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Friday, 04 May 2018

NEC’s Art Techniques course

A painting depicting trees in a field

This week’s blog is written by Jane Horton, tutor for NEC on the Art Techniques course.
Jane introduces the new edition of the Art Techniques course, which she has been responsible for revising and updating. Here she explains why it is good to explore your creativity and what sort of exciting changes have been made to the course. Jane studied art history and art at postgraduate level and has been involved in art education on and off all her working life, specialising in open and distance learning. Jane is also a practising artist and illustrator.

What does the new course look like and why should you study it?

This course is a great starting point for anyone who feels they really want to grasp the nettle and have a proper go at drawing and painting. Work your way through this course, with helpful feedback from your tutor, and you’ll end up wanting to take it even further. This course has always been popular with NEC students but we felt it needed to be refreshed and brought up to date. The good news is that this updated course is just about to be launched and you could be one of the first to enrol.

Anyone studying this course will find themselves just as challenged as previously but will find their path through the course a little clearer and simpler. You’ll still cover all the basics, of line, tone, shape, perspective, and colour. And you will practice a range of themes that will stand you in good stead on your artistic journey. The new version of the course includes more focus on women artists. It’s always important to look at the work of others when learning about art techniques, and it’s essential to add in some examples from wonderful female artists which the old version of the course was lacking.

If you take one message from the course it should be to draw all the time, every day if possible. Your observational and drawing skills improve as if by magic if you do this. Included in this blogpost are a few examples of my quick daily drawings and paintings which form the core of my practice. This daily practice has formed the basis of a shift in focus of my art practice and a satisfying move of direction. Perhaps doing this course will change your life and move you in a new creative direction?

Black and white drawing of two people seated at a cafe table, one smoking a cigarette

As a tutor and an artist myself, I hope this course will help you to discover your latent artistic skills and develop them. It can provide the basis of an interest that will fill the hours, and mean you will never be bored. After all, you can pursue drawing with the simplest of tools: a sheet of paper and a pencil. You might want to take this further on completion of this course as well. You could sign up for more courses locally, or even an art degree, either online or at a college. But first, get out your drawing and painting tools and enrol on this refreshed Art Techniques course. Follow each exercise carefully and you will really improve your drawing and painting!

If you would like to know more about this course, get in touch and speak to our Course Advice Team. You can email us at info@nec.ac.uk, call us free from any UK landline on 0800 389 2839, or send us a message via our website’s Live Chat. We can also be found on social networks including Twitter and Facebook.

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Friday, 27 April 2018

Getting it right on exam day

You’ve spent months preparing for exam day and it’s almost here. We’ve put together some top tips on how to approach these final hours in a calm and effective manner.

1. Give your brain a workout
Your brain is an important muscle. When you aren’t studying your course content keep your brain active by completing crosswords and number and word games.

2. Concentration is key
When your Tutor is providing feedback, or when you are reading content that you will need to remember for the exam, remember to concentrate. Concentration is essential to ensure you retain information.

3. Repeat after me...
Repetition ensures your brain can retain information. The earlier you can start repeating key statistics and data, the easier it will be to recall more detailed information for your exam.

4. Don’t pull an all-nighter
It’s tempting to cram in as much last-minute study as possible, but getting enough sleep the night before your exam is really important. Aim to get a full eight hours of quality sleep. This will actually help your brain to retain all the information you need for your exam. Wake up refreshed and ready for action.

5. March on a full stomach
Start your exam day with a hearty breakfast. Research has shown that eating breakfast has a positive impact on exam results – so tuck in. A high protein choice, such as eggs or yoghurt is perfect for keeping you alert, whilst carbohydrates like porridge will sustain your energy levels over the day ahead. 

6. Drink to think
Try to avoid caffeine, especially if you don’t drink it often – as it can make you feel nervous and jittery. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. This will help you to maintain concentration levels and alertness. Keep a bottle of water on your desk, so that you remember to drink regularly during those important last few hours of study.

7. Move it
In the days leading up to your exam, make time to take some light exercise. Even just a brisk walk will get your blood circulating to your brain, as well as helping to reduce feelings of anxiety and boosting sleep levels.

8. Take a break
In the final hours before your exam, make sure you break-off from studying every 20 minutes. Talk a quick stretch and walk around – this will help to keep your brain oxygenated and attention levels sharp.

9. Be prepared
Avoid any last-minute stress by finding out all the details of your exam – such as location, time and access arrangements – well in advance. That way, you’ll arrive in plenty of time feeling calm and prepared. If possible, try to avoid too much pre-exam interaction with others and focus on the task ahead.

10. Read and re-read
At last, you’re in the exam and have the paper in front of you. It’s easy to leap straight in – but take your time and read each question carefully – circling all the key words. Check you fully understand what every question is asking before you put pen to paper.

11. Plan your time
Look carefully at the marks allocated to each question to understand how important it is and how much work it needs. Plan your time accordingly. Tackle questions you CAN answer first – it will help you to settle in and will boost your confidence. If you get stuck, come back to a difficult question later with fresh eyes.

12. Check and re-check
Use any time left at the end of your exam to carefully check every answer for mistakes or to add improvements. If you have a two-hour exam, then ideally try to leave about 20 minutes for checking – these final changes could be the difference that gets you a higher grade. 

13. Relax
Once your paper is handed in, relax. All the hard work is over and you deserve a rest. Try not to get drawn into post-exam discussions about how others answered each question – it’s too late to change now, so try to stay positive.

We’re here to help

If you have any questions or need guidance to help with your exam preparation, please do contact your tutor or our Student Support Team.

Additional services

From past paper marking to additional tutorials on key areas, our tutors offer additional services to help you prepare for exams. To find out more about these services, please get in touch on: 0800 389 2839.

Further reading

We have worked closely with UCAS to prepare a series of free study skills guides, which provide further information and guidance.
 

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Monday, 23 April 2018

Writing the perfect essay

The word ‘essay’ is also a verb meaning ‘to attempt’. It still retains something of that meaning in it's commoner sense of ‘a piece of continuous prose (not like a series of notes) in which the writer explores a topic’. As essays are one of the ways in which examination boards test you will need plenty of practice in writing them.

There are many reasons why you need to write essays:

  • The experience of note-taking, planning and writing an essay places you in the position of really thinking through arguments for yourself. Few things concentrate the mind as much as having to produce an essay! It enables you to really engage with the issues.
  • Your essay enables you and your tutor to gauge your progress and suggests what further work you may need to carry out.
     
Clarifying your purpose

When you first encounter an essay question, ask yourself:

  • What is the key verb? Am I being asked to ‘discuss’, ‘compare’, ‘give reasons for’, ‘analyse’…? Your essay will need to address directly the request in the question.
  • What is the questioner looking for? Clearly this will depend on the precise content of the question, but in more general terms all essays should provide:
    • Evidence that you have done enough thoughtful reading and understood the issues at stake.
    • Evidence of an ability to reason effectively - to develop a line of argument, comparing and contrasting different views on the matter.
       

Let's consider how you can best provide this evidence.

Planning your essay

Always plan your essay. This is where note-taking is useful. An essay needs to be crafted; it is not just an expression of everything you know about the question. Never begun an essay without having thought through the order in which you intend to lay out the issues. The architect and the carpenter both plan their work first- so must the essay writer.

Your plans can be in brief note form. But do make them. And remember, even when your time is limited you are unlikely to gain anything by omitting this stage.

Essay structure

One approach might be to think of an essay as a courtroom, in which a case is made, with evidence for and against a proposition. You have the choice to be either a barrister or a judge.

As a barrister your aim should be to make your case as strongly as you can to the judge and jury. To do that effectively you need to lay out not only your own position, but also that of the other side.

As a judge. At the end of the trial a judge goes through the evidence of the prosecuting and defending councils, weighing up the evidence each way. She may then advise the jury on the verdict.

The second approach is often the most useful. In either case you need to be fair to all the alternative arguments. For your case or verdict to be convincing, you have to show that you have dealt with all the relevant views properly.

Once you have decided on your approach:

  • Give your essay a clear, brief introduction, stating what you intend to do.
  • Either -
    • Assign a number of paragraphs describing or stating a case, followed by more paragraphs discussing problems arising out of the foregoing and/or the alternative case/s
    Or -
    • Alternate pro and contra in the paragraphs as you go.
  • Finish with a clear conclusion. You may feel that you have no neat answer to the problems you have been discussing, but you need to review what the main issues were in the main body of the essay.
Examples

Whenever you can, give examples to illustrate what you are trying to say. Examples often clarify what's being said and show (if you have thought of them yourself) that you have really understood the problem.

Analysing

When you write an essay, part of your task will be to describe an argument, problem or position. However you should avoid mere description. Try to analyse. Use your critical intelligence to examine claims, weigh them up, check them for flaws, etc. You'll feel more confident about doing this once you have worked the course materials.

Offering your position

By all means give your reader your own views, but always base them on the evidence in the essay. Never make unsupported claims. Show why something is the case - don't just state it. And never pad out an essay with vague generalisations.

Finally…

Try and enjoy crafting your essay. It can be a very therapeutic way of informing the reader about all you know on the subject, and when you have finished and are happy with how it reads it can be a very satisfying and celebratorary feeling!

Next steps

Why not download our free study guide on academic essay writing from the UCAS website for even more support.
 

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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Who are the science and technology stars of tomorrow?

Woman working in a hospital laboratory

For years employers have warned that the UK faces a skills shortage in many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles. For example, EngineeringUK recently announced that the UK needs 1.8 million new engineers and technicians by 2025.

At the NEC, STEM subjects are amongst our most popular GCSE and A level courses. We recently conducted a survey to understand more about our 2017 cohort of A level STEM students. We wanted to know more about what motivated them to study and their future ambitions.

Our headline results

Subject choice

  • 41% Biology
  • 24% Chemistry
  • 19% Physics
  • 16% Mathematics
     

Gender divide

  • 52% female
  • 48% male
     

With women still under-represented in STEM careers, it’s interesting and encouraging to see that our STEM distance learners have an almost equal gender divide – with slightly more female students than male. However, the balance shifts when it comes to individual subject areas:

  • Biology – 68.4% female
  • Chemistry – 53.5% female
  • Mathematics – 34.9% female
  • Physics – 30% female
     

National campaigns such as WISE (Women in Science, Tech and Engineering) and Geek Girls are seeking to open up opportunities for women to enter STEM careers. It seems the NEC STEM student demographic has a more equal gender balance than the wider UK picture, where currently:

  • Women make up 42% of UK science professionals
  • 11% of the engineering workforce in the UK is female
  • 20% of A level physics students are girls
  • Women make up 17% of UK ICT professionals
  • Women make up 23% of UK STEM professionals
     

Age

One of the great advantages of distance learning is that it’s accessible and achievable for students of all ages. Our survey revealed that our STEM students range from 15 to 79 years old. However, the vast majority are either in their 20s (52.9%) or aged 15-19 (23.6%) – suggesting plenty of future STEM careers could be in the pipeline.

STEM aspirations

We asked our STEM students about their future fields of interest. The most popular responses were Medicine and related careers (43.8%) and Engineering (12.3%). Overall the scope of fields of interest were diverse and included: Law, Science, Meteorology, Architecture and Computer Science.

“The goal is to blitz these A levels so I can apply to Biomedical Engineering degrees with various universities.” — NEC A level Biology, Mathematics and Physics student

*Data sources: www.wes.org.uk/content/wesstatistics and www.wisecampaign.org.uk/resources/2017/10/women-in-stem-workforce-2017.
 

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Friday, 23 March 2018

Get ready for exam success

Desks and chairs in an exam hall

With the Easter break fast approaching, summer exams for GCSEs and A levels are just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to plan your revision schedule and we’ve put together some top tips to help you get started.

1. Make space

Fitting study around a busy schedule can be a challenge. Make the best use of your time by creating an organised study space. With quick access to everything you need – you’ll work much more efficiently.

2. Plan your approach

Create a revision timetable by working out how many topics you need to cover and allocating revision sessions to each one.

Revisit the learning outcomes of your course to focus your mind on the key issues. Consider which areas you feel more or less confident in and prioritise your revision time accordingly.

3. Banish distraction

So, you have a plan... now comes the hard bit. Getting started can be difficult and distractions are rather tempting. It’s a struggle, but try to avoid Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social channels whilst studying. Keep your phone in a different room, where you can check it during a break.

Try to motivate yourself by focusing on why you’re doing it, breaking a task into smaller chunks, setting targets and rewarding yourself.

4. Use every trick in the book

Revision is all about committing information to memory, so you can apply it to different scenarios in the exam. Here are some common ways of learning and retaining information:

  • Keep it simple: use bullet points, lists, headings and mnemonics
  • Mix it up: use diagrams, quizzes, documentaries, pictures, audio, flashcards, posters and apps
  • Do it your way: write notes in your own words to make them easier to remember
  • On repeat: re-read, chant and recite your notes
     

5. Think critically

Don’t just write reams of revision notes – test yourself as you work. Do you understand what you’re learning? Are there any areas that need more research or unresolved questions? Think about any patterns or themes in the information you’re working with. Why are they there? What other ideas support them – what do you think?

If you do identify areas that you still don’t fully understand, please contact your tutor or our Student Support Team, for assistance.

6. Understand the task

Every year exam boards publish examiner reports which outline exactly what they are looking for when they mark papers. They also detail what they don’t want to see.

By accessing the exam board reports you can identify key strategies for gaining higher marks. Learn and practice these strategies and provide examiners with exactly the type of answer they are looking for.

7. Question time

Once you’ve learnt the facts, start to apply them by completing past papers – at least two weeks before the exam. Familiarising yourself with how questions are worded and structured will help you to identify exactly what is being asked on exam day.

8. Build models

Using revision notes and past papers create a series of model answers and practice these in different ways:

  • Planning answers in brief
  • Writing full answers in timed exam conditions
  • Drawing mind maps to capture every point
  • Discussing answers with your tutor or via our forum
     

9. Review and improve

Once you finish a past paper, reflect on your responses by going through the marking scheme. Think about areas for improvement and use the scheme’s model answers to identify any gaps in your knowledge.

The more past papers and questions you tackle – the more confident you’ll feel on exam day.

10. And finally, take a break

A tired brain isn’t effective, so take regular breaks and don’t sit at your desk for hours on end. Get out, take some exercise, eat and sleep well.

We’re here to help

If you have any questions or need guidance to help with your revision, please do contact your tutor or our Student Support Team.

Additional services

From past paper marking to additional tutorials on key areas, our tutors offer additional services to help you prepare for exams. To find out more about these services, please get in touch on: 0800 389 2839.

Further reading

We have worked closely with UCAS to prepare a series of free study skills guides, which provide further information and guidance.
 

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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

'Teachers shouldn't confiscate pupils' phones: they're vital for learning.'

A hand holding a smartphone

This week’s blogger is former NEC GCSE English student Naila Din. Now a freelance arts advisor and business coach, Naila turned to teaching as a second career after studying graphic design at university and working as a graphic designer in the world of web design before embarking on a career in education. Her enthusiasm for education and the integration of technology into the classroom prompted her to further develop her knowledge in this field with a Masters in Digital Media, with a particular focus on the future of education. This blog post is the second of two about the impact of technology in the classroom and looks at what technology means for teachers. The first post can be found here: https://www.nec.ac.uk/blog/2017/10/05/teachers-technology-and-future-learning

Impact of technology on teachers

It's the 21st century, a time when research, such as Buckminister Fuller’s ‘Knowledge Doubling Curve,’ has led to estimates that people’s knowledge is doubling every 12 months from generation to generation (Carolyn Gregoire writes in her article for the Huffington Post ‘Is Human Intelligence Rising With Each Generation?'); yet we still hear news such as ‘Iran has decided to ban teaching English to its students from FEAR of losing its culture, or Apple controlling its consumers by slowing down older iPhones.’

There has been some debate around teachers confiscating pupil’s phones, banning them from the classroom and asking whether they’re vital for learning. A professional lawyer told me recently that his word of the year is focus, this got me thinking. It got me thinking about the generations to come who have fewer opportunities to truly master the skills of people who are highly successful today, because of technology like mobile phones and computer games.

We are at the beginning of a revolution where future generations will be increasingly immersed in technology. Technology is growing in ways and speeds even the inventors can’t comprehend, let alone prepare students for. Technology which is likely to become obsolete by the time students are ready to embark into the world of work. This blog is not about whether mobiles phones should or should not be confiscated, but it is about an opportunity to look at things in a different way – to ‘Think Differently’ as one major computer company put it.

With these realities, each generation is learning about technology from its children. Are we not? Instead of confiscating, banning or trying to restrict mobile technology in the classroom, could it be better to address fears head on, by looking at the behaviour and teaching our students about the skills needed to get ahead? In my opinion, this can only be done by working with students to create opportunities for mobile technology to be utilised on projects and by making learning more like the real world, something that Vicki Davis offers her students and shares with other teachers at http://www.coolcatteacher.com/

If we asked students do they wish to be ‘successful’ I am sure 90% would have a vague idea of what success would look like, with others having no idea at all. Times are increasingly changing. People are moving from opportunity to opportunity to expand their lifestyles. In my opinion it is an ideal time for educators to teach the skills that lead to success, regardless of what that success might be for the future of our students.

Success comes from learning how to create a deep, laser focus’ says Richard St. John ‘and mobile phones are designed to be distractive and disruptive.’ Richard spent over a decade teaching students what leads to success. ‘Focus’ is one of the eight traits he talks about that are common in successful people, regardless of their environmental and social background. https://youtu.be/77RubAueWjg

Teaching and developing skills that empower students to become independent-learners and take ownership of their passions, desires and imaginations would allow for an education system which grows and morphs as technology continues to change the world of work and the future of education. Students would themselves equipped with skills that will serve them throughout their life. Skills that are purposeful and meaningful.
 

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Tuesday, 06 March 2018

A lesson in innovation: Ángela Ruiz Robles


"Ángela Ruiz Robles with her Mechanical Encylopedia"
by ITU Pictures / License: CC BY 2.0

As a distance learning provider, the NEC was founded on the aspiration to widen access to education. Doing things differently is part of our DNA and innovative thinking has been required from day one.

From looking at how new technology can enhance distance learning to exploring different pedagogical methods – innovation continues to drive us forward. Once in a while it we like to reflect on how others innovate in education – to see if there are lessons to be learnt.

Last week, an article in the Guardian highlighted how a street in Madrid has been named after Spanish teacher and inventor, Ángela Ruiz Robles. The street-naming celebrates her contribution to education and innovation in Spain. It is part of a wider initiative in Madrid to bring previously overlooked work by pioneering female artists, writers, scientists and thinkers to light.

Ruiz Robles is remembered for her 1949 invention: the mechanical encyclopedia which can be retrospectively viewed as a visionary forerunner to the ebook.

The mechanical encyclopedia was described as a “mechanical, electric and air-pressure driven method for reading books”. It included audio, a magnifying glass and a light – plus different subject reels that could be swapped out.

Born in 1895, Ruiz Robles was a teacher, writer and lecturer. Whilst her mechanical encyclopedia won prizes and acclaim, it never gained the funding to launch as a product. A working prototype is now an important exhibit at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Spain.

Lesson 1: Innovation comes from passion

Ruiz Robles became an inventor for one simple reason: to help her students learn. She wanted to ‘make teaching easier: to get maximum knowledge with minimum effort’. As a teacher and writer, she wanted to find new ways to engage her students – as well as to lighten their satchels.

Lesson 2: Timing is key

In later life, Ángela returned to her invention project. Although technology had advanced by the 1970s – the timing still wasn’t right and the project reached prototype stage only. Who knows what educational innovations Ángela might have created, had she been working in today’s digital world?

Lesson 3: The long road to recognition

Recognition for Ángela’s mechanical encyclopedia only grew in the decades after her death in 1975. Innovative thinkers often don’t see the impact of their work. For Ángela and a host of other innovative women, Madrid’s street-naming project marks the end of a long road to recognition. It is great to see their vital contributions finally taking centre stage.

More about Madrid’s street-naming project
 

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Thursday, 01 March 2018

What can we learn from Finland?

The flag of Finland, a blue cross on a white field

A Finnish Education

No inspections, no tests, no uniforms and no fees. A valued teaching profession, shorter school days and starting school at seven. Do all these elements add-up to a world-leading education system? In Finland, it appears they do.

Finland has consistently ranked highly in the PISA tables. Held every three years, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.

How do the UK’s PISA rankings compare? Well, the results speak for themselves:

  UK ranking Finland ranking
Reading

Maths

Science
22nd

27th

15th
4th

13th

5th
PISA Rankings 2015 (Source)
Distance learning… the Finnish way

At the NEC we deliver a wide range of GCSE and A Level distance learning courses. To deliver national qualifications effectively, compliance with the wider UK education system is a necessity. However, working outside the school system does give us a certain freedom to innovate to create the best learning experience for our students.

By looking at the educational systems of other countries, we draw on ideas and best practice to inform the ‘NEC approach’. Finland offers plenty of food for thought…

Flexibility

We support a diverse range of students. Our courses must have the flexibility to suit a wide range of audiences – from those gaining qualifications for career progression, to pupils being home-schooled or individuals re-training in the armed forces.

Flexibility is key to the Finnish approach. Children don’t enter compulsory schooling until the age of seven. Once in school, the Finnish learning day is much shorter (four hours). Homework is also minimal, because Finnish parents trust that teachers cover enough during the school day – making home a space for children to enjoy other interests and family time.

A focused, time-efficient approach is a necessity for distance learners, who often juggle studying with work and family commitments. For those choosing to home-school, having the flexibility to balance learning with family time – as in Finland – is often seen as a real positive.

Innovation

As a distance learning provider, innovation is part of our DNA. It helps us to ensure that NEC students have the same opportunity to succeed, as those learning in a face-to-face environment.

In Finland, experimentation and change in education is actively encouraged. The Finnish listen to and act upon new research. In fact, Finnish teachers often establish mini-labs to test different styles of teaching. They then keep what works and discard the ideas that don’t.

For distance learning, this pro-active, experimental approach could bring exciting progress – as technology opens up new ways for us to communicate and educate at a distance.

Support

At the NEC, we are committed to going ‘above and beyond’ to support the learning experience of our students. We structure our resources so that from course administration through to academic delivery – quality support is available. We also have robust quality assurance processes to monitor and evolve how our students experience support.

Placing priority on pupil support is a key aspect of Finland’s approach. With smaller schools than in the UK, Finnish teachers have the time and attitude to focus on going the extra mile to support students when they need it.

Equality

At the NEC, we champion the right to access learning regardless of age, background, culture or circumstance. It is interesting to note that equality is also fundamental to Finland’s education system.

With no standardised testing or streaming by ability, the Finnish focus on learning – not competition, rankings or league tables. All Finnish schools work toward the same national goals, with equal access to one talent pool of teachers. The impact of equality in education is highlighted by the fact that, in Finland, the difference between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world (source: OECD).

As a distance learning provider, it is inspiring to see how equality of access and experience can lead to outstanding results.

Find out more:

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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Learning barriers facing prisoners

 'Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.' - Nelson Mandela

Today's NEC Blog is written by Wendy Monaghan, who has considerable experience of working with distance learners in many different contexts and is currently at the University of East London. Her MA Leadership in Education dissertation was entitled: ‘Distance Learning Trends in Prisons in England and Wales.’

During his 27 years imprisonment Nelson Mandela studied for a degree via a correspondence course. South Africa’s first black president believed education to be the most powerful weapon available to change the world. Many would agree. But what are the special problems facing those detained in Her Majesty’s prisons who wish to follow Mandela’s example?

Access to education choice: Individuals in prison don’t always know what is available to them and educational opportunities vary from prison to prison, often focused on literacy and numeracy. The options are far more limited than those available within a college or university. Constraints are imposed by the availability of suitably trained teaching staff, the availability of resources, limited and restricted access to those resources, and the prisoner’s length of sentence – will he or she be able to complete all the necessary modules before being moved to another institution or released?

Access to materials: Whilst some distance learning organisations (like the NEC and the OU), provide paper-based materials for prison learners, many don’t offer an alternative, catering for the wider mass online market. This makes studying challenging as there is no access to the internet and less guidance from many providers on what and how to study especially if aiming for exams.

Access to resources: Alongside the paucity of materials is the very limited access to resources to support studying. The most notable is the restricted access to computers, not only for internet research, but for writing up assignments. Library visits may be for just 20 minutes. And whilst the library may stock some reference works and study guides, its main offer will be fiction.

Access to tutors: Whilst learners will have access to a tutor, it is often limited to short phone calls, letters and marked assignments. Phone calls will be brief and only at an allotted time. If the timing does not suit either tutor or learner, then it could be some time before contact can be made. With no access to email in prison, letters and posted marked assignments are the only written feedback and support. These are slow feedback mechanisms and if the written feedback creates further questions, the student must then try to contact the tutor again.

Quiet study: Prisons are noisy environments! There is a constant humdrum of shouting and doors banging, against a backcloth of people moving around all the time. Access to quiet areas to think let alone study are few.

“Most of us, in prison, tend to find really early mornings easier to study. It's the quietest part of the day in prison. It also feels better when you get up early for a purpose. The other really big thing for me was to talk about it. Whatever you are studying, there is something really valuable about trying to have conversations with people on the yard, or between sets at the gym. It helps for you to think about how to explain really complex topics in a really basic way. The better you get at explaining it in lay terms, the more it sinks in.”Gareth, Prisoners’ Education Trust course brochure 2018 (page 26)

Prisoner mobility: Sometimes a learner can be moved at short notice (often hours). Course materials can be left behind and at each prison a new assessment will be undertaken. Sometimes the new prison will not support the type of course that was supported previously, the prison may have a different educational focus or may not have the capacity to support the learner.

Exams: Should a learner complete their studies, they may need to take an exam to gain a qualification. A learner in prison has battled with all other challenges including maintaining their own motivation to get to the exams stage. There is the possibility that they will then be let down by administrative issues experienced within the prison or as a result of syllabus changes. Being a registered exam centre varies from prison to prison and a learner could undertake study and then be unable to take an exam at the end of it all.

“It can be difficult to motivate yourself, but what kept me going was that it would be a waste not to do it. I checked on my initial reasons for wanting to do the course, and I focused on those.”Sadiq, Prisoners’ Education Trust course brochure 2018 (page 42)

These are just some of the challenges that learners in prison face when they decide to enrol on a course – whether this be a short course, vocational, GCSE, A Level or degree.  The good news is that there is lots of work being done through charities such as the Prisoners’ Education Trust to support learning in prison. The Prisoner’s Education Trust is the lead for prison learning and has just published its 2018 prospectus.

The National Extension College supports prison learners to achieve qualifications by making essential adjustments such as providing hard copies of learning materials and sending out additional copies should a learner be moved to a new prison at short notice.

All this support provides opportunities in prison that would otherwise not be an option and supports learners in developing themselves both personally as well as educationally and professionally.

Those who undertake any form of learning whilst in prison deserve congratulation for their perseverance and commitment to overcoming the many barriers.

Those barriers are formidable, but many prisoners over many years have been grateful for the unstinting support available from the National Extension College, without which very many would be denied access to learning.
 

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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Ignite your love of learning this Valentine’s day

An open book with two pages curled together forming the shape of a heart

It’s Valentine’s day, so we thought we’d talk about our biggest love at NEC: learning! There are so many reasons to love learning, these are our top 5.

1: There are so many ways to learn!

If the thought of a classroom sends you running for the hills, you can learn online, like an NEC course. You can watch videos, do quizzes and even have a personal tutor. The speed that modern technology is advancing is making the learning landscape an exciting place to be.

2: You can learn at any age.

The official school leaving age has risen to 18, but even if you’re not planning on going on to University, your learning journey doesn’t have to end there. NEC welcomes students of all ages.

3: You can study, well, just about anything.

Whatever your passion—English, maths, science, Latin or perhaps the history of art—chances are you’ll be able to find a course on it. NEC, for example, has over 80 courses, including all of the topics we just mentioned and many more!

4: It builds confidence.

Time and time again, we hear that one of the results of learning, is building confidence. If you have been out of study for a while, it can be daunting to start again. Taking a course can help you to build the confidence to take the next steps in your learning journey.

5: It can change your life!

Getting back into learning really can change your life. As well as building confidence, it can open the doors to a new career or to a promotion. In a recent survey of NEC students, more than 50% of respondents said that they went on to further or higher study as a result of taking an NEC course. One respondent told us that as a result of taking a course, he was able to become ordained. Another told us that her course led to her publishing two books.

We hope that the reasons for our passion for education help you to ignite your own love of learning. If you want to take a step on your learning journey, take a look at our range of courses and see if there’s one for you!
 

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