Thursday, 19 December 2013

Celebrating success

The right course at the right time can change your life

The opportunity to study by distance learning can really make a difference to people. Whether it be for an A level or an IGCSE, a vocational qualification or something just for fun, being able to study around other commitments or without having to attend face-to-face classes is the only possible way for some. At NEC this is at the heart of what we do, and working here it is difficult not to be inspired by some of the amazing people we support and the great things they go on to achieve.

We told you recently about partnerships we have formed with 3 charities, to provide bursaries to disadvantaged students in our blog NEC tutor’s lifelong learning legacy. On Friday last week I was lucky enough to see  this in action at an event held by Crisis the homeless charity called the ‘Celebration of Success’. I was invited to say a few words about the bursaries available at an event they hold each year to celebrate the successes of their members, and I want to share with you my experience of what was an inspirational and moving day.

The first thing that was clear is how important this annual celebration is to Crisis members. It was standing room only, and the excitement in the air was electric. Several members of the Crisis team spoke, including CEO Lesley Morphy. We heard all about the cafe, and how it is educating members not only to help them move into the catering industry, but also teaching them about seasonal produce and healthy eating.

We also heard how the private renting campaign is helping more and more people into suitable accommodation and the employment services have helped more than 113 people into jobs since July this year. We also clapped and cheered as a huge amount of members, including some studying with NEC, received certificates for the educational programmes they are either working through or have completed.

The stories that some of the members shared were very emotional, at some points there was not a dry eye in the house. There were deportation issues, identification issues, substance abuse, punishments for crimes committed long ago carrying on long after the sentence is done. The gentleman I sat next to shared some of his experiences with me, and he had been through more than I thought possible. He was there to be presented with a certificate for a course he had done, and even shared with me a poem he had written since becoming involved with the education programme. It was beautiful! The afternoon finished with a great performance from the choir, which had everyone in the room clapping along.

Despite all of the challenges members of Crisis have faced, the outlook is positive thanks to the help and support that Crisis provides, and education is a really big part of that. Be that education by way of formal qualifications, teaching them some ballroom dancing or helping them to learn what it is they want and how they can get there. The positivity in the room was overwhelming and I feel both honoured and privileged to have been witness to it.

The NEC guide to courses (PDF) says on the cover ‘The right course at the right time can change your life’, and my afternoon spent celebrating the successes of these truly inspirational people reminded me just how true that is.

Carly Mason

Sales & Marketing Manager

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Making sense of Economics

Making sense of Economics

The economy has been in the news a lot in recent times. It has always been a core influence on how our world and society works, but it seems to have become more relevant than ever today. How would someone unfamiliar with economics go about making sense of the way these issues affect us all?

If you are, or have become, interested in how the economy works, studying economics is an effective way to help you understand it. NEC’s distance learning A level Economics course has been written by experts to give you all the knowledge you need to get started.

A level Economics is also a first step towards the many career paths that make use of economic theory. This could be any career in finance, but it could also be something less immediately obvious; even journalism stands to benefit from a good understanding of economic principles.

As with all our courses, learners who enrol on A level Economics will be supported by an experienced and knowledgeable personal tutor throughout their studies. Terry Cook, who has been teaching Economics since 1974, is one such tutor. Here are some of his thoughts on the subject and how studying it will increase your understanding of the contemporary issues affecting us today:

“The subject of economics is fascinating, and it has increasingly become a very popular choice at AS and A Level. Everything that we do is affected in some way by economics. One topic that has been in the news in recent months is the deficit that the UK has in its public finances, i.e. we have been spending more money than we have been receiving. The present government is aiming to reduce the size of this deficit.”

“Some people seem to think that reducing the size of the deficit means the same as reducing the size of our debt, but this is not the case. Even if we managed to reduce the size of the deficit by half, there would still be a deficit and so the total debt owed would increase. The best way to understand this is to see a deficit as a ‘flow’ concept and a debt as a ‘stock’ concept.”

“It just goes to show that in economics, you have to look very carefully at the statistics. Another example to illustrate this is the rate of inflation. For example, last year the rate of inflation in the UK (as measured by the Consumer Prices Index) fell from 2.5% per annum to 2.2% per annum. A lot of people think this means that prices are falling, but this is not the case. Prices are still rising, but the rate of increase is slowing down, i.e. goods and services are costing 2.2% more than a year ago compared with costing 2.5% more than a year ago.”

If you’re looking to gain a qualification towards your career, or simply wish to study the subject out of interest, visit our website for full details on our Economics and other tutor-supported distance learning courses. You can also get in touch and speak to one of our team, who will be happy to answer your questions.

To keep up with the latest NEC news and events, sign up to our email newsletter or follow our blog (simply enter your email address in the box on the right-hand sidebar). You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The true potential of second-chance learning

Society’s conventions on education dictate that you do your GCSEs at 16, your A levels at 18, perhaps a degree after that, then enter work until you retire sometime between the ages of 65 and 70.

Naturally, this isn’t always the way that life works out.

The value of second chances in education is something that has always been at the core of NEC’s work, and it has become ever more important in today’s changing economic climate. The recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills has recommended that adults need more second-chance opportunities to learn, and NIACE believes this to be critical for our economy.

Flexible studying methods such as distance learning and on-the-job training mean that education and full-time work do not have to be mutually exclusive. Not everyone retires when they reach a pensionable age, and swathes of learners study when they want to and go on to achieve more than they ever imagined possible.

Last year, British developmental biologist Sir John Gurdon was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering work in cloning. His discovery that mature cells can be converted to stem cells completely transformed global understanding of how cells and organisms develop.

However, it wasn’t always apparent that Sir John was destined for such greatness. Educated at Eton, he was ranked last out of the 250 boys in his year for achievement in Biology, and was in the bottom set for every other science too. In one school report his schoolmaster commented, ‘I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous.’

What would that schoolmaster have thought if he’d known that decades later, at the age of 79, Sir John would go on to collect one of the most prestigious awards in the scientific world?

Sir John is not the only person to work around the constraints of society; thousands of people go back into education every year and gain qualifications they may once have thought they could never achieve. Singer BeyoncĂ© Knowles left school at 15 and went back after the birth of her daughter to achieve her General Equivalency Diploma. Actress Emma Watson took time out from her thriving career to get her A levels and go on to university. And director Steven Spielberg returned aged 55 to finish the film degree he’d dropped out of years before.

The National Extension College was set up by Michael Young in 1963 to provide exactly this sort of opportunity: to ensure that all adults could have that essential second chance at education. Lord Young understood the potential for loss of knowledge and discovery that would be caused by denying adults access to education if they missed out the first time around, and that the right course at the right time could change someone’s life.

Fifty years later, the College continues to provide second chances to learners who want to try again, whether to pursue an interest or change a career. Sir John’s success against the odds will be an inspiration to everyone whose first experience of education may have been a negative one.

If you feel like you missed out on an opportunity to fulfil your potential earlier in life, and would like to learn something new or gain a new qualification to help you take the next step, visit our website to view our full range of courses, or get in touch and speak to one of our team.

You can keep up with the latest NEC news and events by signing up to our newsletter, or by following our blog (simply enter your email address in the box on the sidebar to the right). You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Introducing our new trustee

Richard Dorrance, NEC's new trustee

A passion for distance learning and widening opportunities, a high level of experience in the field of education, and a desire to use that experience to help NEC learners to achieve their ambitions: these are the things we need from our trustees.

The National Extension College is the trading name of the Open School Trust, a not-for-profit organisation which is governed by a  board of trustees. The trustees advise the management team, make strategic decisions and ensure that the mission of the charity–set down 50 years ago by Michael Young–is at the forefront of everything we do.

In our 50th year we are delighted to introduce Richard Dorrance as our newest trustee, agreed unanimously at our annual general meeting held earlier this month.

Richard Dorrance is excited to have been elected to the Board of the Open School Trust. He said, ‘I am passionate about education, particularly education for those who have either not achieved at school or who are finding school difficult. I believe that people have different learning styles and are motivated in different ways. A single curriculum does not work for everyone. That is the advantage of NEC’s approach. It allows students to learn what they want, when they want to, and how they want to. It puts the student in charge within a protective support network, which is a great enabler and motivator for learning. I am looking forward to working with the Board to ensure that the NEC goes from strength to strength.’

After 19 years in the post, Richard recently retired as the Chief Executive of CACHE, the UK’s leading awarding body for the childcare, health and education sectors. His vision saw him transform CACHE from a niche awarding organisation to the specialist, leading organisation we know today.

With a long and distinguished career in the field of education, Richard also spent several years as Chief Executive of the Early Years National Training Organisation, and held positions at the School Examinations and Assessment Council (who regulated A levels and GCSEs) and the National Curriculum Council (who were responsible for the implementation of England’s first National Curriculum). He brings to the NEC Board experience of running a charity, and of supporting students many of whom have either not achieved in a school environment, or who are adult returners to education.

NEC Chief Executive Ros Morpeth said of the new appointment, ‘All of us at NEC are delighted to welcome Richard Dorrance on to the board. We have had a long association with Richard at CACHE and have great respect for his leadership and his integrity. His experience and knowledge will be invaluable in helping us move forward with our vocational provision for childcare and related sectors. Innovations in the technologies for teaching and learning make it an exciting time to be involved in distance education and I know that Richard, along with the rest of the board, are determined that NEC  maximises every opportunity to improve the quality of the support we offer to our students.’

Richard joins NEC’s existing existing trustees who all bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table. They are:

Tony Dodds (Chair of Trustees), who has a rich and varied history of working in Adult Education, including establishing learning opportunities in Africa as well as many other international projects. He even worked for NEC in the late 70s on a project to help young people who were unemployed back into work!

Sheila Carlton OBE, whose long involvement in education has included working on education policy and practice for NIACE and earned her an OBE for services to adult education.

Peter Lavender OBE, who was awarded an OBE for services to education and has held positions at many prestigious organisations such as the Open University, the Further Education Funding Council and NIACE.

Greville Rumble, whose notable achievements in education include publishing widely on the subjects of management, planning and costs of distance learning and editing Open Learning.

To learn more about our board of trustees and the courses we offer, visit our website. You can keep up with all the latest NEC news by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog (simply enter your email address in the box on the sidebar to the right). You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

NEC tutor’s lifelong learning legacy

Former NEC classics tutor Eileen Sellars, whose legacy of £19,000 to NEC
is supporting students who have to overcome disadvantage in order to study,
photographed in 1944, the year she graduated with a Diploma in Education.

What comes to mind when you hear people talking about lifelong learning? For most of us, it is the excitement of learning something new, no matter how old we are and regardless of what our experience of formal education has been. Lifelong learning is about gaining qualifications, certainly, but it’s also about learning for the sheer love of discovering more about the things that interest us most.

A former NEC classics tutor, Eileen Sellars, has taken her love of learning one step further through a £19,000 legacy to NEC. Thanks to her gift and her lifelong passion for learning, 27 people are now setting out to change their lives through learning. Eileen, who died in 2011 at the age of 88, asked us to use the money to support students who have to overcome disadvantage in order to study. We agreed with our Trustees last year to set up the Eileen Sellars Bursary Fund and to look for charities to work with whose clients live in circumstances that make it challenging for them to find the money and the time to learn new skills and sit for exams.
Today, we celebrate the culmination of our work over the last year with the announcement of partnerships with three charities: Crisis, St Giles Trust and the Refugee Council. In NEC’s 50th year and thanks to the generosity of Eileen, 27 of the charities’ clients are taking the first step towards achieving qualifications that will help them into employment.

Eileen worked for NEC from 1970 for around 20 years, and tutored on several different subjects including English, learning skills and Latin. Born in 1922, she went to school in Manchester, graduating from the University of Sheffield with a BA (Honours) degree in French and Latin in 1943. After studying for a diploma in education and qualifying as a teacher, she worked in schools throughout South Yorkshire. She joined Sheffield Girls High School in 1963 (by chance the year in which NEC was founded) as assistant teacher in the classics department, remaining there until her retirement in 1982 and teaching classics and music. As well as her legacy to NEC, Eileen also left £7,000 to the Department of Music at the University of Sheffield (PDF) as a prize for a student who produces an outstanding composition on the theme of an English nursery rhyme.

Crisis works with homeless people throughout the year, but it is at Christmas that its work moves into the spotlight. Working with 8,000 volunteers, Crisis provides a hot meal, shower facilities, healthcare, dentistry, physiotherapy, hairdressing and podiatry services to around 4,000 homeless people in London, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

St Giles Trust aims to break the cycle of offending by supporting people who have been in prison to change their lives, training ex-offenders and providing housing and family services to 16,000 clients a year. Around one third of the charity’s staff are ex-offenders.

The Refugee Council works with asylum seekers to help them into jobs and find somewhere to live. Over the last two years, there has been a 10 per cent increase each year in the number of people seeking asylum in the UK – more than 21,000 in 2012.

The 27 people who have started their NEC courses so far have chosen subjects as diverse as GCSEs and International GCSES in English Language and sociology and ‘A’ level biology. The most popular choice, though, is the certificate in Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS). I am particularly delighted by the popularity of the PTLLS course as it means the impact of Eileen’s legacy is set to spread far beyond the group of people who take NEC courses though the three charity partnerships.

As we celebrate NEC celebrates its 50th anniversary, I have no doubt that our founder Michael Young and Eileen would both be delighted that NEC continues to change the lives of people whose needs today are no less distinctive than those of our first learners.  We wish our newest students success with their courses and will post on the blog about their achievements over the coming months.

Ros Morpeth
Chief Executive

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Succeeding as an independent learner

Succeeding as an independent learner

Studying by distance learning doesn’t have to mean you’re on your own. In fact, at the National Extension College we try and do everything possible to help you succeed as an independent learner.

Back in September we told you about a new resource we had launched for all of our learners to access free of charge, all about spelling punctuation and grammar - otherwise known as SPaG. Great news; we’ve now added another resource!

All NEC learners are now able to access a new free-of-charge resource called ‘How to Succeed as an Independent Learner’. This resource helps you plan your learning and get the most out of all of the support available to you.

There’s a good chance that if you are studying with NEC, it’s because you have other responsibilities. Perhaps a full-time job, childcare responsibilities, or even other studies. Improving your independent learning skills is essential in making sure you stay on track and keep organised and motivated.

Starting with helping you to assess how you feel about learning and what your strengths and weaknesses are, the new resource gives you a step-by-step guide to learning and studying effectively. It aims to help you make good decisions about your study - like when and where it will happen - and will help you to produce a realistic learning plan. There are topics covering managing stress and improving concentration and memory as well as reflecting on what you learn and preparing for assessment and exams.

We also wanted to share some of our favourite tips from our tutors and learners on how to succeed.

‘Plan your life, remember it’s busy people who get things done. Most importantly, enjoy it!’ - Alan Stancombe, NEC Maths GCSE/IGCSE tutor

‘Keep in touch with your tutor and set yourself deadlines and targets that suit you. Distance learning can be fun to do and you will achieve and enjoy the process and experience.’ - Paul Phillips, NEC Business, Management, Book-keeping and Accounting tutor

‘I always find it useful to firstly look at your average week. Think when you have time for studying, then devise a timetable of when you can study. Try to stick to it.  If you find it doesn’t work for some reason, change it. My main tip for any student is to be flexible and find what works for YOU!” - Tracey Jones, NEC Psychology, Sociology and Child Development tutor

‘Prioritise your commitments and think about your motivation, since that’s the thing that will pull you through.’ - Susannah, NEC student
‘It doesn’t matter how old you are or how unachievable your ambitions seem, just get stuck into the study and enjoy the journey.’ - Melanie, Biology A level student
‘Break your folder down into smaller chunks, when tackling units and try to keep to a schedule.’ - Tracey, Diploma in Playwork student
So if you want to succeed at your studies, get in touch to see how we could help you. You can find out more about how our distance learning courses work, and view our full range of courses, at our website.
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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Studying at sea - an award for outstanding achievement

The National Extension College (NEC) and The Marine Society have been working together for over 25 years delivering education to seafarers by distance learning.

The Marine Society was established in 1756 and its primary focus today is the education and professional development of seafarers in both the Royal and Merchant Navy. Students of the Marine Society are often studying in the face of adversity and the challenges faced while studying at sea are unique. There can be unreliable internet access, long and often anti-social working hours and of course being stationed anywhere in the world makes it difficult to take exams as well as study.

Every year the Marine Society and Sea Cadets (MSSC) holds an Annual Court where awards are presented to maritime professionals by the Marine Society for their outstanding educational achievements. One of these is the NEC/Marine Society award for Outstanding Achievement, which is awarded each year to a seafarer who is studying or has recently completed a GCSE or A Level course for their exceptional ability and achievement.

This year the MSSC held its 9th annual court at Haberdashers hall in London, and NEC is proud to have been invited again to present an award. Tom Sutton, a serving Lance Corporal Royal Marines, was awarded the prize this year because of his significant achievement in gaining top grades in his studies despite the rigours of completing his studies while on operations and sitting his exams in Afghanistan. Sadly, Tom was unable to attend to receive his award as he is still out in Afghanistan, however Corporal Mark Clarke RM Poole attended to collect the award on Tom’s behalf.

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope and Carly Mason (NEC) presenting the award to Corporal Mark Clarke
23-year-old Tom achieved an A* at A level Maths, which has allowed him to successfully gain a place at Loughborough University to study automotive engineering next year. After completing this degree Tom would like to re-join the military as an engineering officer.

‘I decided to study Maths because it’s a diverse and challenging subject which would be helpful in many potential career paths. I also didn’t do very well in Maths at College, and wanted to improve on my grade,’ Tom explained. ‘My aim was to gain a qualification, expand my CV, and to improve my future career and promotion prospects.’

Lance Corporal Tom Sutton

The partnership between NEC and The Marine Society continues to go from strength to strength, and we look forward to helping more people like Tom to achieve their goals in the coming years. If Tom’s story has inspired you, take a look at the courses on offer from NEC on our website, or get in touch to find out more.

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