Blog: June 2017

Thursday, 22 June 2017

21st century teaching: what and how to think

NEC alumnus Naila Din

This week’s blogger is former NEC GCSE English student Naila Din. Now a freelance arts advisor, Naila turned to teaching as a second career after studying graphic design at university and working as a graphic designer. She is a qualified secondary school teacher and was fast-tracked to the leadership role of director of specialism at a school in East Anglia. 20 years after Naila studied with NEC, teaching is still one of the most popular career choices for NEC students. In this blog post, published to coincide with the launch of NEC’s Career Tracks – Teaching, Naila reflects on what her experience as a graphic designer has enabled her to bring to students.

I never really appreciated just how valuable teaching skills and a teaching qualification are until I became a teacher myself. That’s even more the case when you’re teaching the arts. Because in our subject area, students are given the freedom to express themselves and explore their feelings. Taught effectively, they are doing nothing less than discovering their own identity. What I would like to share in this blog post is just how valuable the arts are in adding value to the lives of students of all ages.

The value of second career teachers

In the 21st century, teachers who come to teaching as a second career have a great deal to offer students in an academic setting learning to make sense of the world — as well as adults determined to improve their lives and understand the ever-changing global employment market.

Becoming a teacher was absolutely the best thing I could have ever done. I made the decision to go into the teaching profession after a successful career as a graphic designer and website designer. I began as a full-time teacher in the state sector, successfully applying for a teacher training place once I had studied GCSE English with NEC to improve the grade she got at school.

I’m certain I had more to offer my students because of what I had done before becoming a teacher. I knew what was happening in the creative industries and in the job market. Students valued being able to talk to a member of staff familiar with the mobile technologies they were using at home and at school to express and develop their ideas.

What the arts bring to education

Catering for each student individually is a challenge for all teachers. But if we want our students to be secure about their own identities and beliefs, it’s what we must do. The arts enable me to be responsive to my students’ unique needs.

Obtaining a teaching qualification opened the door to employment opportunities for my students in a knowledge economy. From this perspective, graphic design comes into its own. In the school in East Anglia where I taught, it was a hugely popular subject with boys. They wanted to work with computers and software, grasp the opportunity to explore disruptive materials like spray-can paints, and use digital technology to make models. Fine art would not have been as successful in fulfilling their need for experimentation.

The language of choice for students

It wasn't until I came across NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) that I made the decision to take my teaching career in new direction, and one in which I believed I could have an even greater impact on the lives of young people. NLP showed me how through simple language I could help my students take greater responsibility and ownership of what they wanted for their lives. Most importantly, NLP enables them to ask themselves why they are making the choices they are making.

Working with my daughter, I began offering schools and colleges the 21st Century Leadership Program, a series of modules that prepare students for the world outside education, tailor-made for each of the schools we work with. The four modules cover emotional intelligence, health and wellness, leadership, and social media awareness.

The assessment of the programme shows just how much appetite there is for knowledge of this kind as students embark on independent lives as 21st century citizens. When young people are able to collaborate with educators and offer their peers a vehicle which empowers them, we start to see happier and more confident young people leaving the safety of the education system knowing not just what to think, but how to think.

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Thursday, 15 June 2017

Learning Latin

Latin text on parchment

This week’s blog is written by NEC tutor Ed and introduces a brand new course which will be available for enrolment next week—Latin: A Course for Beginners! Ed is our lead tutor in Economics, Classical Civilisation and Latin. Ed studied Classics at Trinity College Dublin and then at Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, where he conducted research into the narrative technique of Greek epic; he later studied economics and linguistics at the Open University.

So you have the chance to learn Latin, should you take it?

Believe me, this is one opportunity not to be missed. I’m biased, of course, and bear that in mind if you read on. I can honestly say, as I look back over the six decades of my life so far, that learning Latin (and Greek) and being able to read the literature in the original has been the most rewarding and enriching experience of my life. If you’re interested in literature, of any kind, literature that excites the imagination, strikes awe into the soul and invites you into some of the most fantastic minds ever to record their thoughts in words, it’s all there. Vergil, Catullus, Cicero, Tacitus, Livy: these are incomparable writers. Since the Penguin Classics series was introduced in 1946 we’ve all had the opportunity to read good, inexpensive translations, but by heaven when you know the original you see so much more.

NEC’s new course, Latin: A Course for Beginners, is aimed at those who wish to read Latin texts in the original, and after the halfway point you will be doing just that. Unlike some modern courses, there’s no pussyfooting or trying to make it easy. Latin is not easy, and this course will require consistent effort. But because it is thorough, and to a large extent ‘traditional’, it gives the learner an excellent, solid foundation upon which to build language skills and tackle the texts in their original form.

There are, of course, other good reasons for learning Latin. It really helps your thinking skills. It’s quite unlike English, so understanding it, making sense of its word order and unravelling its sometimes amazingly long sentences (one of Cicero’s speeches opens with a sentence that is a page long!) is marvellous training in abstract thinking and comprehension. Much of the publicity about people who worked on code breaking at Bletchley Park during the Second World War goes to the mathematicians (as in the recent movie The Imitation Game) but there were also many classicists there, including two of the professors who taught me.

If you’re focusing on other humanities subjects, Latin is an enriching companion. Shakespeare and Milton, for example, drew extensively on their knowledge of Latin literature. History, philosophy, theology: the foundational ideas of these subjects are often based on works written in Latin. You may know that Newton’s famed Principia was written in Latin.

So, if you want a challenging, intellectually satisfying, life-enhancing opportunity, studying Latin is it. I told you I was biased!

If you would like to know more about this upcoming course, get in touch and speak to our Course Advice Team. You can email us at, 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. Latin: A Course for Beginners will be available for online enrolment next week.

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Friday, 09 June 2017

Are more students now choosing to study vocationally specific degrees?

NEC team member Simone

Today’s NEC Blog is written by team member Simone, herself a recent graduate and more than familiar with the choices students find themselves having to make. She has this to say about her own experiences: ‘My own degree as a recent graduate was in American Literature and Creative Writing, at which point my Computer Science friends made jokes about poor, starving artists and my parents asked me if I was going to write articles about how I didn’t have a job. So far, I am neither starving nor unemployed and I loved my course. I have friends who are now physiotherapists, teachers, data scientists and funeral proofreaders. Your degree subject is an important choice, but it is equally important to know that your future success, fame or happiness does not hinge on this single decision.’

The variety of degree courses now offered by universities is continuously growing and ranges from the traditional academic options such as the STEM subjects, history and literature to more vocationally specific degrees like physiotherapy and accounting. With so many choices available, student debt up and the graduate job market down, the pressure to make the right decision can be overwhelming and stressful for many learners going on to the next steps of their studies.

At NEC, we were curious whether the combined rise in tuition fees and changes in graduate job markets were influencing students to study more vocationally specific degrees which directly train students for a job once they have graduated, over traditional academic subjects which focus more on transferable skills and critical scholarship.

Popularity contests

A 2015 BBC article compared the most popular degree courses from 2007 to 2014 to try to answer this question, noting that “English, for example, lost around 10% of its applications in 2012 [when the tuition fees were raised] and has not been able to fully recover the lost ground since.” By comparison, it claimed that nursing had seen the biggest growth in applicants, with psychology and law taking the second and third spots in admissions numbers.

However, while the willingness to invest in a literature degree may have dropped, the most popular degree choices have not changed significantly since tuition fees increased. In 2011, the Telegraph claimed that the most popular course was nursing, followed by business management, design studies, law and psychology. In 2012, according to the Telegraph, business management courses were the most popular, followed by law, design and computer science degrees. In 2016, the most popular course was rated as physiotherapy, again followed by law, psychology and business.

While the Telegraph does not represent all degree choices across the UK, as it is based on users who searched for courses with the Telegraph course finder, a 2016 Source Magazine article which used UCAS data to inform its top 10 list found similar results.

This evidence would suggest that the high cost of tuition fees and the changing job market may indeed be influencing more students to select vocational degrees or job specific academic subjects like law and psychology. However, it also highlights that these courses were already an appealing option for many learners.

Vocational courses are popular degrees for a number of reasons, beyond the fact that they train a student directly for a workplace environment. For example, the NHS previously offered bursaries for physiotherapy and other health courses which lead to professional registration, offsetting the student loan – although as of 2017 this funding has been decreased.

Vocational and less traditional degrees are also becoming more respected by educators and employers, which may encourage a larger number of students to view them as a credible option.

So which option should you take?

It is a common assumption that some qualifications are more likely to lead to well-paying graduate jobs than others. Degrees in medicine/dentistry, engineering and accounting are considered to be more financially lucrative compared to creative arts and humanities qualifications. You could argue that psychology and law straddle the two – they are both academic and job-specific subjects, with strong starting salaries. So should you study one of these?

Unfortunately, there is no cheat sheet for the job lotteries or life.

Admissions departments are in general seeing more students apply for Higher Education degrees than ever before, despite the high cost of tuition and the dips in the graduate market. Moreover, market data suggests that graduates increasingly end up working outside of the fields they studied. Your degree subject is an important choice, but it is equally important to know that your future success, fame or happiness does not hinge on this single decision.

While vocational degrees seem to be winning in the polls against many academic subjects, there is no sure way of knowing what the future will bring.

But whatever you choose...

NEC offers a range of A level, GCSE, business and book-keeping courses to support you in your decision, whether you want to learn new skills to make you stand out from the job market crowd, get back into studying or are considering a change in career entirely. We have also launched a series of NEC Career Tracks guides, the first of which focuses on Nursing and is available to download for free.

You can find more information on the course pages on our website, or you can get in touch and speak to our team. We can also be found on social networks including Twitter and Facebook.

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Thursday, 01 June 2017

Volunteering: sociability, skills and second careers

Colorful hands raised below the word 'volunteer' in purple text

Every year in the first week of June, Volunteers Week celebrates the 19 million people who offer their time and skills for free to the UK’s thousands of charities. Volunteers are involved in a huge range of activities, from advocacy and administration, to teaching refugees to speak English and primary pupils to read. A volunteer for The Children’s Society speaks for many volunteers when she says: ‘I volunteered to enrich some-one else’s life; I didn’t realise how much my life would be enriched.’

According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, the Football Association tops the league of organisations working with volunteers, with 400,000 people involved through club roles such as welfare officers, club secretaries and treasurers. With 396,000 volunteers, Amnesty International comes a close second. Third and fourth place are held by the scouts and girl guides, with 115,000 and 100,000 volunteers respectively.

Why volunteer?

Volunteers really do make a difference. Imagine, when you were feeling low and vulnerable, the comfort of being given a lift home from hospital by a volunteer driver, who would chat to you on the journey and take you straight to your own front door. Then, in contrast, think about the true story of a man rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack and who, when he had been given a clean bill of health, found himself waiting forlornly in the reception area, unsure how he would get back home. He hadn’t had time to take any money or his phone to hospital and no volunteer drivers were available.

People volunteer for a variety of reasons. Some are motivated by altruism – they simply want to help. Others volunteer to have fun and make new friends. If you are planning to return to work after bringing up children or looking after elderly parents, volunteering has lots to offer. The soft skills so valued by employers - self-confidence, team-work and decision-making – are all developed through volunteering.

Carly’s volunteering story

'I decided to volunteer because I wanted to give something back to my local community in Ely, using the skills I’ve developed through my career. When I spotted a request for volunteers in the local paper, I put myself forward. Within days, I’d started volunteering for Happy Cafe Ely, a community enterprise which aims to make a difference to the happiness of people in the city and the surrounding area. Happy Cafe Ely is one of several similar cafés across the world. The first was set up in Brighton in 2014, inspired by the Action for Happiness movement, whose patron is the Dalai Lama. As a result of volunteering there, I was approached by Talking FreELY, which works to change attitudes to mental health. They asked me to help with fundraising. Within a week, I could see the change that my input is helping to make and I’m also making a lot of new friends!'

Changing careers

Volunteering can also help you on the road to a second career, including nursing and teaching, two of the careers most popular with NEC students.

Care and nursing: your local hospital will almost certainly value any voluntary help you can offer – visiting patients, running the hospital shop or fundraising. The British Red Cross uses volunteers and make-up artists to work with patients in hospitals. First aid charity St John’s Ambulance offers volunteer positions for first aiders, youth workers and fundraisers, as well as people with expertise in health and safety, management and communications. If you are interested in working with people with disabilities and the elderly, Revitalise, a national charity providing short breaks and holidays for disabled people and their carers, has one of the largest and most diverse volunteer programmes in the UK.

Education: there are opportunities in schools and colleges to help with reading, coach sports and act as mentors to children, young people and adults. Many schools use volunteers to help children with reading and other activities. Business in the Community runs a scheme to raise literacy standards by increasing the number of trained volunteers providing support for children aged 7 to 11. The National Literacy Trust provides a list of organisations to contact if you are interested in becoming a literacy volunteer.

How NEC can help you develop skills for volunteering

Counselling: our three counselling courses take you through the key theories and principles underlying counselling practice, and examine the techniques and theories used by counsellors. Choose between A Taste of Counselling, a short introductory course; Counselling Theory, for students who already have some experience of counselling or are interested in a career in counselling; and Level 2 Award In Using Counselling Skills for people who work in mental health, run support groups or who want to be more effective as leaders and managers.

Education and training: NEC’s Level 3 Award in Education and Training is a four-month long course that helps build the knowledge and skills needed to teach or train adults - colleagues, members of a community group or fellow volunteers.

Get involved

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, the I want to volunteer page on the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) website is a good place to start. You can join in one of this week’s 250 events for volunteers, from barbecues to theatre productions, by looking at Volunteer Week’s interactive map. If you are already a volunteer, share your volunteering story on Twitter using the hashtag #VolunteersWeek.

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