture her better. She has actually written an economics textbook and I was a bit daunted at first about sending her anything. But she is really good at giving me helpful comments without talking down to me. She’s not afraid to point out something that I have got wrong but she does it in a constructive way, showing me how I can get it right next time. When I do something well, she always says so and also explains to me why she thought it was good so that I can try that again. It’s no good getting a good mark if you don’t understand why.’

Think about the kinds of support you might want from your tutor in the next activity.

What support do you think you might need from your tutor?

Tick the boxes in the list below to help you decide on the types of support you need.

1 ☐ Encourage you to get going
2 ☐ Help motivate you to keep going
3 ☐ Comment on your assignments and other coursework
4 ☐ Help you organise your time
5 ☐ Help you make the most of your strengths
6 ☐ Recommend useful books and guide your choice of reading
7 ☐ Recommend useful websites
8 ☐ Suggest ways in which you can improve your work
9 ☐ Advise you on how to tackle your next assignment
10 ☐ Provide references for university or college applications

Tutors can provide all these different kinds of support. Identifying the kinds of support you will need from your tutor will help you develop a more useful relationship with him or her, because you will know what you want and your tutor will be able to focus on your needs.

Don’t be afraid to ask your tutor for help. Tutors want to help you make the most of your studies, so feel free to:

  • keep notes while you are working so that you have a list of queries for them next time you contact them – you can ask them questions about any aspect of your study 
  • contact them if you don’t understand their feedback or comments on your work
  • contact them if you have a query, even if you haven’t completed an assignment or piece of coursework. However, you need to be realistic about how much support you can expect. Tutors are paid to support you but not 24 hours a day! If you are contacting them too much they will let you know politely. When you enrol for your course you will be told how much support you can expect from your tutor.

When you receive feedback or comments from your tutor, you can make the most of it by: 

  • reading back over your work alongside the comments 
  • reading the comments again before you start your next assignment or piece of coursework making notes of common mistakes in a separate notebook so that you can avoid repeating the same mistakes.

This is an excerpt from ‘How to Succeed as an independent learner’ a resource available free to all NEC students. As well as making the most of your tutor, it covers topics such as developing your memory, concentration, managing stress and using action plans.

Current comments: 0
Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Do you have to be at school to study a GCSE?

 "Study a GCSE wherever you want, whenever you want."

You don’t have to be at school to study a GCSE

With Autumn just around the corner, it’s time to consider your study options. The good news is, you don’t have to be at school to study a GCSE. NEC courses are studied online, giving you the flexibility to study exactly where and when you like. There’s a wide number of subjects to choose from too, including all of the essential subjects such as maths, English and science, as well as some of the less common ones such as psychology and sociology.

Over the last couple of weeks, of course, GCSE students across the country have received their GCSE results, including those studying with NEC. This year is the first time that new specifications with numerical grading were examined for maths and English. We’re delighted to announce that 100% of NEC students who sat the new exams passed!

Who wants to study for a GCSE once they’ve left school?

NEC students choose to study for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the reasons they gave us in a recent survey. 40% said that they planned to go onto higher education, a further 15% were planning further education of some kind and 35% were looking to change career or to get a job.

Two of the careers mentioned most often were nursing and teaching. you need maths and English GCSE at grade C or grade 4 or above to be allocated a place. The flexibility of studying with NEC and the tutor support from a subject specialist were the main reasons students chose to study with NEC. If you’re thinking about a career in nursing or teaching, take a look at our free career tracks guides. They’re packed full of practical information for people thinking about becoming a teacher of a nurse.

One such student is Andrew Greenwood. Working in a primary school in Hampshire as a learning support assistant convinced 28-year old Andrew that teaching was the right career for him. Although he has a first degree in psychology, he needed a GCSE in a science subject at grade C or grade 4 to study for a teaching degree. Studying for an IGCSE in Combined Science prompted him to rethink his career plans. With a grade B under his belt, Andrew is off to do a doctorate in psychology. He plans to spend almost half his time as a postgraduate student treating children and adolescents. Once he has completed his doctorate, he intends to return to working with children, as an educational psychologist, for example, or working with CAMHS, the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

You may be planning to home educate and looking for an alternative way to gain GCSE qualifications, like Mairéad who received her results yesterday.

16-year old Mairéad Sherry, who lives in County Down, Northern Ireland, has been home educated since the age of four. She has good reason to be proud of what she’s achieved so far through distance learning with NEC. On top of the three A* for the IGCSE exams she took this summer, for Combined Science, English Language and French, she was awarded two A*s last year, for IGCSE Maths Higher and Geography, and a B for IGCSE Business Studies. Mairéad’s experience of distance learning has been so positive that she’s already enrolled for Maths, French and Biology A levels with NEC and will start studying again in September, She has her sights set on university.

Whatever your reasons for study, rest assured that you don’t have to be at school to study a GCSE. If you’re inspired by Andrew or Mairéad to enrol on a GCSE this Autumn, get in touch with NEC’s expert course advice team. We’ll be happy to help.

Current comments: 0
Thursday, 17 August 2017

2017 A level results day: The impact of A level reforms

Today's blog is from NEC’s exams and assessment expert, Louise where she reflects on the first exams for the new linear A levels.

Up and down the country A level students are receiving their exam results today. They’ll find out whether or not their hard work has paid off and for more than half a million students, whether they have secured their place at university (Source: BBC News).

Among these will be students who have studied through NEC, perhaps entering for exams at one of our 13 partnership exams centres. NEC students are as diverse as the range of courses they choose, from young people being home educated, to adults looking for a mid-life career change. One’s thing is for certain though, we’re inspired by each and every one of them and want to see them succeed.

This year is a results day with a difference. It’s the first time that the new linear A levels for 13 subjects  have been examined. What this means is that students will be relying entirely on the results they get today to determine their future, where previously the AS would have contributed to the final grade.

It’s also the first time the science subjects have had the practical elements of the course decoupled and reported separately.

These changes were brought about in order to make A levels more ‘fit for purpose’ (or as this has been interpreted by many, more difficult). It has been widely reported that this change has been stressful for students and educators alike. As NEC’s exams and assessment expert I have seen a lot of concern from our exam centres, from students and from teachers. Today we’ll start to see what the results of these changes have been.

The Guardian have reported this morning that overall, for the first time in six years, there has been an increase in top grades. The same cannot be said for the new-style A levels however, where they are reporting a drop in top grades.

It’s still too early to tell what the impact of the A level reforms has been, but we’ll all be watching this space closely.

To any NEC student getting their results today, do get in touch and share your #examsuccess with us on Twitter at @nec_home_study or send us an email. If you have any questions about your results, either call us or send an email and we’ll be happy to help you.

Louise Tolhurst
NEC Exams and Assessment

Current comments: 0
Friday, 28 July 2017

Home education: education’s disruptive brand

Home educator Linda Baldwin

Today's NEC Blog is a guest post by Linda Baldwin. Linda has been working for the specialist part-time and flexible recruiter Capability Jane since 2008 and has also been a home educator since 2010 when she and her husband Mark legally de-registered their son Sam from primary school. Neither of them are qualified teachers, but at least one of them has been able to work from home since making this decision, facilitating a child-led home schooling education plan. Now they have reached the milestone of GCSE examinations, Linda reflects upon the decision they made almost seven years ago.

‘Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition and rejecting the way things are supposed to be.’ That’s the view of business entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson.

Home education is considered by education traditionalists to be a somewhat subversive movement. In the world of business and technology, however, disruption and rebellion are encouraged and celebrated - think Uber and Airbnb, which in less than a decade have shaken up the two everyday consumer service industries of taxis and short-term lets. Disruptive brands are intrepid, dynamic and bold, challenging norms and offering alternative lifestyle choices. From my perspective as a home educator, ‘disruptive’ is the perfect description of home education.

An education ‘third way’

When our son was nine years old we removed him from school and began a home-based education. Our decision was driven by seeing our formerly bright and sociable child becoming anxious and withdrawn, and with a debilitating stammer which necessitated weekly speech therapy. Combined with yet another parents’ evening of platitudes and very little to show for his last term of work, we could no longer ignore the alarm bells.

In January 2017, the BBC reported: ‘According to the latest school census, in 2016 there were 17,780 state secondary school children in 2016 being taught in classes with 36 or more pupils. This is the highest number for a decade.’ In 2016 The Guardian reported that ‘More than half a million (primary) children are being taught in “super-size” classes of more than 30 pupils as overstretched primary schools struggle to cope with the surge in demand for places.’ Home education is becoming a ‘third way’, an alternative to an education in the state system’s overcrowded classrooms or the privileged halls of the independent sector. The state system has been a disappointment to many while independent schools are affordable only to a minority of families.

From ‘unschooling’ to GCSEs and A levels

Our home-schooling journey began with a period of ‘unschooling’. Our son quickly developed new interests and began to flourish; his stammer retreated and his confidence returned. After a few months we decided to explore the national curriculum using key stage books purchased online. We gave him free choice, and in the Montessori style of learning, he explored just one subject at a time until he felt ready to move on to something new. He struggled with writing manually, so used a laptop instead.

When he was 15 he felt ready to start working towards GCSEs. As parents we applied no pressure on him to sit formal exams. The decision has been his alone, and so empowered, he has been highly motivated and fully committed to studying.

Today our son is 17. I am proud of the well-balanced, sociable and mature young adult he has become. He has just completed GCSE exams in English, psychology, sociology and law as a private external candidate at a friendly and accommodating independent school near where we live. He used a laptop for every exam and can type accurately at over 200 characters per minute.

Next year he plans to sit his GCSE in mathematics with the help of NEC, alongside A levels in psychology, sociology and law. He hopes to go on to study forensic psychology at university.

I believe that the future for home education is one of enormous growth. With distance learning providers such as NEC, it is an affordable solution for families for whom the alternatives are no longer a viable option. So many additional learning resources are easily accessible, and many are free, online and interactive.

Find out more about home education
NEC Brief Guides: Home educating your child
NEC Home Educator's Guide to Choosing GCSEs and A Levels
Education Otherwise
Ed Yourself
Home Education Advisory Service
Home Education in the UK
Home Education UK

Current comments: 0
Thursday, 13 July 2017

NEC learner stories: Julia Wix

NEC learner Julia Wix

NEC learner Julia is keen to challenge the widely held view that young people educated at home lack the resilience built up by those who have been part of a school community. In today's NEC Blog, we are sharing her story. We are also currently working on a new guide to support home educating families to be published later in the year — keep an eye on our website for updates!

In 2016, at the age of 30, Julia Wix returned to Cambridge after travelling the world as an employee of travel and accommodation site The online company works with over one million hotels around the world. Her first job with the Dutch company was in a call centre in the UK, helping customers dissatisfied with their online experience.

Later, based in the company’s Amsterdam headquarters, she got to grips with analysing training needs, designing wikis (a website or database developed collaboratively by a community of users), managing training workshops and hosting webinars. She ending up as a global training specialist designing development programmes for the company’s employees across Europe, the USA and the Far East.

A desire to return to the UK led to her current role, at Cambridge Network, a not-for-profit membership organisation established 20 years ago. One of her key projects there is the School for Scale-Ups, a skills programme for leaders of rapidly growing businesses such as computer programming innovator Raspberry Pi. Although she was recruited for her training expertise, the organisation offers employees the variety that is one of the hallmarks of working in a small, locally focussed team. Julia might be helping a growing business designing a skills training programme one day and hosting a networking event for local high-tech businesses the next.

Globe-trotting hasn’t just been a feature of Julia’s working life. It had a starring role in her teenage years too. Her father was offered a six-month contract in Belgium and the family went to live there. The six months became several years and a flexible solution was needed for Julia’s schooling. When Julia left formal education at the age of 15, her parents turned to home education for their academically able and ambitious daughter. They found NEC through home education connections and an internet search.

The freedom to learn as she chose, liberated from the constraints of a classroom and the demands of peer pressure, suited Julia down to the ground. She describes herself as self-taught in GCSE maths, and A level classical civilisation, government and politics, French, and English language and literature. She studied and took exams in all five subjects through NEC. Her grades won her a place to study for a BA in Classical & Archaeological Studies with French at the University of Kent. As well as pursuing her passion for ancient Persia in the university library, she spent at year working in a high school in Quebec teaching

English as a foreign language for the British Council, improving her French, learning how she learnt best and learning how to teach others.

Despite having been diagnosed with dyslexia shortly before going to university, Julia was awarded a first class honours degree and in 2010 went on to study for a Masters in Ancient History at King's College London, achieving a merit.

When she looks back on her childhood, Julia sees her impassioned watching of historical documentaries, and her enthusiasm for visits to museums, stately homes and heritage sites as early signs of the direction her academic interests would eventually take.

Julia is keen to challenge the widely held view that young people educated at home lack the resilience built up by those who have been part of a school community. She believes that people who have been home schooled enter adult life with the confidence that comes from knowing they have succeeded in doing something differently. What’s more, home education gives young people a wide range of skills, including managing their time and managing their money, that prepare them for adult life. She cites the home educated American actress and internet star Felicia Day, who describes her experience of home education in her book ‘You’re never weird on the internet (almost)’.

‘Classical civilisation A level wasn’t offered by the last school I went to,’ says Julia. It’s down to NEC that I was able to go to university, and that I studied the subject I have loved since being a child. Flexibility of subject choice is one of the big benefits of studying for exams through distance learning. I’m sure my life would have taken a very different course without NEC.’

Current comments: 0
Thursday, 22 June 2017

21st century teaching: what and how to think

NEC alumnus Naila Din

This week’s blogger is former NEC GCSE English student Naila Din. Now a freelance arts advisor, Naila turned to teaching as a second career after studying graphic design at university and working as a graphic designer. She is a qualified secondary school teacher and was fast-tracked to the leadership role of director of specialism at a school in East Anglia. 20 years after Naila studied with NEC, teaching is still one of the most popular career choices for NEC students. In this blog post, published to coincide with the launch of NEC’s Career Tracks – Teaching, Naila reflects on what her experience as a graphic designer has enabled her to bring to students.

I never really appreciated just how valuable teaching skills and a teaching qualification are until I became a teacher myself. That’s even more the case when you’re teaching the arts. Because in our subject area, students are given the freedom to express themselves and explore their feelings. Taught effectively, they are doing nothing less than discovering their own identity. What I would like to share in this blog post is just how valuable the arts are in adding value to the lives of students of all ages.

The value of second career teachers

In the 21st century, teachers who come to teaching as a second career have a great deal to offer students in an academic setting learning to make sense of the world — as well as adults determined to improve their lives and understand the ever-changing global employment market.

Becoming a teacher was absolutely the best thing I could have ever done. I made the decision to go into the teaching profession after a successful career as a graphic designer and website designer. I began as a full-time teacher in the state sector, successfully applying for a teacher training place once I had studied GCSE English with NEC to improve the grade she got at school.

I’m certain I had more to offer my students because of what I had done before becoming a teacher. I knew what was happening in the creative industries and in the job market. Students valued being able to talk to a member of staff familiar with the mobile technologies they were using at home and at school to express and develop their ideas.

What the arts bring to education

Catering for each student individually is a challenge for all teachers. But if we want our students to be secure about their own identities and beliefs, it’s what we must do. The arts enable me to be responsive to my students’ unique needs.

Obtaining a teaching qualification opened the door to employment opportunities for my students in a knowledge economy. From this perspective, graphic design comes into its own. In the school in East Anglia where I taught, it was a hugely popular subject with boys. They wanted to work with computers and software, grasp the opportunity to explore disruptive materials like spray-can paints, and use digital technology to make models. Fine art would not have been as successful in fulfilling their need for experimentation.

The language of choice for students

It wasn't until I came across NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) that I made the decision to take my teaching career in new direction, and one in which I believed I could have an even greater impact on the lives of young people. NLP showed me how through simple language I could help my students take greater responsibility and ownership of what they wanted for their lives. Most importantly, NLP enables them to ask themselves why they are making the choices they are making.

Working with my daughter, I began offering schools and colleges the 21st Century Leadership Program, a series of modules that prepare students for the world outside education, tailor-made for each of the schools we work with. The four modules cover emotional intelligence, health and wellness, leadership, and social media awareness.

The assessment of the programme shows just how much appetite there is for knowledge of this kind as students embark on independent lives as 21st century citizens. When young people are able to collaborate with educators and offer their peers a vehicle which empowers them, we start to see happier and more confident young people leaving the safety of the education system knowing not just what to think, but how to think.

Current comments: 0
Thursday, 15 June 2017

Learning Latin

Latin text on parchment

This week’s blog is written by NEC tutor Ed and introduces a brand new course which will be available for enrolment next week—Latin: A Course for Beginners! Ed is our lead tutor in Economics, Classical Civilisation and Latin. Ed studied Classics at Trinity College Dublin and then at Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, where he conducted research into the narrative technique of Greek epic; he later studied economics and linguistics at the Open University.

So you have the chance to learn Latin, should you take it?

Believe me, this is one opportunity not to be missed. I’m biased, of course, and bear that in mind if you read on. I can honestly say, as I look back over the six decades of my life so far, that learning Latin (and Greek) and being able to read the literature in the original has been the most rewarding and enriching experience of my life. If you’re interested in literature, of any kind, literature that excites the imagination, strikes awe into the soul and invites you into some of the most fantastic minds ever to record their thoughts in words, it’s all there. Vergil, Catullus, Cicero, Tacitus, Livy: these are incomparable writers. Since the Penguin Classics series was introduced in 1946 we’ve all had the opportunity to read good, inexpensive translations, but by heaven when you know the original you see so much more.

NEC’s new course, Latin: A Course for Beginners, is aimed at those who wish to read Latin texts in the original, and after the halfway point you will be doing just that. Unlike some modern courses, there’s no pussyfooting or trying to make it easy. Latin is not easy, and this course will require consistent effort. But because it is thorough, and to a large extent ‘traditional’, it gives the learner an excellent, solid foundation upon which to build language skills and tackle the texts in their original form.

There are, of course, other good reasons for learning Latin. It really helps your thinking skills. It’s quite unlike English, so understanding it, making sense of its word order and unravelling its sometimes amazingly long sentences (one of Cicero’s speeches opens with a sentence that is a page long!) is marvellous training in abstract thinking and comprehension. Much of the publicity about people who worked on code breaking at Bletchley Park during the Second World War goes to the mathematicians (as in the recent movie The Imitation Game) but there were also many classicists there, including two of the professors who taught me.

If you’re focusing on other humanities subjects, Latin is an enriching companion. Shakespeare and Milton, for example, drew extensively on their knowledge of Latin literature. History, philosophy, theology: the foundational ideas of these subjects are often based on works written in Latin. You may know that Newton’s famed Principia was written in Latin.

So, if you want a challenging, intellectually satisfying, life-enhancing opportunity, studying Latin is it. I told you I was biased!

If you would like to know more about this upcoming course, get in touch and speak to our Course Advice Team. You can email us at, call us free from any UK landline on 0800 389 2839, or send us a message via our website’s Live Chat. We can also be found on social networks including Twitter and Facebook. Latin: A Course for Beginners will be available for online enrolment next week.

Current comments: 0
Friday, 09 June 2017

Are more students now choosing to study vocationally specific degrees?

NEC team member Simone

Today’s NEC Blog is written by team member Simone, herself a recent graduate and more than familiar with the choices students find themselves having to make. She has this to say about her own experiences: ‘My own degree as a recent graduate was in American Literature and Creative Writing, at which point my Computer Science friends made jokes about poor, starving artists and my parents asked me if I was going to write articles about how I didn’t have a job. So far, I am neither starving nor unemployed and I loved my course. I have friends who are now physiotherapists, teachers, data scientists and funeral proofreaders. Your degree subject is an important choice, but it is equally important to know that your future success, fame or happiness does not hinge on this single decision.’

The variety of degree courses now offered by universities is continuously growing and ranges from the traditional academic options such as the STEM subjects, history and literature to more vocationally specific degrees like physiotherapy and accounting. With so many choices available, student debt up and the graduate job market down, the pressure to make the right decision can be overwhelming and stressful for many learners going on to the next steps of their studies.

At NEC, we were curious whether the combined rise in tuition fees and changes in graduate job markets were influencing students to study more vocationally specific degrees which directly train students for a job once they have graduated, over traditional academic subjects which focus more on transferable skills and critical scholarship.

Popularity contests

A 2015 BBC article compared the most popular degree courses from 2007 to 2014 to try to answer this question, noting that “English, for example, lost around 10% of its applications in 2012 [when the tuition fees were raised] and has not been able to fully recover the lost ground since.” By comparison, it claimed that nursing had seen the biggest growth in applicants, with psychology and law taking the second and third spots in admissions numbers.

However, while the willingness to invest in a literature degree may have dropped, the most popular degree choices have not changed significantly since tuition fees increased. In 2011, the Telegraph claimed that the most popular course was nursing, followed by business management, design studies, law and psychology. In 2012, according to the Telegraph, business management courses were the most popular, followed by law, design and computer science degrees. In 2016, the most popular course was rated as physiotherapy, again followed by law, psychology and business.

While the Telegraph does not represent all degree choices across the UK, as it is based on users who searched for courses with the Telegraph course finder, a 2016 Source Magazine article which used UCAS data to inform its top 10 list found similar results.

This evidence would suggest that the high cost of tuition fees and the changing job market may indeed be influencing more students to select vocational degrees or job specific academic subjects like law and psychology. However, it also highlights that these courses were already an appealing option for many learners.

Vocational courses are popular degrees for a number of reasons, beyond the fact that they train a student directly for a workplace environment. For example, the NHS previously offered bursaries for physiotherapy and other health courses which lead to professional registration, offsetting the student loan – although as of 2017 this funding has been decreased.

Vocational and less traditional degrees are also becoming more respected by educators and employers, which may encourage a larger number of students to view them as a credible option.

So which option should you take?

It is a common assumption that some qualifications are more likely to lead to well-paying graduate jobs than others. Degrees in medicine/dentistry, engineering and accounting are considered to be more financially lucrative compared to creative arts and humanities qualifications. You could argue that psychology and law straddle the two – they are both academic and job-specific subjects, with strong starting salaries. So should you study one of these?

Unfortunately, there is no cheat sheet for the job lotteries or life.

Admissions departments are in general seeing more students apply for Higher Education degrees than ever before, despite the high cost of tuition and the dips in the graduate market. Moreover, market data suggests that graduates increasingly end up working outside of the fields they studied. Your degree subject is an important choice, but it is equally important to know that your future success, fame or happiness does not hinge on this single decision.

While vocational degrees seem to be winning in the polls against many academic subjects, there is no sure way of knowing what the future will bring.

But whatever you choose...

NEC offers a range of A level, GCSE, business and book-keeping courses to support you in your decision, whether you want to learn new skills to make you stand out from the job market crowd, get back into studying or are considering a change in career entirely. We have also launched a series of NEC Career Tracks guides, the first of which focuses on Nursing and is available to download for free.

You can find more information on the course pages on our website, or you can get in touch and speak to our team. We can also be found on social networks including Twitter and Facebook.

Current comments: 0