Friday, 22 May 2015

Learning at Work Week: why you don't have to give up education when you leave school

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This week is Learning at Work Week, or ‘LAW Week’. It forms part of the ongoing events taking place to celebrate this year’s Festival of Learning.

LAW Week aims to promote awareness and support for the importance of learning and development in the workplace, by inviting organisations and individuals to participate in a range of activities which encourage people to take up the challenge of learning something new. Each year, LAW Day focuses on a different theme to highlight different aspects of workplace learning. This year’s theme is ‘Shaping our Future.’

Here at NEC we are no strangers to learning while you work. In fact, many of our students come to us specifically because they need a flexible way of studying that fits around their career or family commitments. When NEC was set up over 50 years ago, one the core aims its founders wanted to achieve was for people to be able to ‘earn while they learn’ through distance education.

Many of our learners have studied while working. We hope that by sharing some of their stories we can inspire others to see how education is not something you need to give up once you enter the world of work, but rather that it is complimentary to your working life and career.

International student James Barker rediscovered science in his late 30s, when he started a scuba diver instructor course. What he learned from studying for his Combined Science IGCSE gave him valuable insight into aspects of scuba diving as well as the wider world around him.

‘As I live and work abroad it was impossible for me to pursue a course at a school or university,’ James explained. ‘So I chose so study by distance learning but the question on my lips was who should I enrol with and who would accept me considering that I live and work in the Republic of Korea? I enquired at the Department of Education in the UK and they recommended the NEC and needless to say it was music to my ears to learn that they could take me on.’

When then-teenager Miranda Stocks left school, she knew she wanted to go to university but was unsure what subject to take. So she started working at Waitrose as part of the customer service team in the meantime. When the time came for her to pick up her studies again, she realised she wanted a couple more A levels in subjects she had not studied at school. She also knew that, since she was now working, she would need a method of study that would fit alongside her working hours.

The flexibility of distance learning was one of the key reasons Miranda chose NEC. There were no fixed deadlines for assignments – crucial when you’re working and studying at the same time. After receiving the results from her exams, Miranda commented on her achievements: ‘I think it is a huge credit to NEC that I was able to score over 90% in the majority of my exams and exceed my offer from Cambridge by getting two A*s.  Without the support and guidance the NEC gave me, that wouldn’t have been achievable for anyone working under similar time constraints.’

Library assistant Catherine Speechley had what she described as a haphazard routine when she decided to fit more learning into her life. With her hours of work constantly changing, she knew that she would not have been able to work around a college timetable.

‘Distance learning with NEC has been just what I hoped it would be,’ said 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!’

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. This kind of encouragement and supportive outlook has helped her to achieve an IGCSE in Biology, and she is now continuing her studies with an IGCSE in French.

We want to encourage employers and learners to take part in LAW Week because the right course at the right time really can change someone’s life. Investing in people and building a culture of life-long learning will benefit not only the learners themselves, but will also empower them to contribute more to their work, which ultimately benefits our economy and wider society – as the theme goes, shaping our future.

Have you learned something new this week? Have you or your employer been involved in the LAW Week activities? Share your stories and help inspire others to make learning life-long! Join in the discussion on social media by following the hashtag: #LoveToLearn.

For information on how to take part in LAW Week, visit the Campaign for Learning’s website to find out what events are taking place.

If you want to learn more about NEC, our work and our learners, visit our website where you can also browse through our wide range of flexible distance learning courses. You can keep up to date with all our latest news and events by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog. We can also be found on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Six simple steps for beating exam stress

Above: NEC Student Services Development Manager Louise

Louise is NEC’s Student Services Development Manager and part of her role is to assist NEC students in booking exams at our partnership exam centres. In this week’s blog she will share her experience in dealing with exam stress and getting prepared for exam day.

I’ve seen hundreds of students take their exams during my time at NEC, I’ve even been one myself so I appreciate that it can be a stressful time of year. I want to share with you my six simple steps for avoiding stress in the run up to your exams and some useful advice for making sure you’re prepared on the day.

  1. Eat well. I know you’ve heard it all before, but diet really does make a difference to your attention span and general well-being. Plenty of fresh fruit and veg will do wonders for your concentration.
  2. Exercise regularly. This goes hand in hand with eating well, but can have a surprising impact on your energy levels. It might sound like it will eat in to your revision time, but taking some exercise will give you chance for some good thinking time and help you to put things in perspective.
  3. Get some sleep. A lot of people are tempted to stay up late into the night revising the closer they get to exams – I know I was. The more tired you are, the more you’re likely to panic and increase your stress levels.
  4. Think about your breathing. Sounds simple, but closing your eyes and taking ten deep breaths can help you to feel less stressed.
  5. Fresh air. Keep a window open while you’re revising, or take your exercise outside. Number four is also much more effective if you do it in the fresh air of your garden, local park or even out of the window!
  6. Have a good chat. There’s nothing like a good natter and a giggle to lift your mood. Whether it’s your mum, your son or your best mate from work if you’re feeling the pressure give them a call or invite them over. You’ll feel so much better afterwards.

On the day advice

On the day advice really starts the evening before. Make sure you’ve double checked the time of your exam and, unless it’s a venue you really know well, your travel arrangements for the next day. It’s also useful to pack your bag the night before, making sure you have everything you need for your exam including a spare pen and your identification.

Stop revising nice and early, don’t be tempted to cram last minute and follow some of the steps above. Have a healthy balanced dinner, perhaps take a walk and make sure you get an early night.

Unless you’re one of those people that wakes up peacefully and naturally on time every day, you might want to set an alarm the night before to make sure you get up early and don’t have to rush around.

Hopefully you’ll wake feeling calm and rested. Make sure you give yourself time to have a good breakfast to avoid the embarrassing stomach rumble mid-exam!

Make sure you leave in good time, it’s far better to be early than late.

Now it’s time for the main event: the exam. It’s always advisable to read through the instructions thoroughly first. You should also read every question carefully before answering, it’s amazing what misreading just one word can do to your perception of the question.

Where there is a choice of question, don’t just answer the first one if you know the answer, consider the options carefully and reflect on which question you can answer most fully.

Keep an eye on the time, you don’t want to run out before you’ve had chance to attempt each question, and before the end make sure you read through all of your answers to make sure that you have given the best answers that you can. Don’t forget to check the back of the exam paper too, in case of any other questions.

All that’s left is to hand in your paper, and give yourself a pat on the back!

I hope you find this useful, and I wish you the best of luck for your exams. Don’t forget to let us know how you get on!

If you would like to be one of the thousands of students that take their exams independently each year, visit our website to find out about the wide range of flexible distance learning courses we offer, or get in touch and speak to our team directly.

If you want some additional revision support, our special offer on exam paper marking might be of interest. During the month of May, if you are an existing student, you can have two past papers marked by your personal tutor for £40. Talk to your course co-ordinator to find out more.

Keep up to date with all the latest NEC news and events by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog. We can also be found on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Our own election: What’s your favourite subject?

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Above: NEC staff members with the subjects they voted for

It comes as no surprise that the news today is dominated by the general election, with articles on everything from where each party stands on education policy, to how to cast your vote and even an article on what you can’t do in a polling station – apparently the electoral commision very strongly advise against taking photos inside the polling station, so that means selfies are out!

Around 50 million people are registered to vote today, and already thousands of people have begun turning out to cast their own vote in order to have their say in the UK’s next Government.

We’ve decided to have an election of our own at NEC today to discover what the team’s favourite subject is and explore some of the reasons why. You can join in by tweeting us or posting on our Facebook page to let us know what your favourite subject is and why. At the end of the week, we’ll add your vote to our running total and announce the winning subject. We even encourage you to take a selfie with something related to your favourite subject!

The results are in and the votes have been counted and verified. The favourite subject as voted for by the NEC team is…


These are some of the reasons English voters chose this subject as their favourite:

Sue enjoyed English at school because of her love of reading. ‘I still love to read a lot now and it helps me to learn something new every day!’

Alison also chose English as her favourite subject: ‘I had a really good primary school teacher who influenced and inspired my enjoyment of English. Drama has always been another passion of mine, particularly Shakespeare. English fits in well here, too.

Maria shared her reason for choosing English: ‘I’m a bookworm! I love to both read and write which is an interest that started at school and is still continuing today.’

In second place we have a tie between history and design and technology. Some of the reasons given include:

Judy said her favourite subject was history. ‘I found it easy, and there was so much to learn. I still love learning about history now including visiting different historical places and walking in the footsteps of historical figures and reading historical novels.’

Rosanna and Louise also voted for history. Rosanna said, ‘I had a very passionate and engaging teacher who helped me to discover how interesting and how important history is.’ Louise had a different reason. She says, ‘It’s a really interesting subject, at my school you could choose options for history and I chose to study local history so I could really imagine it.’

Design and technology subjects also fared well in our election. Gemma, Karen and Christine all really enjoy being creative. Gemma told us that she enjoyed the variety of design and technology, from creating a delicious lasagne to building a clock.

Karen particularly enjoyed needlework: ‘even though I moan about taking up my husband’s trousers, my passion for creative needlework has continued over the years.’

Christine favoured cookery at school and although over the years her enjoyment has developed from the simple recipes of her school days to creating and decorating stunning cakes, it is still something she enjoys learning more about today.

In third place: Geography

Sophie and Stephanie both voted for geography. Sophie told us her reason was that: ‘It has elements of so many other subjects in it that I enjoy, such as sciences, politics and socio-economics.’ Stephanie on the other hand simply loved learning about the world around her and how things work. ‘I would have loved to have travelled to the centre of the earth, as far as I could go!’

Other subjects getting a vote were maths, physics and latin and the reasons for the choice are as varied as the subjects themselves:

Ralph was good at maths at school and this was his favourite subject. ‘I was hoping to get in to chemistry,’ he said, ‘But I quickly realised that it wasn’t for me. Maths has served me well throughout my career though!’

Daniel enjoyed physics most at school: ‘Despite having a slightly scary teacher, I enjoyed the simplicity of physics. I was good at it too, which of course made it easier.’

Ros on the other hand chose latin as her favourite subject as she found it the hardest at school. ‘I was thinking of dropping it, but then I had a real eureka moment where I understood things, and how they related to other things. It gave me the confidence to learn.’

Like any good election, we even had someone abstain. James couldn’t decide which subject to vote for: ‘I really didn’t enjoy my time at school, I had no favourite subject.’

Perhaps James, like thousands of other NEC students each year, should give learning another chance?

To find out more about NEC’s wide range of flexible distance learning courses and the variety of subject areas they cover (including Government and Politics), visit our website.

You can keep up to date with all the latest NEC news and events by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog. We can also be found on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.