Thursday, 30 January 2014

How to keep your studies on track through the cold and dreary weather

At the coldest times of the year we often find ourselves more in need of ways to stay motivated and focused, and this can be as true for education as it is for other areas of life.

Here in the UK there’s been lots of wind and rain lately. The nights are still long, the celebratory new year mood is probably starting to wear off, and Winter isn’t done with us quite yet. We thought it would be a good time to put together some helpful tips on how to keep yourself motivated if you’re studying, particularly during the cold, dark winter months:

Stay warm and comfortable
It’s easy to get distracted from your studies if you’re feeling too cold, so make sure your learning environment is the right temperature to keep your concentration levels up. Make yourself something hot and comforting to eat and drink. Ultimately, if staying warm means you have to study wrapped in blankets or while hugging a hot water bottle, then there’s nothing wrong with doing just that!

Remember to relax
Try to make sure you are well-rested and know when you need to take a break. Both are important for maintaining concentration and making sure you absorb what you learn. Catching up on a little sleep may be more effective than forcing yourself to study while too tired, so allow yourself time to recuperate.

Don’t be afraid to venture outside
Make use of any breaks in the weather and take the opportunity to go outdoors. A brisk walk during a clear, crisp winter morning does wonders for waking you up. Wrap up warm and spend a bit of time outside, and by the time you get back home you’ll have shrugged off any lingering sluggishness and can get on with learning.

Make the most of that New Year feeling
The parties to welcome in the new year may seem like a distant memory by now, but it is nonetheless still January. Try to dig up and draw on the feeling of being excited, ready and raring to go at the turn of the year. Many of you will have hit the ground running at the start of 2014, perhaps using your new year’s resolutions as motivation. Keep that momentum up for as long as you can and use it to give yourself encouragement.

Keep in contact with others
If you have friends who are also studying, you could arrange for them to drop by so you can study together and keep each other company. As an NEC student you can also use the online workspace to compare notes with fellow students–and of course, don’t forget to keep in touch with your tutor! Just because the long winter months can deter a lot of people from leaving their homes, doesn’t mean you have to study alone.

Expand your learning and make things interesting
Keep your activities varied to help with engagement, and look for ways of putting your studies into a wider context. For example, if you’re taking a creative writing course, have a look at what novels have been published recently, and find out how they have been received by readers. If you are studying geography, you could watch a natural history documentary. Keep an eye out for news and current events related to your field of study, and think about how they reflect what you’ve learned from your course.

Treat yourself for meeting your aims
Set yourself goals, and reward yourself when you achieve them. During the cold, dark winter months, it can be tempting to procrastinate instead of studying. By setting yourself targets and giving yourself rewards, you can keep the temptation at bay. If you’re aiming to get through a certain amount of material by the end of the day, break that material down into manageable sections to make it less daunting. Give yourself a little reward as you complete each section, and a big reward at the end when you’ve completed it all!

Remind yourself why you’re studying
While everyone’s reasons for starting a course are different, the fact remains that you all have reasons for studying in the first place. Don’t let yourself forget those reasons. Remind yourself of why you want to learn something new, and look forward to what you will have achieved once you’re done. Remember also that education of any kind has a positive and enriching effect on your life, no matter what your plans for the future are–and that in itself is motivating too.

That’s our list, we hope it helps! To all our learners, and to learners everywhere, we wish you all the very best for your studies.

Do you have any other winter study tips you would like to share? Send them in to us at, and you might see yours featured in our newsletter!

To find out more about our learners and the courses they study, visit our website. You can keep up with all our latest news and events by subscribing to our email newsletter, or following our blog (simply enter your email address in the sidebar to the right). You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Discovering geography with NEC

Discovering geography with NEC

In today’s increasingly globalised society, the scope of stories covered by our news and media is wider ranging than ever before. We have become more aware of what events are going on all around our world, and have an increased interest in learning about and understanding them.

Recently talked-about topics in the UK include EU migration and the Christmas storms, while further afield Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung made headlines when it began erupting lava at the end of last year. You may have heard about all three of these stories in the news during the last month, but what you might not realise is that these seemingly unrelated topics can actually be studied through a single discipline.

Human migration, weather patterns and volcanic activity are all related to the subject of geography, and this is the subject we are shining the spotlight on in today’s blog. At its heart, geography is essentially the study of planet Earth, its inhabitants, and how the two relate to one another. The subject can be divided into two main branches: human and physical. The former deals with the study of humankind, while the latter looks at physical processes and the natural world.

This level of variety in study areas makes geography a hugely broad and versatile subject, with applications in a wide range of careers. For example, in order to address an issue such as the movement of people from one place to another, we have to take into account the context of the issue. In this case, we first have to understand why people wish to move in the first place–and that is where geography comes in.

NEC’s geography courses take a close look at both the human and physical aspects of geography. Both our IGCSE and A level courses involve investigation of highly pertinent topics such as climate change, population, and world food supply, as well as imparting skills ranging from map-reading (IGCSE) to interpretation of complex data (A level).

Geography is also a subject that encourages you to get out into the world and explore it for yourself, first-hand. Fieldwork makes up a part of our A level and IGCSE courses: students carry out investigations in and around their home area, not just to answer specific questions on the examination paper, but also to develop their geographical skills. But how difficult is it for distance learning students to carry out this fieldwork?

‘It needs not be at all difficult,’ says Alison, one of NEC’s geography tutors. ‘In fact, students should be stimulated rather than daunted by this aspect of their studies: geographical investigations do not need a laboratory. The real world is the geographer’s laboratory and it is here that theories and models are proved and disproved. Investigations can almost always be carried out in a student’s home area.’

Students often worry that they will need specialised equipment that is difficult to obtain in order to collect the data needed for an investigation, but in fact most investigations can be carried out using household items. ‘For instance,’ explains Alison, ‘it is possible to measure the speed of a river as it flows downstream using just dog biscuits as floats, a stopwatch and a tape measure.’

Our world is constantly changing, and fieldwork–including that carried out by NEC students–provides new information and avenues for exploration. ‘There are not many subjects where students can feel that they are at the “cutting edge” of development, but geography is certainly one, and this is your chance to do some original research,’ Alison says.

As more work is carried out in geography, so the subject evolves. Alison concludes: ‘As a final note, it is worthwhile remembering that the theories and examples found in textbooks were produced from fieldwork carried out by people who were once students themselves!’

If you have an interest in understanding our world, this fascinating and versatile subject is one you will want to study. To learn more about NEC’s geography courses, or to view our full range of flexible distance learning courses, visit our website for more information, or contact us and speak to our team.

Keep up to date with all our latest news and events by subscribing to our email newsletter or following our blog (enter your email address in the sidebar to the right). You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The importance of education for offenders

Here at NEC we have a long and rich tradition of supporting learners from many different backgrounds, in many different circumstances. Our work has frequently shown us just how big a difference a second chance to learn can make to someone’s life, but for some students in particular, our work helps to ensure they get a second chance in more ways than one.

Distance learning can help to overcome many barriers to education, but you may not realise it is even flexible enough to enable us to deliver courses to learners who are serving custodial sentences while they study. For many years, NEC has worked with the Prisoners Education Trust (PET) to broaden educational opportunities for prisoners. Learners have a wide variety of courses to choose from, including those leading to recognised qualifications such as GCSEs and A levels, which help to enhance their chances of building a better life after release.

The importance of PET’s work in helping to rehabilitate prisoners through education was highlighted by the BBC last Autumn in their article about Frank Harris, a learner who had previously been in and out of prison for 30 years of his life, but now spends his time helping others to find their way out of crime through education–just as he did with PET. Frank’s story is a testament to the power that education has to bring about great positive change.

The Ministry of Justice has also recently published the results from research into how PET’s funding grants to enable offenders to study while in prison has affected their chances of re-offending. The results show that out of 3085 offenders who received help through PET, the re-offending rate was just 19%, compared to 26% of a matched control group who did not study courses through PET.

Additionally, among the 3085 who studied through PET, the frequency of one year proven re-offending was 0.5 offences per individual. Among the control group who did not, the frequency was 0.8 per individual.

All in all, this means that those who participated in education through PET showed a reduction in re-offending of between 5 and 8 percentage points. It’s an encouraging sign.

In a press release, PET welcomed the results of the research. Chief Executive Rod Clark said, “With 25 years’ experience of helping prisoners to change their lives through education, our charity and our funders know that learning in prison works – but now we have the evidence to prove it with this robust, hard-edged report carried out by MoJ statisticians. The Government has repeatedly said that it will back what works to reduce reoffending and this research makes a strong case for more effort to support prison education.”

NEC is committed to continuing our partnership with PET, to help ensure that prisoners like Frank Harris can find second chances through education and not fall back into crime. Reflecting on the results of the recent Government study, PET had this to say about their partnership with us:

“The Prisoners Education Trust has enjoyed a longstanding and fruitful relationship with the National Extension College. For many years, NEC has helped PET to provide high-quality distance learning courses for prisoners across England and Wales. Recent Government research has shown just how successful distance learning in prison can be in helping to prevent re-offending on release. The NEC staff understand the difficulties involved in delivering distance learning in prisons, and they have always shown a willingness to adapt in order to support learners in prison.”

To learn more about PET’s work with prisoners, visit their website for further information. You can also read a PDF copy of the Ministry of Justice’s report by clicking here.

To find out about the wide range of distance learning courses we offer, visit our website. You can keep up with all the latest NEC news and events by subscribing to our email newsletter or following our blog. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Distance learning students sit A levels too: NEC's message to the exam regulator

On 17 January, exam regulator Ofqual closes its consultation on proposals for the revised A level curricula. NEC has just submitted its response, aiming to give a voice to the thousands of distance learners who sit A levels each year.

The consultation seeks views on structure and assessment for new course syllabuses that will be taught from September 2015. Of particular interest for NEC is the move away from course work to assessment by final exam.  Although assessment by written exam has its limitations, the move should open up access to exams for non-traditional learners. The plans to ‘decouple’ the AS level from the A level making it a standalone qualification are also on our list. This will mean that students will have to opt for the full A level from the word go, rather than progressing from the AS to the full A level.

Many of the subjects affected are offered by NEC: biology, English language and literature, geography, economics, history, sociology and psychology. Art and design and computer science are also on the list.

Why A levels matter
A levels are highly valued by employers and universities, and as 250,000 learners sit the exams each year, the consultation is sure to attract a wide variety of views.

The present exam system is geared up for those learners studying full time in schools and colleges, and the questions in Ofqual’s consultation reflect that.  Nowhere in the consultation document’s 108 pages is any reference made to the needs of adults who have missed out on gaining qualifications when they were in full-time education or the increasing numbers of pupils who are home educated.

This is a missed opportunity because government and policy makers are aware that the learning needs of adults and other non-traditional learners needs more recognition.  Lifelong learning helps people adapt to longer working lives, change job roles and learn to use new technologies. We have many examples in NEC of learners who are using their A levels to move into new careers, for example teaching, health and social work. These A levels provide the opportunity for social mobility and contribute to the economic recovery of the country.

Our Argument: keep the link between A levels and AS levels
Achieving qualifications at AS level is a strong motivator for distance learning students to continue to A level.  Good grades at AS level also have the benefit of bringing higher level study a step closer for learners with the ambition to study beyond level 3.  Some distance learners are able to make the financial commitment required for AS levels but would find the longer-term commitment of embarking on an A level course without first studying for an AS level a step too far. For these reasons, NEC is arguing through the consultation for the current link between A and AS level to remain.

For everyone who wants a second chance at learning, for pupils being home educated and for employers and university admissions officers who value being able to recruit from a diverse pool of candidates, NEC asks that the distinctive needs of the distance learner to be reflected in the final proposals for the new A level regulatory requirements. Over to Ofqual.

Ros Morpeth
Chief Executive

The consultation on the new A level regulatory requirements can be accessed on Ofqual’s website The deadline for responses is 17 January 2014.

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Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy new year!

Learning something new is one of the most popular new year’s resolutions, whether it be an A level by distance learning or taking an art course at your local college. The new year is a time for reflection as well as resolving to make changes for the year ahead, so this week we wanted to take a look back at 2013 and forward to what 2014 might bring.

2013 was a big year for NEC, not least because we were lucky enough to celebrate our 50th anniversary! Almost 3000 of you took up the challenge to learn something new in our 50 hours for free campaign, and we celebrated on midsummer’s day with a picnic at our offices in Cambridge. We also worked with 3 charities–Crisis, the Refugee Council and the St Giles Trust–to help some of their members to access qualifications funded by NEC’s Eileen Sellars bursary fund.

2013 saw thousands of people enrol on courses with NEC, and some truly amazing results. Our most popular course of the year was A level Biology, closely followed by A level Maths. Our IGCSE and GCSE students had a particularly excellent year with 100% of those who sat exams at one of our 6 partnership centres passing!

So what’s in store for 2014? There will be some new courses coming early in the year, so we will be able to help even more people to achieve their new year’s learning resolutions! The new courses will include a level 2 childcare qualification and a whole new suite of teaching assistant qualifications. If these appeal to you, get in touch with our course advice team to register your interest and keep an eye on our website for new information.

The childcare qualifications are also changing for first teaching this September, the Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young Peoples Workforce will be replaced by the new Early Years Educator qualification.

Following the success of the 50 hours for free campaign, we hope to do something similar again this year, so watch this space! We will also continue to develop and improve our services to help even more people achieve their goals and succeed to the best of their abilities.

If you want to make 2014 the year you change your life by learning something new, visit our website to view our full range of flexible distance learning courses, or get in touch and speak to our course advice team. There's never been a better time to enrol, with a 10% discount on all course fees until the end of January!

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