Thursday, 27 November 2014

Second chance learning: help us spread the learning word!


On Sunday this week, the annual Cambridge Literary Festival (CLF) takes place. The Festival, like NEC, is a registered charity whose aim is the advancement of education for the benefit of the public by the promotion of literature, language and the arts. With such a lot in common, it seemed only natural that NEC and CLF join up to spread the learning word!

We believe that everyone deserves a second chance at learning — no matter what their age, educational background, life circumstances and interests. Together with the Festival and Festival authors, we are hoping to highlight the importance and benefits of second chance learning.

Everyone has a different reason to study, a different goal to aim for and different experiences of education in the past. Whatever the reason, learning is not a given once you have left school, and there are thousands of men and women in the UK who left school earlier than they would have liked, or did not thrive in the classroom.

For some though, returning to education can be an intimidating prospect. Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty and author of On Liberty, says, ‘Returning to education can seem daunting, but it is the key to so many doors — regardless of when you study.’

In 2011, a study undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the children of parents who frequently read with them in the first year of school still show the benefits when they are 15. Even so, the Literacy Trust reports that only one in three parents read to their children every day. Second chance learning can really make a difference by helping parents become more confident readers and writers so they can read to their children and learn as a family.

The number of people studying at university has been falling, in fact it has fallen by 50% in the last four years. Flexible routes to A levels for people who are working or have family or caring responsibilities are essential in providing second chances to people, and helping them to realise long term goals.

Margaret Drabble, novelist, biographer and critic, author of ‘The Pure Gold Baby’, ‘The Radiant Way’, ‘The Millstone’ and ‘The Needle’s Eye’, is a great believer in second chance learning. ‘Sian James, memorably portrayed by Jessica Gunning in the Film Pride, is one of the most impressive of late learners,’ she reminds us. ‘A miner’s wife, she was an activist during the strike, then went on to take her A levels and study for a Welsh Language degree before becoming a Labour MP. She is a shining example of what can be done in middle life.’

Trade unions also play a role in second chance learning for workers, working with employers to make sure that they get the training that they need. Alan Johnson MP, author of ‘This Boy’ and ‘Please, Mr Postman’, has seen this first hand. He says, ‘The untold story of social mobility in this country is the role of trade unions and second chance learning. Becoming a trade union official opened up a whole new world of educational opportunity for me via TUC correspondence courses.’

A 2006 study for NIACE (the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education) shows that learning later in life helps to prolong active life, delay dependency and sustain independent living. Ali Smith, novelist and author of ‘How to be both’, ‘Artful’, ‘There but for the’ and ‘The Accidental’, agrees. She says, ‘The older we get, the more exciting new learning gets. An image to sum up second chance learning? One of those beautiful spring trees loaded with blossom all along its branches.’

There are so many more reasons to support second chance learning, from reducing rates in reoffending (see our previous blog: Second-chance learning: prisoners need education too) to preparing to leave the forces and take on a new career. We could go on!

We’re asking you to get involved in spreading the learning word on social media. Why not write a 50-word story and post it on the Festival’s Facebook page, about your own learning experience for the chance to win a copy of Alan Johnson’s ‘Please, Mr Postman.’ You can also get involved on Twitter, using the hashtag #thelearningword. Keep up with how we’re spreading the learning word on our website.

To learn more about distance learning and some of the inspirational learners studying with NEC, visit our website, or ask us for a copy of our Guide to Courses. The Cambridge Literary Festival takes place this Sunday, 30th November. More information and a timetable of events can be found on their website.

Find us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — we would love to hear from you!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Distance education: Catherine's route to life-long learning

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Part time Library Assistant Catherine Speechley has passed her IGCSE in Biology with NEC and is now studying for an IGCSE in French
NEC student Catherine has what she describes as a haphazard routine, with her hours of work constantly changing. Her time at school was positive, and she left with 10 GCSEs and four A levels, going on to do a master’s degree at St Andrew’s University.
Catherine was frustrated when she was at school that she had to drop some subjects because there was a limit to the number of GCSEs pupils could do. Now in her 40s, she is catching up with the subjects she left behind. When Catherine wanted to study biology, she knew that distance learning was the right way to go as she would not have been able to work around a college timetable. She had already had a taste of open and distance learning when she did a course in web design a few years ago.
The decision to opt for NEC was a simple one: ‘When I enquired about the course, I got a proper reply from a human being rather than being sent in the direction of information on a website.’ The NEC also offered value for money in comparison with the other options she had researched and allowed her to study at her own pace. She began studying in May 2012 and passed her IGCSE two years later.
‘Distance learning with NEC has been just what I hoped it would be,’ says Catherine. ‘In fact, it has exceeded my expectations as everything has worked – the tutors and the course materials have all been great. The tutors are so encouraging with their comments and don’t inundate you with loads of heavy corrections. They manage to point you in the right direction with just a few words, even if you have lost the plot! I particularly liked the way NEC was able to arrange for me to sit my exams at a local centre. All I had to do was fill in a form, pay and turn up for the exams!’
She adds: ‘Distance learning works for me because I’m very self-motivated and know exactly how much self-discipline you need to succeed. I’m now studying French with NEC and love the way you can upload assignments to the website for your tutor to mark as it’s so convenient.’
Her employer has been very positive about her wish to keep on learning and in the past has even funded her to do courses such as Levels 1 and 2 British Sign Language, which took three years to complete.
‘People learn in different ways and distance learning is quite a challenge if you’re not used to studying on your own,’ concludes Catherine. ‘To anyone wondering whether distance learning is right for them, I would say go for it - but be very aware that the motivation is down to you.’

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

Friday, 14 November 2014

Second-chance learning: prisoners need education too!

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At NEC, second-chance learning has always been at the heart of what we do. It goes right back to why we were founded by social entrepreneur Michael Young over 50 years ago. Since then, we have been able to support adults and young people from all walks of life fit education into their lives through the flexibility of distance learning, including new parents trying to juggle family commitments with studying, members of the Armed Forces who are serving overseas, and even offenders who are serving custodial sentences in prisons.

For many years, we have worked together with the Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) in order to support this latter type of learner. During that time we have seen the huge difference education can make to offenders. But you don’t need to take our word for it – in fact, the Ministry of Justice’s own research illustrates the ability of education to reduce the chances of a prisoner re-offending after their release.

This means not only can education make a difference to the learner themselves and their prospects after release, but ultimately for all of us as the likelihood of re-offending drops.

Organisations like PET and the Howard League for Penal Reform have worked hard over the years to not only help improve the access to education for prisoners, but also to raise awareness of the need to do so. On Monday, PET’s Chief Executive, Rod Clark, highlighted to Parliament the need to support a wide range of learning opportunities in prisons. Currently, barriers such as staff shortages and a focus on basic skills are preventing this from happening.

A recent report by PET has found that:
  • 41% of respondents did not engage in education because nothing was available at a high enough level for them, and some were studying courses well below their level due to a lack of options
  • 28% of respondents had a learning difficulty or disability and 66% of them had not received support for this
  • 83% of respondents found access to, and support for, the Virtual Campus intranet to be poor, and 58% had not received support for distance learning.

However, the level of interest in education amongst prisoners despite any difficulties remains high:
  • 69% of respondents thought education had a positive impact on their ability to cope with prison
  • 81% of respondents who wanted to learn said they wished to occupy their time usefully
  • 71% of respondents who wanted to learn said they wished to gain qualifications
  • 70% of respondents who wanted to learn said they wished to improve their job prospects.

The difficulties faced by prisoners when they try to access education were not helped by the ban on books being sent in by loved ones, which was introduced last year. The ban unfortunately remains in place to this day, but there are signs that the importance to rehabilitation of access to books, and education in general, are finally starting to be recognised by the Government.

Last week we were delighted to hear that, after months of campaigning by the Howard League and supporters of Books For Prisoners, an urgent policy update from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has been sent to prison governors. This allows them, with immediate effect, to exercise their discretion and let prisoners have more than the previous limit of 12 books where they are below their overall volumetric control limit, ‘given the particularly important role books can play in rehabilitation.’

It is encouraging to see the vital role of books and the importance of education acknowledged in this way, and we hope to see progress continue. As Rod Clark told Parliament on Monday, prisoners need a smarter approach to rehabilitation through policies that enable them to progress. We agree that it is important they are given opportunities to learn, and to learn at a level appropriate to them, because by helping people to invest in their futures we invest not only in them, but in our wider society.

To learn more about our partner, PET, and their work with prisoners, visit their website for further information. You can also read a PDF copy of their latest report by clicking here.

To find out more about NEC, our work, and the wide range of flexible distance learning courses we offer, visit our website or get in touch. You can keep up to date with all our latest news and events by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog. You can also find us on social networks, including Twitter and Facebook.