Thursday, 28 August 2014

10 questions to ask a distance learning provider

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WIth the start of the academic year fast approaching, many people are looking to distance learning to take the next step in their learning journey. Whether this is to improve grades, or try a subject for the first time, we know that choosing the right course is a big decision that could change lives.

You could be looking to go on to university, get a promotion or new job or just learn for fun, but whatever the reason, enrolling on a course is an investment in your future.

We want to share with you our top 10 questions we think you should ask before signing up for a course. We’ve also shared our answers to these questions to help you make a choice. If you’re looking at several different providers, this might serve as a useful checklist to help you make an informed decision.

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1. How many assignments does the course have?
For many courses, the more assignments, the more contact time you will have with your tutor, and the more opportunities you will have to check the progress of your learning. All subjects are different, so you’ll find with NEC courses that they all have different numbers of assignments. IGCSE English Language, for example, has 9 assignments as well as self check activities throughout the course. Details of the number of assignments for each course can be found on the course page.
2. Will I have a named, personal tutor?
We think it’s important to have a subject expert to mark your assignments, and to be there for you when you have questions. At NEC you will have a named personal tutor who is a subject expert and a qualified teacher for each subject that you study.

3. How can I contact my tutor?
We think it’s important to contact your tutor directly to enable you to build up a good relationship with them. You can get in touch with them by telephone, email and in many cases Skype too.

4. How is coursework dealt with, and will there be additional costs?
Coursework can be difficult and costly to deal with if you have to go it alone. We deal with your coursework for you - other than writing it of course! Whether the awarding body marks it, or your tutor does, we will make sure it happens and that the work is authenticated.

For courses such as childcare where assessment in a real work environment is essential, we will provide this as part of your course.

5. Can you guarantee an exam place?
Yes! We know that searching for an exam centre can be time consuming and sometimes present difficulties. This is why we have worked hard to develop partnerships with seven exam centres across the UK, and counting, where we can guarantee our students a place for exams.

6. Can I see a sample of the course materials?
You can, yes. On each course page of the website, there is an option to download a sample of the course materials. We take great pride in the quality of our course materials, and encourage you to take a look at these so you can get a feel for how a course works.

7. Will I have to pay extra for a hard copy of the course materials?
No. We understand that everyone has a preferred way of learning, and that reading the materials online is not ideal for everyone. We also know that many people like to have somewhere to scribble notes! For most courses, you can access your course materials online the same day you enrol, and a hard copy will follow in the post.

8. Are there any additional services included?
Yes, lots. We want to make sure that each and every NEC student has the best possible chance at success and enjoys the learning experience as much as possible. Each student will have access to additional resources within their online workspace to help improve spelling, punctuation and grammar and another to enhance independent learning skills.

You will also have a dedicated course co-ordinator on hand to help you when you need it, and we will make sure you can access past papers and mark schemes.

9. What qualifications do your tutors have?
All of our tutors have a degree in a relevant subject, and a teaching qualification and relevant experience. We also make sure that our tutors undertake continuing professional development on a regular basis, and send them on training courses relevant to their specialist subject.

10. Can you provide predicted grades for UCAS applications?
If you are doing a course with the purpose of going on to higher education, chances are that this will be important to you. Provided that you have done 4-5 assignments, your tutor will be able to give a predicted grade that you can use on your application. The more work you put in to the course, the more accurate the prediction will be.

To find out more about NEC and our wide range of flexible distance learning courses, 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. We can also be found on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, 22 August 2014

A* in English Language from Essex to Asia

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Above: NEC staff members wish students all the best on GCSE and IGCSE results day

This week across the country people, including NEC students, have collected their GCSE and IGCSE results.

As schools across the country look in dismay at the impact of the changes to this year’s English exam papers on their overall GCSE performance, young people and adults studying English IGCSE at the National Extension College (NEC) have lots to celebrate. 92.3% of NEC students have met or exceeded C grade and nearly a quarter of them – 23.1% - were awarded the top A* grade. In England as a whole, 61.7% of 16 and 17-year olds studying GCSE in school classrooms were awarded a grade C or above , with 4.1% achieving the top grade.

One of these students is 15-year old Anna from Colchester, who is being home educated. This year she took her English Language IGCSE, a year earlier than she would have taken it had she been attending school. She achieved an A*.
24-year old Heather from Plymouth did most of her studying while backpacking around South East Asia and Australia. She was really pleased with her A* result in English Language. Now that she is back in the UK, she plans on using the skills she's learnt from her GCSE English Language to sit GAMSAT (Graduate Medical School Admissions Test) in Australia and hopefully gain a place at medical school there.

Distance learning students are highly motivated, many of them making the decision to carry on studying beyond the compulsory education age. Their results today are testimony to their determination to succeed, whatever their circumstances. We all have just one chance as young people to gain the skills and qualifications we need to lead fulfilling, independent lives as adults. It takes determination to grasp the opportunity for a second chance at learning. As we celebrate the success of NEC’s second chance learners, we are also thinking about the pupils across the country who have been hit by the decision to make changes to the English exam during their course of study and whose grades are lower than they expected, based on their teachers’ assessment of their work over the past three years.

English Language is not the only subject in which NEC students have done well in this year. Across the board 74.7% of NEC IGCSE and GCSE students have achieved grades A*-C, compared to the national average for GCSE results of 68.4%. Many of these students are taking a second chance at learning.

One student that is doing just that is 29 year old Ben who lives part of the time in France, and part in the UK. He is studying 10 different courses with NEC, and has just picked up his IGCSE French results. ‘I am very pleased to be able to tell you that I got an A* (95%) in my French IGCSE, largely thanks to my tutor’s help. And the fact that I live in France for half the time (though I prefer to leave that bit out),’ he told us.
‘Nevertheless, I am pleased to get the top grade, especially as I spent my GCSE French exam 15 years ago smoking outside the school gates. The NEC have been a great help. One down, nine to go!’

NEC’s student services manager Alison says, ‘The student services team and myself see the hard work and motivation shown by NEC students all year round. Seeing the results of that hard work is inspirational, particularly when you see some of the challenges they face. The GCSE or IGCSE is the first significant mark of academic achievement, and on behalf of NEC would like to wish all of our students who collected results this week the very best of luck with the next step of their learning journey.’

To find out more about NEC, our learners, and our wide range of flexible distance learning courses, 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. We can also be found on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A level results outside of the classroom

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Above: members of the NEC staff wishing students everywhere the best of luck on their A level results day

The attention today on A level results is focussed on 18-year-olds in schools and colleges. But there are also thousands of adult and young learners who have studied as private candidates and are waiting anxiously for that important message. Many of these private candidates have studied with the National Extension College (NEC).

NEC students come from all walks of life, and range from home educated youngsters to adults taking a second chance on their education. A student with NEC could be an officer in the Royal Navy, serving a custodial sentence or even travelling the world with their family.

One thing they all have in common is hard work and dedication. A level Course Co-ordinator Rosanna sees this dedication first hand throughout the year. ‘It is wonderful to see so many of the students who I talk to on a daily basis thrilled with their results,’ she says. ‘The amount of effort they put in is quite inspirational, and I’m so pleased to see their hard work pay off.’

Often fitting study in around family commitments, or an illness, perhaps a job or two or even a prison sentence, studying at a distance is not easy. It’s testament to our students that they often achieve higher than the national average.

We’re delighted that this year’s reported increase in A* grades has been mirrored in our own students, particularly in Biology which is one of our most popular subjects. A phenomenal 14.3% of our A level Biology students achieved an A* compared to the national average of 9.4% (data from the JCQ).

26-year-old Jessica chose to study Biology with NEC because the course was well structured and flexible. She was delighted to see that her hard work resulted in an A*. Jessica has been accepted to study Medicine at Hull York Medical School, and will be starting there in September.

History students have also performed well this year, with 100% of NEC students passing the A level. One of these learners is 55-year-old Chris, who is taking a second chance at his education. As well as History, Chris also took Philosophy and English Literature A levels this year with NEC. He told us this morning, ‘I have had confirmation from Anglia Ruskin and I will be starting a three year degree course in English Literature this September. I am very excited at the prospect!’
‘I would like to thank the NEC for such a wonderful couple of years studying for my A levels. The coursework materials, tutorial and administration support provided have been fantastic and it has truly been both a challenging yet always pleasurable experience for which I am eternally grateful.’

Chief Executive of NEC, Ros Morpeth, says, ‘I am very proud of all of our students. They are often studying against all odds and still manage to achieve excellent grades. Gaining a qualification can transform lives, and we are delighted to help them on the path to achieving this. The ambition of many NEC students is to go on higher education. They represent the increasingly ‘endangered species’ of the mature student. They deserve our admiration and congratulations.’

To find out more about NEC, our learners, and our wide range of flexible distance learning courses, 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. We can also be found on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

NEC courses follow the student at residential Wing Centre

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Students at The Wing Centre in Bournemouth, an independent residential school for young people with Asperger’s Syndrome, are studying NEC GCSE and A level courses to help prepare them for work and further study.

‘Classroom teaching doesn’t work for all our students,’ says Kim Welsh, Deputy Head Learning at The Wing Centre, an independent school in Bournemouth for young people who have Asperger’s Syndrome. ‘They may have had a bad experience in education in the past or gaps in attending school. What they need most is to be able to learn at their own pace.’ The Wing Centre has 25 residential places and 10 day places for students aged 16 to 25. Students come from across the UK and have a wide range of interests.

An academic approach is right for a number of them while others have chosen to follow a vocational route. Some are studying for exams, others are doing re-sits. All students have to study English, Maths and ICT, as well as social skills and skills that will help them in the future in accessing the community, further study or at work. The school offers a therapeutic approach tailored for each student, with psychologists, speech therapists and occupational therapists working alongside with teaching staff. When they leave The Wing Centre, students can go on to higher education, further education or into employment, including apprenticeships.

With so much to fit in, each student has a personalised timetable and follows a ‘waking day’ curriculum that extends their education across all their waking hours, a specific approach for pupils in residential settings who have special educational needs. Nine teaching staff are responsible for delivering the core curriculum and ancillary subjects including food technology, sport and humanities.

Kim found out about NEC several years ago through a student who was studying with NEC through an outreach programme. She was quick to see the potential for the school of a model of blended learning delivery that combines distance learning with tutor support and wanted to make more use of it. NEC courses are now used in a number of ways to help students achieve qualifications and also to fill in gaps created by extended periods of time away from formal education or to give students a taste of a subject they want to try. Students can work through the course, see what progress they make and then decide whether to do the exam or study in more depth.

NEC enables the school to offer a far wider range of subject choices at GCSE and A level than would be possible otherwise. English Literature A level and Environmental Studies and Biology GCSE are popular courses with students. The benefits go far beyond course choice, though, as Kim explains: ‘Equally important for our students is the way NEC courses are delivered. Students receive feedback from their tutor through email or letter. That’s ideal for them as it means we can go through with them what the tutor has said about their work, taking on the role of moderator. It may suit a student to stay in their own room or have a period back at home if they’re dealing with anxiety, for example. With NEC, the course follows the student. They can carry on studying wherever they are. Flexibility like that is hard to find, but that’s just what NEC offers.’

To learn more about NEC, the work we do, or to browse our full range of flexible distance learning courses, visit our website. 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 social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, 4 August 2014

What makes a great teacher?

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An opinion poll by TES this week voted Albus Dumbledore of Hogwarts the top fictional teacher.  We liked this story and it got us thinking, what is it that makes a great teacher?

We held our own poll here at NEC, and the results were very interesting. Joint top were Miss Honey from Matilda and Indiana Jones. It was quite clear from the reasons given that having a passion for your subject and being nurturing, encouraging and seeing the best in everyone are really important qualities in a teacher.

A word that came up over and over again was inspirational, Miss Honey in particular seems to spark this in many people. Stephanie, NEC’s Childcare course coordinator said, ‘She's the sort of teacher I would have loved to have been when I was a little girl dreaming of my future career, and I am sure she has inspired many little girls to go into teaching.’

Dewey Finn from School of Rock was also mentioned. One of our tutors, Amanda, said this of Mr Finn: ‘He is a good teacher as he can bring the best out in everyone, make it fun, give them something to believe in and aim for and inspires them to practice and work as a band.’

The teaching staff of St Trinians made an appearance. Both Camilla Fritton and Alistair Simms got votes because of their no-nonsense approach. ‘He was great fun, a wonderful disciplinarian, and everyone loved him,’ NEC tutor Stephanie said of Mr Simms.

Ros Morpeth, Chief Executive of the National Extension College, said, ‘Many of us have good memories of teachers, both real and fictional, who have made a transformational impact on our lives. When we reflect on our own experiences and talk to friends and family about teachers; qualities like enthusiasm, inspiring a love of their subject, care and respect for students comes up often and the other significant quote is ‘my teacher believed in me and wanted me to succeed’.

‘At NEC we often come across students who have to build up their courage to return to study later in life because of a bad experience the first time round. They are indeed taking a big step, but we select our tutors for their passion for their subjects and their commitment to helping our students succeed. These qualities are even more important for the second chance learner.

‘One student said to me, ‘I couldn’t have got through the course without a never ending supply of fresh coffee and a wife with the patience of a saint. But the crucial ingredient was the help of my tutor who gave me a nudge when I was slacking and a pat on the back when I was working hard. With her support, I am even looking forward to taking my exams and if I pass I will be over the moon!’

We’re proud of our tutors and want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one, and share with you some of the wonderful things our students have said about them:

‘When I first signed up with NEC, I was concerned about doing coursework through an online organisation where students don’t have an ongoing discussion with their teachers face-to-face. But I needn’t have worried. My tutors were both terrific. They were always prompt to reply to my emails and consistently gave in-depth responses to my assignments and coursework. What’s more, they really boosted my confidence just before exams, offering kind words and support.’ – Miranda, Former NEC student and future art crime prevention expert.
‘My tutor was very helpful and understanding, and I felt that she did her utmost to cater for my needs – such as sending assignments and coursework via email when I was in Afghanistan – as well as granting me a two-week extension when I was struggling to juggle the fast tempo of operations and deadlines for my course.’ – Mark, Former NEC student and member of the armed forces.

‘He is a brilliant tutor who pays close attention to the individual needs of his student and passes on his genuine interest in and enthusiasm for his subject.’ – Elliott, Former NEC student now studying Law at Cambridge University.

To find out more about our tutors and our work, or to browse our wide range of flexible distance learning courses, visit our website to learn about NEC. 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 social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.