Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Opportunities for learning at work enhanced through new Unionlearn and National Extension College agreement

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Yesterday NEC attended the annual Unionlearn conference at Congress House in London. Entitled “Britain needs a skills rise”, the conference focussed on the development of skills through the learning of individuals and communities to meet the needs of a modern workforce.

Unionlearn board chair Dr Mary Bousted and NEC Chief Executive Ros Morpeth signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) at the conference that will make it easier for union members and Union Learning Reps to improve their skills for work through online and distance learning.

The agreement opens up new learning opportunities to more than six million trade union members in the UK by giving them a 10% discount on all NEC courses.

Unionlearn is the TUC’s learning and skills organisation. NEC is the UK’s only not-for-profit provider of skills-based and vocational subjects. The MOU formalises a working relationship between the two organisations that began in the 1970s. Unionlearn and the NEC share a commitment to providing union members with access to high-quality tuition and study materials to support their continuing vocational, professional and personal development. Every year, nearly a quarter of a million workers engage in learning and training through their union.

As a result of the agreement, members of trades unions will be able to fill gaps in their academic qualifications by enrolling on NEC’s GCSE, IGCSE and A level courses, including maths and English. They will also be able to upgrade their workplace skills through NEC’s level 3 and level 5 Certificate and Diploma courses, which lead to Chartered Management Institute management qualifications. From September, NEC will be offering the Award in Adult Education and Training level 3 course for people with responsibility for delivering training in the workplace or at a college, or who are preparing to work as trainers. Union members will be able to find out more about what’s on offer from NEC through 400 workplace union learning centres across the UK.

Unionlearn board chair Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘The signs of an economic recovery have not put paid to the skills gap. Around one in five vacancies is still going unfilled because of a lack of jobseekers with the right skills and experience. Access to quality training opportunities for people who are in work is as important as ever. An employer survey published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills earlier this year showed that more workers are receiving training compared to two years ago, but a third of employers are neglecting to train their staff. The flexible provision offered by providers like NEC makes it easier than ever for businesses to fit the development of employees into the workplace.’

NEC Chief Executive Ros Morpeth said: ‘NEC’s agreement to work more closely with Unionlearn recognises our joint commitment to give more opportunities to learn to people who missed out first time around. Through Unionlearn, we look forward to welcoming new learners to our UK-wide community of adults and young people determined to have a second chance to improve their skills and qualifications.’

An example of the difference these second chances for learning can make to someone’s life can be found in Bill Haywood, whose amazing journey from shop floor to doctorate began in 1972 when the TUC signed him up for a social studies course with NEC. Now retired and living in Cyprus, Bill has written a book entitled ‘On Life’s Little Twists and Turns’ about his life and experiences. His story has featured previously on our blog, which you can read here.

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

Thursday, 19 June 2014

22 years of celebrating lifelong learning


This week is the 22nd Adult Learner’s Week (ALW), part of this years festival of learning which has inspired thousands of events across the country since the beginning of May, to encourage and celebrate lifelong learning in all its forms.

A celebration and showcase of the power of learning, ALW brings together a wide variety of organisations such as unions, employers colleges and universities in an effort to inspire and engage adults across the UK into learning.  It is also an opportunity to recognise the remarkable achievements of adult learners across the country, whose hard work and dedication makes it possible for them to transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

ALW is coordinated by NIACE, the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education, whose new strap-line is ‘The National Voice for Lifelong Learning’. NIACE are tireless in their mission to promote lifelong learning and to influence policy and practice to try and ensure more opportunities for adults to engage in learning.

I was pleased to be invited this week to to the NIACE Parliamentary reception, which incorporated the launch of the NIACE manifesto for the General Election in 2015, and followed on from the ALW national awards ceremony.

One of the guest speakers at the event was Matthew Hancock MP, Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise who is himself a big fan of ALW. He reinforced the points made within the NIACE manifesto and confirmed that he was ‘committed to the extension of the right for everyone to have a basic education especially in maths and English’. This reminded me of why the name the National Extension College was chosen more than 50 years ago, because we were, and still are today, committed to the extension of the right to education for everyone.

The manifesto set out by NIACE urges all of the political parties to ‘forge a new skills strategy for all which reflects the challenges we face and makes the most of opportunities we have as people live longer’. It aims to persuade political leaders that Lifelong Learning is fundamental to building a fair and sustainable society and economy, and points out that inequalities in participation in learning closely follows inequalities in income and wealth. This is also evidenced within the results of NIACE’s Adult Participation in Learning survey.

The value of lifelong learning was evident throughout the reception with award winners having the opportunity to share their inspirational learning journeys. The day also reminded us how people learn for many different reasons and in many different ways. One of the award winners who stood out for me, was Melanie who received the European Social Fund National Individual Learner of the Year Award.

Melanie was struggling with addiction and homelessness and turned to a life of crime. During a two year prison sentence, she turned her life around by engaging in learning. She started with basic literacy and numeracy courses before moving on to other courses to improve her employability skills. This led her to become a prison orderly and support other women with their education. Melanie has since been released, and is working in a part-time role putting her newly acquired skills into practice.

Stories like Melanie’s really show what the manifesto can deliver for real people and why we are all so committed to Lifelong Learning.

Ros Morpeth, CEO The National Extension College.

To learn more about NEC, visit our website to read about our work and browse our full range of flexible distance learning courses. You can keep up to date with all our latest news and events by subscribing to our email newsletter or following our blog, and we can also be found on LinkedIn Facebook and Twitter. Take part in NEC’s own celebration of Lifelong Learning with the Learning Challenge 2014, a series of free short courses available to download throughout the year. Follow the challenge on Twitter #LearningChallenge2014

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Hitting the right notes: Flexible provision for gifted musicians

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Above: students of The Yehudi Menuhin School in concert at The Menuhin Hall
Photo Credit: Richard Lewisohn

In a neo-Gothic house with purpose built boarding and classroom facilities in Stoke d’Abernon in Surrey, 75 primary and secondary-age pupils spend half of each day practising, rehearsing, improvising and composing music. Brought together from 20 countries at the renowned Yehudi Menuhin School, they are all exceptionally gifted musicians who play stringed instruments or the piano. Pupils give 250 concerts a year, including the end-of-year festival concerts every July in the 300-seat Menuhin Hall in the school grounds.

Founded just over 50 years ago by the American-born violinist Yehudi Menuhin and alma mater to world-famous violinists Nigel Kennedy and Nicola Benedetti, the school aims to create a family environment in which pupils can develop their musical, intellectual, artistic and social skills. Since 1973, financial support for the school has come from the Department for Education’s Music and Dance Scheme, which provides help to pay fees for children aged eight to 18 with the potential to train for a career in music or dance. When pupils leave the school, around 95 per cent of them go on to music colleges in the UK, Europe and further afield, the prelude to careers as professional musicians.

Alongside musical excellence the school has an enviable record of academic achievement: most years, 100 per cent of pupils are awarded grades A* to C at GCSE and A level. With so much of the timetable dedicated to music, how does the school offer the breadth of subject choice that fosters academic excellence at the same time as nurturing the spirit of enquiry which is so critical to intelligent musical interpretation?

‘Of course we can’t offer all the subjects pupils may be interested in studying – no school can – but the National Extension College has enabled us to expand what we offer older pupils’, explains the school’s Director of Studies Richard Tanner. He came across the NEC by chance four years ago when a small group of pupils expressed an interest in studying philosophy A level.

The school’s open-minded approach to academic provision means it can be flexible in what it offers pupils, some of whom have been at the school since primary level, some who join at any stage up to the sixth form and those who stay on for an extra year before going to music college. Pupils studying German, for example, take the certificate courses and examinations offered by the Goethe-Institut as the syllabus is better suited to the use they make of the language as musicians.

The school has five full-time teaching staff who cover English, maths, history, sciences and modern foreign languages and another 60 or so teaching music and languages, including English as an Additional Language. It’s difficult for any school to justify the teaching time when just one or two pupils want to study a subject outside the main curriculum. Richard says: ‘NEC’s approach, with 1:1 tuition for every student provided as part of the course, means we don’t have to worry about timetabling, teaching time, marking pupils’ work or preparing them for exams.’

Daniel Barenboim, musician, conductor and President of The Yehudi Menuhin School, talks in the 2006 Reith Lectures of how in music ‘different notes and voices meet, link to each other, either in joint expression or in counterpoint – and yet the two fit together.’ Practising an instrument, often alone, for several hours a day, is demanding. Richard concludes: ‘Pupils choosing NEC courses have to be self-disciplined. Independent study fits very well with the school’s ethos of individual endeavour for collaborative creation.’

To learn more about NEC, visit our website to read about our work and browse our full range of flexible distance learning courses. You can keep up to date with all our latest news and events by subscribing to our email newsletter or following our blog, and we can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Learning is not just for school – it's for life

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Lifelong learning is at the heart of everything we believe at NEC. Learning at any stage of life can have an enormous impact on you, and the people around you. It can help you change career or get that promotion, support your children’s learning, improve your confidence and even be fun!

We were delighted this week to be invited to the East of England Adult Learners’ Week Awards, organised by WEA Eastern Region and hosted by West Suffolk College. The awards ceremony is a showcase of some of the best learning initiatives and inspirational learning stories from across the region, an opportunity for people whose lives have been changed by adult education to tell their stories, and to gain recognition for their remarkable achievements.

Adult Learners’ Week (ALW) is a celebration of adult learning in all of its forms–from the flexible and distance learning courses offered by NEC to the face-to-face courses offered by the WEA. Now in its 23rd year, ALW is coordinated by the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) and is part of this year’s Festival of Learning, which aims to engage as many adults as possible and inspire them to learn. The awards are just one of several events taking place this year, including NEC’s Learning Challenge 2014, a series of free self-study courses.

After the opening remarks from Sue O’Gorman of NIACE, who reminded us that ALW is the longest running celebration of its kind, the evening kicked off with an interactive singing workshop from Voice cLoud, one of the joint winners of last year’s awards. Voice cLoud help people find their voice using music and signing to encourage independence, develop confidence and social interaction.

The awards were presented by Alex Dolan of BBC Look East, and told of some truly uplifting learning journeys. Winners included the K9 Project, which uses dogs to provide easy access to learning for some of the most vulnerable learners in Cambridgeshire. One of the project’s participants, Phil, also won an award. The project completely turned his life around, giving him the confidence and skills to both deliver a speech in front of a room full of people, and to secure a full time job–both things that felt out of reach before he engaged in learning.

A bad experience at school and leaving without any qualifications can hinder your prospects of getting a job, and leave you without confidence in your own abilities. Completing qualifications in order to realise ambitions also results in building confidence and a sense of self-worth for many people. There were several examples of this in action from amongst the winners, where gaining qualifications has really changed their lives and the lives of their families. Both Sam and Terrie struggled with literacy and numeracy, but being able to read has made a huge difference to both of them. Sam is now training to be a mechanic and Terrie is has secured a job and is training for a management role.

The evening was full of inspiration. We could go on,. but you can read details of all of the prize winners here.

In her closing speech, WEA’s CEO Ruth Spellman reminded us that learning brings people together and changes lives. We have seen some remarkable developments in adult learning since the WEA was founded in 1903–including the National Extension College–but we still need to encourage more people to get back into learning, whether that be by distance learning, evening classes or work-based learning. In the UK, just 20% of adults continue learning, whereas this figure across Europe is 60%.

Start your journey today: visit our website, take a look at the courses on offer from NEC and fit learning into your life!

You can also keep up with all the latest NEC news and events by subscribing to our email newsletter or our blog, or by following us on Facebook and Twitter.