Blog: August 2016

Thursday, 25 August 2016

GCSE results at any age

Unless you’ve been avoiding the TV, internet, newspapers and the radio today, you will have noticed that it’s GCSE results day.

As always, the media have focused on the most well-known group of students receiving their results today — the under-16s. This is perfectly illustrated by a tweet from the DfE earlier today:

We want to take the opportunity today to celebrate another group of students getting results today: the private candidates.

There are an estimated 50,000 people each year who sit GCSE, IGCSE and A level exams under their own steam. To put that into perspective, that means there are the equivalent to the population of Bognor Regis — or enough students to fill roughly 30 secondary schools — of these private candidates.

NEC CEO Ros Morpeth tells us why GCSE level education is so important:

‘GCSE qualifications are the first significant mark of formal achievement in a subject and are recognised by both employers and education providers. The grades you get at GCSE will shape the next steps of your learning journey. For example, you may need to get at least a B grade to go on to study that subject at A level or a C grade is a requirement for an apprenticeship.

‘Of all of the subjects taken at GCSE, English and maths at grade C and above have a special significance. This has been further highlighted by the government's decision to ensure these subjects are continued post-16 if a C grade is not achieved.

‘NEC students come from all walks of life and may not have done as well as they had hoped the first time around, but this should not mean that they should be denied the opportunities to gain these qualifications.

‘That’s where NEC comes in. Our students are often people looking for a second chance, a chance to change their lives. Common choices for a career change are nursing, midwifery, teaching and physiotherapy. We are able to help people to get those all-important access qualifications to get them on track.’

Many NEC learners are living proof that you don’t have to be of school age to do GCSE level study. You can do them for the first time or as a retake at any age and it could be the first step to changing your life.

Stella Lawrence is one such student who has taken that step and had this message for her tutor and the NEC team:

‘Just wanted to let you know that I got 84%, which is an A grade! This is totally unexpected and beyond my wildest dreams.

‘I put my success firmly with you and your relentless, patience and very prompt responses throughout the 6 months.

‘The result will change my life and has made my confidence soar! I am well on my way to becoming a primary school teacher and only hope I can be half as good a mentor and teacher as you.

‘Thank you, thank you so much and all the very the best to you.’

A number of people also choose to study for the challenge it brings rather than a specific outcome. Life-long learning is a passion for many and NEC learner Catherine Speechley is an inspirational example.

Catherine has what she describes as a ‘haphazard routine’, with her hours of work constantly changing. She did well at school but was frustrated that there were some subjects she had to drop. Now in her 40s she's catching up with the subjects she left behind and has just received her results for IGCSE French. We are proud to say that she achieved an A*. Distance learning worked for Catherine because she is very self-motivated and knows exactly how much self-discipline you need to succeed.

Our students have a strong track record of exam success and today’s GCSE results continue the trend with 9.75% of NEC GCSE and IGCSE students achieving an A* (so far — more results are still coming in!) compared to the national average of 6.5%.

Of course, it’s not good news for everyone getting their results today. NEC assessment expert Louise has some advice if you fall into this category.

‘Firstly don’t worry you’re not alone, I know how it feels. I re-took my maths GCSE after many years away from study. Now having conquered that hurdle, I feel very proud of myself and I’m glad I persevered.

‘Speak to the institution you completed your studies with and ask if you can re-sit and if there is any support to help you to do so. If they can’t help you or if you are looking to retake after several years, get in touch with us at NEC and we can help you to achieve to get the subjects you need.

‘If you are an NEC student and you have a result that is unexpected, get in touch and we will help you to investigate.’

If you want to be collecting your results and taking the next step towards changing your life, browse our website or call and speak to one of our course advisers free on 0800 389 2839.

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Monday, 22 August 2016

Barriers need breaking down for private exam candidates

Dr Ros Morpeth OBE, Chief Executive of NEC
Above: Dr Ros Morpeth OBE, Chief Executive of NEC

There are an estimated 50,000 people each year who sit exams under their own steam. To put that into perspective, that means there are the equivalent to the population of Bognor Regis or enough students to fill roughly 30 secondary schools of these so called private candidates.

These ambitious people have made the decision to change their lives, they are often studying independently through online and distance learning providers like NEC and have to organise their study time around many other commitments.

The majority of private candidates are adults and young people whose circumstances make it difficult or impossible for them to attend school or a college of further education, including those with disabilities, people in long-term hospital care, those serving custodial sentences, people with caring responsibilities and people in employment who are studying part-time.

The majority of them choose a distance learning provider for their studies as they are not able to attend classes at a fixed time and place. These students are usually highly motivated because they need the essential entry qualifications for apprenticeships, higher education and professional courses.

As they don’t have an institution to make the necessary exam arrangements for them, they do this themselves and pay their own exam fees. With no requirement for schools and colleges to accept them this can often present a challenge.

There are some public-spirited organisations that do their best to welcome private candidates, such as Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge and other NEC partnership exam centres. They, like us, believe that private candidates for exams deserve to be greeted with welcoming arms rather than have doors shut in their face.

Now private candidates may have further hurdles to jump with the proposed changes to the current system.

These have come about as a result of new JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) regulations introduced this March that require non-examined assessments (NEA) of GCSEs and A levels to be undertaken in the same place as the written examinations. These candidates are at risk of not being able to gain GCSE and A level qualifications in subjects with NEA elements. These include all the A level science subjects, history, English language and English literature A levels, modern foreign languages and the English language GCSE, which has a speaking and listening endorsement.

Up until the new regulations were drafted there was enough flexibility within the exam system to make it possible for the NEA to be handled separately from the written exams. This flexibility was a great benefit to private candidates.

At NEC we are optimistic that a solution will be found to make it possible for all private candidates to reach their goals. In the meantime, NEC is able to offer a solution to students, working with our partnership exam centres. As we said earlier we would like all private candidates for exams to be greeted with welcoming arms, rather than have doors shut in their face.

In a recent letter to Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening, I set out what steps could be taken in removing this barrier to private candidates sitting GCSE and A levels examinations. In short, we need someone to stand up and take responsibility for this group of students and ensuring that new policies being implemented do not adversely affect them. We need the regulators Ofqual, the awarding organisations and the Joint Council for Qualifications to think about the needs of this group of students when changes to policy are being considered.

You can read my opinion piece in the latest issue of the Times Education Supplement about this subject, and join in the debate on our social networks.

Dr Ros Morpeth OBE
Chief Executive of NEC

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Thursday, 18 August 2016

Celebrating success this A level results day

Students up and down the country have received their A level results today. News programmes will be filled with teenagers celebrating the hard work of the last two years paying off, or commiserating about having to retake. Colleges and sixth forms across the country will be celebrating the success of the students, proud of what they have achieved.

NEC is no exception, with thousands of students each year studying A levels with NEC we too are proud of their achievements. The difference with many NEC students though, is that they are often studying around other commitments and come from all over the world. They could be any age and studying for any number of reasons.

We are often asked ‘who is a typical NEC student?’ Our answer: They will typically live anywhere and are male or female between the ages of 9 and a half and 86. They are often being educated at home rather than at school, working full time, have a young family to raise, or are retraining to become a teacher, midwife or nurse. You can meet some of them on our website.

As diverse as NECs students are, they all have three things in common: hard work, dedication and the desire to change their lives.

NEC exams expert Louise told us: ‘This year we’ve had more people than ever sitting exams with our partnership centres and submitting coursework for the subjects that require it. This is because of the new A level specifications coming in for popular subjects like Biology and English and 2016 was the final opportunity to take the legacy specifications.’

‘I’ve spoken to a lot of students who are worried about the deadlines that the reforms have created and are convinced that they have done poorly. I would like to reassure those students that even if they have not achieved the grade they hoped for, there is a chance to resit in 2017. Do get in touch if you have any questions or want to talk through your options.’

An area that has been of particular interest to Ros Morpeth, CEO of NEC are the A level French results. ‘This year we have had more students register to sit their French exams with us - 40% more in fact - which is surprising as the trend nationally has declined.This decline was also reported in the Times Educational supplement today.’ She explained:

‘I was delighted to see this morning the excellent results in this subject. 93.33% of our students who sat their A level exams with us achieved a C or above, compared to the national average of 87.12%. This is even more impressive when you consider that most of these students will be studying around other commitments such as work and family life.’

‘A level French is a good example of a subject that is often difficult to do as a private candidate because of the oral exam requirements. As a registered exam centre ourselves, we are able to offer a solution to our students. They can come and take the oral exam with us or at one of our partnership exam centres.’

‘Following on from this success, we’ll be launching A level Spanish shortly as well as launching a new A level French course in line with the revised 2016 specification. Both of these will be delivered online through our new learn@nec platform and feature engaging and interactive content designed to provide a flexible solution for our students.’

If you would like to be opening your results this time next year, get in touch about enrolling with NEC. You can find out more about our wide range of A level subjects on the website, or speak to our Course Advice Team for more information or to register your interest in our new Spanish and French A levels. You can call us free from any UK landline on 0800 389 2839, or you can email us at

Join the conversation and tell us your story! #LifeChangingLearning

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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A level Results Day - Helping you prepare


Right now you’re probably really anxious about opening that brown envelope or that email that gives you your results - do you rip it open or do you get someone else to open it for you? That feeling of sinking just from the thought of it all. Will I get the grades that I want? What if I fail? How do I tell my family?... All of these thoughts are perfectly normal but sometimes we get so consumed by the fear of failure. But, the good news is NEC are on hand to help you prepare.

1. Ask questions - research, research, research
If you’re worried about whether you’ll still get into university with your grades or you need to know if you can re-sit your exams if you don’t get the results you want there are lots of places to go for information. UCAS is just one example of where to go, they will be able to help answer any questions you may have about getting into University. Hannah Morrish from The Student Room has written a really useful article for the Independent with answers to some of the questions you may have.

2. General well-being
Look after yourself. It’s important to try to get a good night’s sleep but if you’re struggling to drift off try reading a book you really enjoy to take your mind off the next day. You could even try doing a bit of meditation to help relax your mind and body. There are some great apps out there like Headspace and Calm that guide you through letting go of your thoughts and focussing on deep breathing.

3. How do I get my results?
NEC students who took their exams at one of our partnership centres will have an email sent to them with their results. For colleges and schools, you should’ve been told whether you’ll get your results sent to you via email or in an envelope.

4. If you’re away on results day
Make sure you arrange for a friend or family member to collect your results for you. You will need to let the college know that you’ll be away and who will collect these for you. Research all potential options.

5. Celebrate finishing your A levels
Whatever the outcome, you’ve worked so hard getting this far so why not arrange a night in with friends or go out for dinner to celebrate finishing your A levels. Studying for any qualification takes a lot of steam and motivation which is why you should be proud of getting through it.

We wish you all the best of luck for your exam results and hope you get the grades you want. If you’re an NEC student and would like to share your results with us, please get in touch by emailing

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Friday, 12 August 2016

International Youth Day - Celebrating our students achievements


International Youth Day is a United Nations event held annually on 12th August to celebrate young people’s success and initiatives in the global society. It’s also a great way for them to get involved and help encourage active participation in helping the rest of the society.

‘Young people are not only our future - they are our present. Our planet has never been so young, with 1.8 billion young women and men. They are the most connected, the most outspoken and the most open-minded generation the world has ever seen.’ This is what Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO tells us in a recent message.

In 1999, August 12th was declared ‘International Youth Day’ by the United Nations. 17 years later people across the globe highlight the importance of young people in shaping our global future. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in a message: 'On International Youth Day, I urge others to join this global push for progress. Let us empower young people with the resources, backing and space they need to create lasting change in our world.’

Each year there is a theme, designed to engage and support young people in discussing issues essential to global development, this years theme is “The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production”.

A survey of our current students shows that more than 50% are under the age of 25 compared to that of 25% in 1990, a huge increase of young learners. We also have students based around the world working their studies around all kinds of employment, whether full time or part-time. Students come from all walks of life to learn with NEC.

At NEC, we’re proud of our students achievements and so today is a perfect opportunity to celebrate our young learners as well as shedding a light for other people thinking of becoming a student. We have gathered a few case studies to emphasise just how important our students are and how far they’ve come.

Nineteen-year-old Elliot from Nottinghamshire studied government and politics, history and law A levels with NEC, taking his A2 exams last summer. He achieved top marks: A and A* grades in all three subjects, and was subsequently accepted to study law at Cambridge University’s Robinson College.

In just two years, home-educated Susie has been awarded a grade B in her IGSCE exams in Biology, English Language, Maths and Physics. But that’s just the start for 16-year old Susie. Now, she’s studying for her IGCSE in English Literature and is on the road to fulfilling her ambition to be a full-time writer.

Home-educated Isobel was taught maths by her father, but she chose four more IGCSEs from NEC to study at the same time. She opted for English language, geography and biology, seeing them as key subjects, as well as child development, which she thought would help prepare her for motherhood later in life.

These are just a few of our admirable students who work very hard to get into college and university and even follow their ambitions like being a writer. This is why it’s important to celebrate and recognise our students success.

You can find out more about our students by reading their stories. You too will see the superstars that they are. You can also find out more about our range of courses on our website.

If you’d like to get involved with International Youth Day head over to the United Nations website to find out more. Let’s start celebrating education and young people’s achievements.

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Friday, 05 August 2016

Vocational courses or A levels - what’s in it for me?

NEC Marketing and Communications Officer Kirsty stands in front of a selection of materials for NEC distance learning courses
Above: NEC Marketing and Communications Officer Kirsty stands in front of a selection of materials for NEC distance learning courses

A recent article published in TES: reported “Students enrolling for A levels is set to increase by around 4,000, against a decline in enrolments to vocational programmes.” These statistics were taken from University Admission Service - UCAS.

In this week’s blog, Marketing and Communications Officer - Kirsty Inman reflects on the benefits of vocational courses based on her own experience of studying a BTEC National Certificate in Travel and Tourism.

‘I have never been  natural academic  especially  when it comes to exams, which is why I thought I’d benefit more from taking a vocational course which didn’t include exams but was coursework based - a learning style I was more confident with.

The BTEC National Certificate that I studied was equivalent to two A levels and I am proud to say that I achieved a double grade Distinction, something which I didn’t think I would have been able to achieve if I had taken the more academic A level route. I’m not saying vocational qualifications are easier, (a lot of hard work was put into my course), they just have different learning approaches.  It was important to me to feel comfortable with a course I had chosen and it  helped me onto the correct career path.

I didn’t get that magical C grade in GCSE Maths but the vocational programme, included a Level 3 Applications of Number qualification (equivalent to GCSE’s). I found this really useful and it made me more confident with Maths - acting as a bit of a refresher’.

After I studied the BTEC I decided to find a job but because the Travel and Tourism industry is very competitive I didn’t succeed in finding a job related to that industry but one that was working as a temporary sales assisstant. During my Travel and Tourism course I realised I was passionate about marketing which was one of the sections I learned about so I decided to take up a career in marketing. I have been a marketing professional for over four and a half years and I decided to further my education in marketing. I studied a Level 3 Apprenticeship in Marketing and Communications and an Introductory Certificate in Marketing. This gave me the confidence to find my feet in my marketing career and to continue to progress.

As you can see from my own experience, there are many benefits for vocational programmes. My advice if you are facing a dilemma is to make sure you carry out lots of research into your subject area and identify the pros and cons of A levels compared with vocational programmes. There are many benefits for each but it is down to what learning style you feel more comfortable with. If you’re thinking of going to University - both A levels and vocational programmes count towards earning credits you need to secure you a place.

At the NEC we offer both, with around 20 A level subjects as well as a number of vocational courses in business and management, book-keeping and childcare.

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