Thursday, 30 April 2015

Learning in Hospital – From Chelsea to Cambridge

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Community Hospital School

25 years ago, there were 30 hospital schools in England. Now, there are 14. But inspirational work to keep young people learning is discretely taking place in hospitals across the country. In the first of a series of blog posts to mark the centenary of the birth of NEC’s founder the social entrepreneur Michael Young, we visit Chelsea Community Hospital School in London and Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge to see the impressive results achieved by imaginative teachers and determined young people.

In a mainstream school, the fellow pupils of a boy who had had a brain operation were constantly pulling back his hair to look at the big scar on his head. Unable to cope with the unwanted attention, he stopped going to school. A girl whose mother and several other members of her family died in an explosion was left with no fingers or thumb on one hand. Several years after the tragedy, she is studying for a degree at the School of African and Oriental Studies at the University of London. Both were pupils at Chelsea Community Hospital School.

Chelsea Community Hospital School was set up 25 years ago by Janette Steel, who is still the principal. In the early days of the school, Janette worked with Kirsteen Tait of the National Association for the Education of Sick Children, one of the many organisations set up by Michael Young to bring about his vision of a better society.

When the school was inspected by Ofsted in October last year, inspectors found that: ‘Leaders and managers are extremely effective at putting into practice their belief that every child has a right to an education while in hospital.’ This is the belief that prompted Michael to set up the association. Its legacy shows how firmly grounded he was in trying to solve problems that just don’t go away.

The school is open all year, closing only for a week over Christmas. There is a full-time teaching staff and learning mentors, and psychotherapy is available for staff to help them deal with the death of a child who has been a pupil at the school. Janette is a creative arts specialist, a background reflected in the wide range of enrichment activities on offer for pupils: swimming, horse-riding, dancing, art, music, and Big Green Footsteps, a European Union-funded environmental project through which five schools from England, Iceland, Ireland, Italy and Poland are investigating energy awareness and climate change issues at national, school and individual level.

Different hospitals have different approaches to providing young people with what they need to carry on learning. For long-term patients at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, there is a classroom on the cancer ward. Patients who are there for a shorter stay learn with teachers who visit their bedside or work with them in the playroom.

The ways in which illness blights the lives of young people and their families may change but the education of sick children is an issue we are unlikely, as a society, ever to resolve – and the goal-posts are constantly shifting. The number of children being admitted to hospital with obesity-related conditions has quadrupled in the 13 years since Michael died, for example, and there has been an 8% increase over the last two years in the number of young people admitted to hospital with eating disorders. The work of hospital schools is complementary to the support NEC gives to young people who are suffering from long-term illness and who are determined to continue studying and working towards qualifications.

11 May, less than two weeks away, is the first day of the annual GCSE and A level exam season. For the UK’s two million 16 to 18-year olds, no matter what their state of health, it’s more than just another Monday. At stake for each of the young people sitting exams between then and 24 June are their futures as independent adults: career choice, earnings potential, further education and training options, and, for around half of them, higher education. We wish them all well.

Ways you can help
You can help children and young people who are ill continue to learn by volunteering at your local children’s hospital or donating to Chelsea Community Hospital School or Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie. Help raise awareness of ways to help young people suffering from physical and mental illness by spreading the word about, a resource for supporting children and young people affected by a medical or a mental health condition – Facebook: Well-at-School, and Twitter: @wellatschool.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Top ten revision tips for this summer's exams

Above: NEC Course Co-ordinator Rosanna

This week’s blog is from NEC Course Co-ordinator Rosanna, who many of you that are studying general education subjects will already know. Rosanna supports learners who are studying GCSE, IGCSE and A Level courses with NEC with queries from how to book an exam to where to get started.

With the start of the exam season getting ever closer, I want to share with you some of the best revision tips that I’ve come across. I know from personal experience how demanding revision can be on your time, and how stressful this time of year can be for anyone taking a GCSE, IGCSE or an A Level.

I compiled a list of my top ten revision tips from discussions I’ve had with NEC tutors, my student support team colleagues and other students who have been through the process. I hope they’re useful!

  1. Compress each topic. Try and compress each topic down to a single page of notes, then take a walk somewhere relaxing and pretend you’re giving a talk on that topic. This is a great way to find any holes in your knowledge which you can address when you get home.
  2. Past papers. These are an excellent and free to download resource. You can also download the mark schemes so you can see how you’ve performed. You can even arrange for your NEC tutor to mark a past paper for you for a small cost - get in touch if you want to find out more.
  3. Keep active. Not only does being active keep you healthy, but it can also help you concentrate. Whether it is taking the dog for a walk as a revision break, or listening to a recording of your revision notes while on the treadmill, engage your body and brain!
  4. Eating the right things. This helps with your concentration and energy levels too so keep the crisps and chocolates as a reward, drink plenty of water, eat fruit and avoid processed foods.
  5. Planning. Planning your revision time is essential, and will help you to make sure you have time to cover everything you need to. Try creating a timetable, but most importantly, stick to it!
  6. Take short breaks. Make sure you plan short breaks within your revision timetable. Go for a walk, have something to eat or take a revitalising shower, but do make sure that you give yourself some time out.
  7. Don’t cram. Don’t leave all of your revision until last minute. Cramming is not an effective way of making sure you understand the subject. The night before the exam should be reserved for relaxing and getting a good nights sleep.
  8. Don’t just read your notes. Try writing things down, talking out loud or writing things on post it notes and spreading them around your house. The added bonus of using post it notes of course, is that your family or housemates will learn something new too!
  9. Practice, practice, practice. We talked about past papers, but they can be so helpful I want to mention them again! Take time to think about the style and format of the questions as well as whether you have the answers right. It can also be useful to think about how much time you will have for each question.
  10. Use the support available. Don’t forget that you have a tutor who can help you if you have questions about your subject. I am here to help too, just a phone call or email away. You could also talk to other learners through the forums in your online workspace.

Well that’s my top ten tips, I do hope they will be useful. You can also find some useful information in the resource ‘How to Succeed as an Independent Learner’ which you can download from your online workspace. It also has some great activities to help you to get prepared.

Last but not least, I want to wish you the best of luck with your exams!


Thursday, 16 April 2015

From reading to writing: building on the Six Book Challenge

fountain pen.jpg

A few months ago, as part of the celebrations around World Book Day, we encouraged people to take part in the Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge to help boost their confidence and promote a great way to start reading and talking about books with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.

This week, Cambridge (where NEC is based) plays host to the Cambridge Literary Festival’s Spring event, which is being attended by published authors as well as aspiring writers and enthusiastic readers. The event is a highlight of the local calendar and takes place in the inspiring setting of the city’s historic centre.

Against this backdrop, we thought it would be an ideal time to encourage anyone who took up the challenge to read more books in February to reflect on what they’ve learned by picking up a pen (or keyboard) and doing a bit of writing of their own. Writing brings many benefits – as well as helping you build on your confidence and written communication skills, a creative outlet can also be a way to unwind, relieve stress, and provide a shared interest that brings people together.

When many people think of creative writing they think of novels, but that’s not all there is to writing. In fact, it can include everything from putting together a factual article for a news journal to drafting the script for a science fiction film.

If you’re just getting started in writing, and you find the thought of completing an article or book daunting, remember you can always start off small and build up over time. You don’t have to dive into something big straight away. Writing shorter pieces can also be a way of honing your writing skills, as you try to tell the same story but using less words. NEC Tutor Ann, who tutors for our Creative Writing course, describes an example:

‘I have written poetry since I was at school but have recently become interested in writing ‘flash fiction.’ There isn’t really a precise definition of flash fiction but it can be thought of as a very short story. Publishers and competitions looking for flash fiction may set a maximum word count of 100, 250 or 500 words. I love the process of honing the piece so that I am achieving the word count whilst still telling the story that I wish to tell. Flash fiction is ideal if you don’t have much time available for writing, but is no less skilful than writing a longer piece.’

Ann continues, ‘Developing that discipline has led me to think more deeply about what I read. An example is ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel. I love the fact that whilst it explores a dystopian world following a devastating outbreak of plague, it has virtually no gory medical details. I think it’s a great example of using carefully chosen words to convey an image. I hope that with lots of practice I could choose my words so well.’

Creative Writing is one of three NEC courses focussing on writing. As well as introducing you to the process of creating fictional stories, it also covers other styles of writing such as plays, letters, poetry and reviews, and is ideal If you want to learn more about the different types of written communication and storytelling. We also have a course focussed on Writing Short Stories – great if you are just getting started and want to hone your skills – and another course on Writing for a Living, for anyone who wants to make the leap from writing as a hobby to becoming a professional writer.

We asked our staff members what they would like to write or what book they would like to create if given the opportunity, and they came up with plenty of ideas. Below is a selection of their responses. Perhaps they will help to inspire you too. Let us know what your ideas are by tweeting us at @NEC_home_study or posting to our Facebook page!

“I’d like to write a story about people living in rural communities – their lives, their relationships, their friendships and so on. I’ve heard someone once say that a good place to start is to write about what you know, and I grew up in that kind of environment.”
— Sue

“Being passionate about education, I’d like to write a book about the history of UK education policy showing the different trends and changes over the years.”
— Carly

“The next great feminist young adult novel!”
— Gemma

“The complete history of Arsenal Football Club, including the kinds of interesting facts that nobody knows yet.”
— James

“A dessert-based travel book. Two of my favourite things put together!”
— Rosanna

“‘Learning Spanish with Paddington Bear in Darkest Peru,’ an educational adventure.”
— Stephanie

“A local history book about Cambridge.”
— Maria

“I would write about all the different ways education can change people’s lives.”
— Ros

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A levels are changing – what you need to know

Distance Learning Explained.jpg

Starting from this September, A levels will be changing. NEC will use the changes in the specifications as an opportunity to enhance our services and ensure that we are delivering A levels in the best possible way. Our students are people who need a second chance, and they deserve the best possible support to help them overcome the obstacles they face.

The changes will be phased in over the next three years, starting from September 2015. The first subjects to change will include History, English Literature, English Language, Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Business and Economics. We will be bringing in new courses for Physics and Chemistry.

Chief Executive of NEC Ros Morpeth says, ‘NEC is particularly pleased to be offering Physics and Chemistry at A level from September. There is a growing interest in all the science subjects. NEC has seen an increase every year in enrolments on our science and maths GCSEs and A levels. University applications for all science and engineering subjects have increased, for example the Institute of Physics reports that applications from students to study for a degree in Physics has risen by an astonishing 40% over the last four years.

‘Up until now NEC has not been able to offer A level Physics and Chemistry to distance learning students because of the difficulty students have in getting access to labs to do the practical work. The changes to the new A level specifications have made it possible to bring back courses for these subjects again and we are delighted to be able to add Physics and Chemistry to our range of A level subjects. These new subjects along with a revised Biology A level will all be available to enrol on from September this year.’

We have created a page on our website to answer your questions about the A level changes, and how they will affect the choices of our learners. Please click here to view the guide.

Course Co-ordinator Rosanna adds, ‘If you enrol on a current A level, where you need to prepare for the summer 2016 exams, we are here to support you. Via your online subject groups you will get information about making exam arrangements and email reminders for when to do this. If your subject has coursework this will need to be completed by March 2016, but again there is plenty of information on your subject group, and there will be lots of reminders over the year! Your course tutor and myself are always just an email or phone call away as well.’

If you’re considering taking the plunge and getting started on an A level in time for next summer’s exams, you’ll be pleased to hear today is the first day of our Easter weekend special offer – from today until Tuesday 9th you can enrol on any A level or (I)GCSE subject and enjoy a discount of 20% off the cost of your course fees. This is one our best offers yet, so don’t miss out! Check our Special Offers page for full details.

For more information about NEC and our wide range of flexible distance learning courses, including A levels, 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.