Thursday, 29 August 2013

A day in the life of Sarah Barrett

Sarah Barrett, NEC Student Services Coordinator

As our recently launched Young Learner’s Service is proving popular, we thought we’d tell you a bit about a day in the life of Sarah Barrett, who is our student services coordinator specialising in this area.

Sarah already had a background in teaching before coming to NEC. She spent a year as a teaching assistant at a secondary school, where she mostly helped out with Art and English, before receiving teacher training in Design and Technology from Homerton College. She then taught in a secondary school for a while, but realised that the aspect of teaching which she found most compelling was being able to support students. She wanted to find a place where she could specialise in this calling, and found it with NEC.

Sarah joined NEC’s student services team in January of this year. She is part of a team who each have their own areas of focus (hers are GCSEs, IGCSEs, A levels and the new Young Learner’s Service). Her typical day sees her deal with anything from making exam entries to contacting tutors, and everything in between. She thinks of her role as one of guidance and support, helping students to manage their learning in order to succeed. She loves what she does and finds it extremely rewarding.

The recent exam results days this summer were as exciting as they always are for everyone at NEC, but particularly for Sarah as the student services coordinator for GCSEs, IGCSEs and A levels. She says that while the atmosphere tends to be full of eager anticipation, she can often feel a bit nervous as well.

‘As a student supporter, you really get to know your students,’ she explains. ‘Over the course of their studies you watch them put in a lot of hard work. It’s only natural to hope they get the grades they deserve, and to want them to succeed. You’ve gone through that journey alongside them. So on results day you feel nervous with them… but excited with them at the same time.’

She adds, ‘It’s always great when we see our students rewarded for their efforts. But we also want to be there for those who might not have done as well as they’d hoped, to try and continue to help them.’ Sarah – and NEC – encourages students to get in touch if they are disappointed with their results and want to know what their next steps might be. Results day may have come and gone, but NEC will continue to support its learners.

Another part of Sarah’s day can sometimes be the exams that NEC hosts at its offices in Cambridge, such as language oral exams. ‘Setting everything up and making sure it works on the day is quite enjoyable, and I love the chance it gives us to meet our students in person!’

Sarah’s newest specialisation is the Young Learner’s Service, which was launched a few months ago. It aims to provide additional support to students, but equally importantly it enables parents to get involved with their child’s learning. Something Sarah learned while studying for her degree, and later while teaching, is how valuable the support and involvement from family or friends can be.

‘It can really help motivate a learner to succeed, and I found it crucial in helping me to stay positive. Think of it as a triangle drawn between the learner, tutor, and family member. That’s the relationship.’

‘You must also have a good tutor in that relationship. NEC hand-picks tutors who will go the extra mile for their students, like everyone else at NEC. We all want our learners to succeed, and that’s why we’ve developed the Young Learner’s Service.’

To find out more about the Young Learner’s Service, GCSEs and IGCSEs, A levels, and the rest of the wide range of distance learning courses available from NEC, visit our website or get in touch. You can also subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

GCSE and IGCSE results day 2013

GCSE and IGCSE results day

Another week, another results day: this time it's GCSE and IGCSE students collecting their grades rather than A level students. Months or years of hard work all culminating towards this one moment when you can finally find out whether your efforts paid off.

The atmosphere around GCSEs this year has been somewhat apprehensive. Efforts to counter grade inflation, papers in subjects like science being made tougher, students being entered into more than one exam in the same subject, and schools entering students for IGCSEs instead of GCSEs have made this year a bit of an unknown in terms of results.

NEC’s CEO, Ros Morpeth, said, 'With the media hype this week surrounding the anticipated fall in grades, I'm sure many people had prepared themselves for the worst. Having offered most of our subjects as IGCSEs for many years now, we were confident that this year we would  see our usual high standards of results and have not been disappointed. We know it doesn't always go as planned so to anyone who didn't get the grades they need, don't give up - get in touch and see if we can help you. If you did get the grades you wanted, then congratulations and best of luck with the next step of your learning journey!'

74% of NEC students were awarded GCSE or IGCSE grades of A* - C this year, compared with a national rate of 68%. Furthermore, despite the widely reported fall in science grades after papers were made tougher, 73% of NEC students were awarded grades A* - C, compared with the national rate of 53.1%. The national pass rate this year is 98.8%, but amongst NEC students the pass rate was 100%.

These numbers are made all the more incredible by the fact that our learners come walks of life ranging from active forces personnel on rotation in Afghanistan, to working mothers retraining for careers in teaching or midwifery, and everything in between. Alternative routes to education are essential for learners like these, whose hard work and dedication is not always recognised in the media buzz around school-leavers. Being able to study successfully around such demanding commitments is nothing short of extraordinary, and we cannot emphasise enough how proud we are of our learners. Congratulations to each and every one of you!

NEC’s Student Services Manager, Louise Tolhurst, added, 'Having retaken my own GCSE Maths last year, I can can relate to everyone getting results today and the challenges they face as distance learners. We have had some great feedback already with some excellent results, showing that the hard work our learners put in to achieve their goals, with the help of our dedicated tutors, really pays off.'

For more information on NEC’s range of GCSE and IGCSE distance learning courses, visit our website or get in touch. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A level results day 2013

The focus on A level results is quite naturally on school leavers and their transition from further to higher education: what their grades are, how they have compared with previous years, and what it means for access to higher education.

Many of NEC’s own students who will be getting their A level results today may be over 18, and are likely to have had to fit their studies around other commitments such as busy jobs and family responsibilities.

At NEC we know how much self-discipline and dedication these students have had to bring to their studies and we congratulate them. Their achievements are not always recognised but the country needs to encourage and keep open access routes to these students and make it possible for these highly motivated learners to succeed in their efforts to retrain or change careers.

Our students have achieved outstanding A level results today. Biology is one of the most popular subjects offered at NEC with around 200 learners enrolling each year to study the course by distance learning. 79.31% of Biology students have achieved grade A* - C, compared to the UK national average of 73.7% (as published today by the JCQ). We are still working through the results, but it is clear that Biology is not the only success this year.

NEC Student Service Manager Louise Tolhurst says, ‘We have seen some truly excellent results this year, and are really proud of our learners!  It is not always easy to study by distance learning, but our learners have proved once again that if you put your mind to it you can achieve your goals.’

If you haven't done as well as you'd hoped, you might want to resit your exams or redo your A levels. NEC was set up to help students who need the opportunity to try again, who missed out at school the first time round, or who wanted to retrain mid-career to go into a different profession.

When Cambridge News recently approached experts working in the field of education – including NEC – for their advice when it came to results day, our CEO Ros Morpeth had this to say: ‘If you don’t get the results you hope for and need to resit them we may be able to help you. NEC allows you to get A level or GCSE qualifications if you cannot go back to school or college because of work and family commitments, for example.’

For more ideas on what steps to take next, whatever your situation, we have put together a page on our website about results day, with useful links and helpful information.

We want to leave you today with a real success story. 21-year-old Miranda Stocks decided to study English Literature and Classical Civilisation A levels by distance learning, because she wasn't sure which degree to take, and took a couple of years out to develop her career. She received her results this morning and was overjoyed to see that she had achieved an A* for each subject. She is now heading to Hughes Hall at Cambridge University and hopes to go on to do a masters degree. Eventually she wants a career in Art Crime, recovering stolen paintings and uncovering forgeries.

About her experience, Miranda says, ‘I think it is a huge credit to the NEC that I was able to score over 90% in the majority of my exams and exceed my offer by getting two A*s – that would not have been achievable for anyone working under similar time constraints without the sort of support and guidance that the NEC gave me.’ She praised her tutors, saying, ‘They were terrific – always prompt to reply to my emails and always gave in-depth responses to my assignments and coursework.’

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Top 10 reasons to choose distance learning

The flexibility of distance learning lets you fit studying in with your life

With so many routes into education these days, a vast range of subjects and qualifications to choose from, and many ways of studying on offer, here at NEC we’d like to share with you our top 10 reasons for choosing distance learning:

1. Choice
You’re not limited to the subjects offered by your local college. If you can’t find a local centre that offers the course you want, try checking whether it’s offered through distance learning. Distance learning courses can be enrolled on regardless of your location, allowing you to study what you want, where you want, and how you want.

2. Flexibility
Distance learning is a method of studying that fits around your lifestyle. It doesn’t require you to go to school or college, attend classes or stick to a timetable. Instead, you study at home or at work, in your own time. Distance learning allows you to take control of your learning and study in a place and at a pace you're comfortable with. It’s perfect for people working full-time, looking after families or caring for others.

3. Confidence
If you haven’t studied for a while, are thinking about getting back into work, or considering a career change but needing to top up your knowledge, a distance learning course can boost your confidence. Anyone can enrol regardless of background or education, and any qualifications gained (such as GCSEs and A Levels) will be no different to those gained from attending a school or college.

4. Dedication
Committing to a distance learning course shows how dedicated you can be. Balancing work, family, study, and any other number of things all at the same time requires motivation and an impressive range of skills and personal qualities. Time-management, self-discipline, determination and a hard-working work ethic are all things that will not only look desirable to potential employers, but are also invaluable life skills.

5. No travel
Anyone can enrol on a distance learning course regardless of their location. Not having to commute to a school or college for on-site classes means more time for other things. Not needing to get to a physical campus also means you save on travel costs.

6. Career aspirations
A distance learning course can help you achieve the next level in your career, set you in better stead for a change of career, or help you top up your knowledge after a career break. Distance learning can also give you a second chance to gain qualifications you may have, for whatever reason, missed out on the first time round. It’s never too late to learn something new.

7. Start at any time
There is no need to wait. You can enrol from anywhere, whenever you like, with no academic terms to adhere to. You can start straight away and take things at a speed that works for you and your individual circumstances. Be as regular or spontaneous with your learning as you like!

8. Networking
Distance learning does not mean just studying alone at home. You can also get opportunities to network with experts in the subject, as well as befriending fellow students from all over the world. Our increasingly globalised society has made it both easier and more important to get to know people from different places, cultures, and walks of life.

9. No loss of income
If you don’t want to give up your job in order to study, you don’t have to. A distance learning course is flexible enough to fit around your work (and home) life, allowing you to learn as and when you find the time to. You can continue to earn while you learn and not worry about income.

10. Learn just to learn
If you find yourself with time on your hands or a burning desire to learn more about something, you can, and all from the comfort of your own home. Education is not just about gaining qualifications, it’s also about sating the innate curiosity we have as human beings that lets us love learning and be the most creative species on Earth.

For further information about distance learning and NEC’s range of courses, visit our website. You can also find out more on our FAQ page, or by getting in touch with us.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Improving the quality of childcare

Childcare and Early Years

At NEC, we help many early years practitioners to gain qualifications by distance learning, whether that be specific childcare qualifications or GCSEs, to become an early years teacher.

With all of the recently announced changes, we thought we’d explain what this means for current staff, and those aspiring to work in early years and childcare.

What is changing?

The government wants to ensure the UK has a ‘dynamic childcare market delivering high quality education’. In order to raise the status and quality of the childcare workforce, the criteria that underpins level 3 qualifications has been revised. A new qualification for early years educator will start enrolling September 2014, and early years educators will be expected to have grade C in GCSE maths and English or equivalent.

Settings will also have early years teachers of graduate level which will be qualified in line with primary teachers, including needing to have GCSE or equivalent in maths, English and science.

What does that mean for me?

If you are already qualified to level 3 it is likely that you will not have to retake your qualification. The qualifications finder on the Department for Education website will tell you if the qualification you have will be sufficient, or if further accreditation is required. For those that have studied recently, either the Diploma in Pre-school Practice or the Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce will still be accepted.

If you are looking to work with children and young people, the qualifications available now are still available for you to enrol on. They will not need to be re-done, and you will not need to finish before the introduction of the new standards in September 2014. If you hope to progress to become an early years educator, you will need to make sure you have GCSE or equivalent in maths, English and science.

What do people think of these changes?

Many feel that the changes being made are overdue, and that we have a right to expect quality childcare provision where parents feel confident in the abilities of the workforce to nurture their children and help them grow. The early stages of childhood are a time when physical, cognitive and emotional development happens at a faster rate than any other time of their lives, so it makes sense to ensure we have a workforce that is qualified and has a good grounding in the basic subjects.

Of course there is another view: will a more demanding and rigorous childcare qualification and requirements for a good academic base exclude people who have a natural disposition and talent for working with children?

The team of tutors that work with NEC’s childcare and early years learners are all experts in the field and have a long history of working within the sector. Here are some of their thoughts:

‘A good grounding in basic knowledge such as literacy and numeracy is, I think, paramount. Furthermore, parents I'm sure expect that those who act in loco parentis have a good level of both basic education and specialist early years qualifications so that they can effectively support their children's learning and development. We owe it to ourselves, our chosen profession and the children we support to maintain a certain rigour in professional standards if we want to be taken seriously.’ Nina Taylor

‘Childcare is no longer letting the children "play together nicely".  It is a serious business which means preparing the children in our care for the real world in the best way we can.  We need a huge range of skills - educator, entertainer, child protection, first aid, planner, nutritionalist, communicator.  These can only be gained if individuals are able to attend workshops, courses, gain qualifications ... all of which need a good solid base of GCSEs or an equivalent.’ Kate Wake

‘As with any teacher at any other level they need to be more than one step ahead. You cannot sufficiently support a child's English if your vocabulary is weak, your spelling is poor and your reading and writing skills are not good examples. Similarly practitioners need good understanding of mathematical and scientific concepts so that they can explain to children not just what and how but why things are so.’ Carolyn Newbert

Contact NEC today if you are interested in taking any of the courses discussed above by distance learning, and let us know what you think of these changes on Facebook and Twitter.