Friday, 18 September 2015

NEC learner stories: the inspiring educational journey of a remarkable woman

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Sue Deans first studied with NEC in the 1960s. An A grade student in English Literature A level, she went on to a career as an English teacher. Forty years on, Sue has come back to NEC. In her own words, here’s the story of her educational journey, from leaving school at 16 to studying for an A level in Critical Thinking through online learning in her 60s.

I grew up on an East London council estate, with an older sister, a dad who worked as a hardware warehouseman and an ‘invalid’ mother (we would now call disabled). Surviving TB in the early 1940 had left her with only half a functioning lung. Dad did the shopping and housework; mum cooked and I pushed her wheelchair on shopping trips or forays into nearby Epping Forest. No lightweight, motorised chairs in those days; I built up some strong arm and leg muscles!

My sister was awarded a scholarship to London University and spent the next two years studying in our tiny shared bedroom, freezing cold in winter, while I became adept at sleeping with the light on.

I relate this part of my history because I believe it shaped my own educational story. Having passed the 11+ I became one of only two pupils from my primary school to attend the prestigious girls’ school Woodford County High. In spite of feeling somewhat out of place among a majority of middle-cIass pupils, I loved most of my subjects, especially English and Latin, and gained 7 O Levels. But, at the age of 16, I decided to leave school, get a job and contribute to the family finances. This was not an altogether altruistic act - my best friend was also leaving school and I too longed for the freedom of ‘adult’ life.

For the next nine years I worked in a public library, happily surrounded by books. It was during this time that I took up an English Literature A Level course with the NEC. The little pink booklets arrived and I relished the fact that the course included an opportunity to submit our own creative pieces. I had written poetry and stories from a young age; I wrote several Christmas plays for the children’s library. All my assignments came back with A grades and praise from my ‘distance’ tutor.

However, love stepped in, I got engaged and couldn’t keep up my studies. In 1969 I married and moved to Kent, where two years later my first child, Toby, was born. Two more children, both girls, followed and it was while I was helping out at Toby’s playgroup (and struggling to cope with his two small sisters) that I met a woman who literally changed my life.

This lady ran the playgroup and when I collected Toby, I would often linger to help clear up and read stories to the children. One day she suggested that I take a play-leader’s course, which I did, and this led to my opening and running a playgroup near my home. While the mums cleared up at the end of each session, I would take the whole group of ‘rising-fives’ into another room and tell them stories, often getting them to act out parts of them; in fact, we put on a very ambitious performance of Jack and the Beanstalk one year, with a hand-made beanstalk that touched the ceiling.

My mentor then asked me why didn’t I train to be a teacher (like my older sister). It seemed there was a way that ‘mature’ students could study at the training college attached to Kent University. Without A Levels, I didn’t think I had a chance, but they took me – on the strength of a lengthy essay and an interview where they sat me in a small room with a pile of poems and asked me to “write about one of them”. I remember I chose Blake’s ‘London’.

Four years later, I graduated with a First class BEd (Hons) – the only woman in our college to do so that year. I worked in various secondary schools, adding Drama and Media to my curriculum portfolio. Ten years later, I achieved my Master’s degree, researching my own teaching style and practices and writing my dissertation under the direction of a tutor from my old college – another form of distance learning, in fact.

I now live in South-East London, working part-time as a private English tutor. My students have ranged from ages10 to 36. Much as I enjoy tutoring, there has always been this question: I have had success teaching A Level English (Literature and Language) but could I pass an A Level myself?

And that is why I have enrolled again with the NEC, this time to study A Level Critical Thinking. The resources are much more sophisticated, the technology is cutting edge and the NEC is still there, guiding me through my studies.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

How to get an A level within the year

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It’s that time of year again: the holidays are over, pupils are heading back to school, and here in the UK the days are starting to get a little bit cooler.

This year the feeling of a changing of seasons is perhaps more pronounced for the education community than it might have been in previous years, because this Autumn the first of the A level subjects changing due to the government’s reforms will begin to be studied by learners across the country.

It’s a time of transition for more than just the weather.

Here at NEC we have been busy preparing for the changes to come, developing new courses and making sure our learners have all the information they need to navigate their options. We’re excited for the launch of our new A levels which will be arriving later this month, but the first exam opportunity won’t be until 2017, so what happens if you want to sit your exams before then? Or what if you’d simply prefer to study under the current specification instead of a new one?

If you want to study for an A level but are not sure what the changes mean for you, we hope you will find today’s blog helpful.

The first wave of changes

Of our current A level courses, the first ones to change will be Biology, Business Studies, Economics, English Language, English Literature, English Language and Literature, History, Psychology, and Sociology.

This means that if you want to study for an AS, A2, or A level in any of these subjects under the current specification, your last opportunity to sit the exams for your course will be next summer in May or June 2016.

We would strongly encourage you to get in touch as soon as possible if this affects you, as we want to give you as much time as possible to complete your course and prepare for the exams. You can also read more about the government’s A level reforms and how they will affect NEC’s courses at our A Level Reforms information page.

Early Fast Track available for free

We are also offering some extra help exclusively for the courses affected by this first wave of changes, to help give you the best chance of succeeding next summer.

Our Fast Track period usually doesn’t begin until later in the Autumn, and the service itself would normally cost an additional £100, but for courses with final exam opportunities in summer of 2016 we are opening up Fast Track early and allowing you to add it to your enrolment completely free of charge.

For more information about how the Fast Track service is designed to give you additional support if you are enrolling close to the date of your exams, please visit our Fast Track information page.

Final enrolments for courses changing in 2015

We will continue to offer courses with final exam opportunities in 2016 until November or December 2015 at latest, depending on the subject.

Please do get in touch and speak to our team if you find yourself in this situation so that you don’t miss out before these courses are withdrawn.

Still have questions? We’re here to help!

If you have any further questions or want to talk through your options with us, we are always happy to help. You can call our team for free from the UK on 0800 389 2839, or you can drop an email into our inbox. We can also be reached through social media networks on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please don’t hesitate to ask for help.

For more information about NEC and our wide range of distance learning courses, including A levels and GCSEs, please visit our website. You can also keep up to date with NEC news and events by subscribing to our Newsletter or following this blog.

Friday, 4 September 2015

How to choose a distance learning course

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Last week we talked about how you might narrow down your choice of subject for a distance learning course. We are following that up by talking this week about distance learning in general.

Hopefully last week’s blog has helped you pick out what subject area you want to study. The next step is enrolling, but you might have already tried to look for a course only to find there are many distance learning courses being offered by different course providers for your chosen subject -- just search for “distance learning A levels” on Google to see what we mean!

Today’s post will help you narrow down your choice of courses in your subject so you can choose the best provider for your needs.

What to look for in a course

Regardless of who your course provider is there are always things worth keeping an eye out for to ensure you are given the support and guidance you need to succeed.

  1. To help you get the most of our your course, it should be engaging and exciting to study. So it’s a good idea to try and find out what the learning materials you will be studying from look like. If you cannot find a course sample, try to find out what previous students have thought about them. You could ask questions in communities such as The Student Room and see what other people have written there.

  1. The course materials will ideally include plenty of activities and exercises to help you process and reflect on what you have learned, so that it feels more interactive than simply reading through text. See if any key terms are highlighted and explained, and if any learning or exam tips are mentioned in the materials.

  1. It’s also good to have the reassurance of knowing there’s someone to guide you if you get stuck, so check what kind of tuition or help is available. Does your course come with personal one-to-one support from a qualified tutor? Does the tutor specialise in the subject area you wish to study? What kind of opportunities for them to give you feedback on your work are built into your course (look for any assignments or similar exercises which your tutor can mark for you), and will they mark any assignments or tasks the course asks you to do? Is it possible to ask them to mark a past paper for you so you can practise for any written exams?

  1. If your course involves a written exam, coursework, or a practical assessment (such as a workplace observation for a childcare qualification), check how this will be handled by your course. How is coursework dealt with? How much would it cost to sit an exam? And how many times might you have to travel to an exam centre during your course?

  1. Will you be provided with a guaranteed exam place to sit written papers at an exam centre, and how confident is the provider that their materials and support will allow you to pass your exams? What can you do if you’ve done your best throughout the course but did not pass your exams? Is there any support in place to help you try again?

  1. Check whether there are any costs in addition to the course fee and, if in doubt, ask. For example, if you need to sit an exam, the centre where you will go to sit it will charge you a fee, and this exam fee is separate from a course fee that a course provider will charge you. If the exam fee is not included in the provider’s course fees, they need to be transparent about this cost and make it clear to you before you enrol.

  1. Similarly, if there any additional text books to get for your course, these should be clearly listed or you should be able to ask what they are.

  1. Is the course entirely flexible, with no need to schedule for web classes or other learning sessions, to allow you to complete the course at a time and pace that suits your needs?

As you can see, there’s quite a lot to consider when you enrol on a course. It is a big decision after all! But hopefully you have found this list helpful. If you would like to know more about any of the points covered in this blog post, or want to find out how over 50 years of experience -- and the experiences of the thousands of students who have enrolled with us -- have given us insight into what learners need to succeed, why not get in touch and speak to our friendly and helpful team at NEC?

About NEC

NEC supports learners in many different ways to help them successfully complete their courses. We have previously put together a list of questions you should ask your learning provider which you may also find helpful.

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

To keep up with all the latest NEC news and events, you can subscribe to our email newsletter or follow this blog.