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






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…


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.


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.


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.


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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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Tips for beating the January Blues

Calendar page with the 15th of the month circled in red pen

It’s early January, and as the sparkle of Christmas fades, we begin to edge back into our daily routines. Perhaps you are relishing a return to normality or embracing a new challenge? Or maybe you find the cold, dark days of January a bit of a struggle?

It’s not unusual to find January a little tough-going. In fact, it is recognised that January presents a set of natural, psychological and physical factors which can combine to cause both mental and physical symptoms.

Scientists have proved a causal connection between the low level of daylight we receive in January and a complex depressive illness known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Low exposure to sunlight has an impact on hormone levels (melatonin and serotonin) in the part of the brain that controls mood, sleep and appetite.

Symptoms of SAD are wide-ranging and can include depression, lack of energy, concentration problems, anxiety, overeating, and social and relationship problems. However, the impact of SAD varies significantly from person to person. At one end of the scale, around 20% of the UK population experience the ‘Winter Blues’ – feeling tired, grumpy and a bit down. At the other extreme, some people experience more debilitating depression and must seek treatment in order to be able to continue going about their daily lives.

Psychological pressure plays its part too. During Christmas and New Year, we are bombarded by cultural messages about being part of a family, enjoying time with friends, experiencing happiness and creating new life-goals. It’s not surprising that this can sometimes leave us feeling inadequate and low – especially if we don’t feel we quite match up to the ‘perfect’ picture portrayed. Add to this the physical factors associated with this time of year – over-consumption of alcohol, poor diet and lack of exercise – and it comes as no surprise that January can spell disaster for our mood and mental health.

Today, the challenges of January are well-recognised. We even have a (not particularly scientific!) mathematical formula for calculating when ‘Blue Monday’ – the single most depressing day of the year – will occur. Originally initiated by a PR company, Blue Monday is now a widely known annual event. It is calculated based on: the weather, debt level, amount of time since Christmas, time since failing our New Year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take charge. Based on this formula, you can expect Blue Monday 2018 to hit on January 15.

So, as we trudge on through Blue Monday and the rest of January, here are some tips to help you beat the January Blues:

  1. Let the sunshine in
    Open up blinds and curtains, seek a window seat or head outside to gain some extra daylight. Clinically-tested light units are also available, which mimic natural outdoor light. These have been shown to have a positive effect on brain chemicals linked to mood.
  2. Swap Prosecco for H2O
    Staying hydrated is a simple way to feel better. Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day will remove toxins and waste, as well as preventing headaches and joint pain. If you’re giving alcohol a break, then taking part in a Dry January fundraiser such as Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon could deliver the boost of positivity and motivation you need.
  3. Take a Norwegian mind-set
    In Norway, winter is positively embraced, rather than endured. This shift in mind-set finds and celebrates the positives associated with the season – from getting cozy by the fire, to drinking hot beverages, skating or building a snowman, they are there if we look hard enough!
  4. Wrap up, head out
    Grab that scarf your Great Aunt Fran knitted you for Christmas and put it to good use. Taking a short, brisk walk in the cold is enough to boost your exercise and improve your mood. Just wrap up well – the great outdoors is waiting.
  5. Take small steps
    Ignore the pressure to embark on grand plans or resolutions – this can create feelings of inadequacy and failure. Instead, try to focus on one small step that points you in a new direction. That might simply be researching a new course or take a small amount of time to re-discover a hobby. Small steps can be achieved. Why not take advantage of our New Year, New You offer? With 15% off all our GCSEs and A Levels it is a really great time to get started on your ambitions.

For further information and support on Winter Blues and SAD and how to seek help if you feel you need it see:

  • Mind – the mental health charity
  • NHS – information about SAD


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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Top tips for starting a distance learning adventure in 2018

A pink note reading "Happy New Year" next to two filled champagne flutes and a silver party ribbon

With the festive season in full swing, plans and resolutions for 2018 are rapidly approaching. If your 2018 ambitions include a return to study via distance learning, why not use the next few weeks to identify a course that offers the support you need?

For distance learners, support offered by their course provider is key to shaping the overall learning experience. Gaining access to the right support from registration through to collecting your results will transform your 2018 learning experience from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

From registration to results, our top tips for comparing course provider support...

1. Registration: Access advice and support from day one

A good course provider will offer lots of support to ensure you choose the right course, before you register. Once you’re enrolled, guidance should be on-hand to help you get started.

NEC's approach

As well as information and downloadable course samples, our course advice team are happy to talk through any questions you have prior to registration. We want to ensure you make an informed choice, that’s right for you. When you enrol on an NEC course you’ll receive a confirmation email, plus immediate contact from your personal tutor.

2. Learn: Expect quality in both teaching and materials

When considering course providers, explore how they ensure the quality and depth of their teaching support and course materials. These elements will shape your entire learning experience.

NEC's approach

NEC tutors are experts in their subject area and the majority have a degree in their field of study, plus a teaching qualification.

NEC course materials are specially written and structured for independent study by our team of expert writers. They are carefully structured to build knowledge and skills in a way that meets assessment and exam requirements.

NEC materials include:

  • Engaging content develops interest in the subject
  • Getting started guidance and videos
  • Course plans, activities and quizzes
  • Guidance on answering exam questions
  • Assignments to submit to a personal tutor
  • Personal learning journal

Visit the courses section of our website to request sample materials.

3. Learn: Use expert knowledge to enhance learning

Some course providers use a pool of tutors to support students and assess work. Others provide a named, personal tutor for every student – offering consistent expert support throughout the course.

NEC's approach

We feel it is important to provide one-to-one tutor support for students, throughout a course. This approach offers consistency, as well as the opportunity to build a teacher-student rapport. As soon as you register on an NEC course you will be assigned a personal tutor who will offer support, guidance and feedback throughout and mark your assignments and coursework.

4. Assess: Ask if your exam place will be guaranteed

Booking an exam at a suitable centre can be tricky, stressful and time-consuming. Finding a course provider that manages the exam process will allow you to focus on studying for exam success.

NEC's approach

We are the only course provider to guarantee an exam place for all our students. We also provide an Exam Booking Service to take care of the entire process on behalf of students. Our experience as an exam centre, alongside long-term partnerships with 15 centres around the UK, allows us to resolve any issues, to deliver a professional, stress-free service on exam day.

5. Results: Review past results - does the course deliver?

Although distance learning is not all about hard results - a lot of people study our courses for leisure purposes or simply to gain more knowledge in a subject they are passionate about. It is good to have an understanding of what the pass rate is for the course you’re interested in before you choose a provider – after investing all that hard work and study, you may want to achieve the best results possible.

NEC's approach

We have a very high pass rate. To give you an example, for the summer 2016 exam session, we received a 100% pass rate for our IGCSEs and GCSEs. We hope these tips help you to plan your next learning adventure.

If you have any further questions please contact us on our free advice line – we’re here to help.

Call: 0800 389 2839
Monday to Friday: 8.00 – 19.00
Saturday & Sunday: 8.00 – 17.00
Or access our Course Guide.

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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Finding a way to pay for your learning

Photo credit: Nick Youngson -

If you’re looking for help toward funding an online or distance learning course, it can be difficult to know where to start. A lot of funding is geared toward face to face learning that takes place in a classroom, but learning in this way is not suitable for everyone.

You might be working full time or have children, perhaps you’re not able to travel to your local college? Whatever your reason for choosing to study a course online, we would like to share our top tips for looking at possible ways to pay for your course.

Spread the cost

If you are able, paying in monthly instalments might be a good way to spread the cost of your course. You can pay a deposit amount and then monthly instalments meaning you don’t have to pay the full amount up-front. NEC instalment plans usually have 0% interest and run over 6 months. Find out more about paying by with instalments.  

Ask your boss

If you’re thinking of doing a course that will help you to improve in your job or, perhaps, to prepare for a promotion with your company, asking your boss for help might be a good option for you. Some employers are willing to help their teams to be the best they can be, after all, it will be of benefit to them in the long-term. If you decide to do this, we suggest presenting your employer with details of the course and how it will help you to improve in your job.

Search for funding

There are different possibilities for funding your course, based on your own circumstances and often your location. You might consider approaching include local community groups or charities specific to your own circumstances such as ‘Help for Heroes’ if you are a former member of the Armed Forces.

Turn2Us have an online search tool which will search, on your behalf, for available grants based on your personal circumstances and location. You might also consider speaking to your Local Authority, particularly if you are educating your children at home.

Specialist organisations

Some organisation provide financial assistance to specific groups of people, for example, The Carers Trust provides grants for those with responsibility as a carer, The Prince’s Trust provide grants to young people aged between 14 and 25.

If you’re a member of the armed forces, you might be able to get funding. If you are looking to do a level 2 qualification (such as a GCSE) you may be able to get help through the Standard Learning Credits scheme. If you are looking for a level 3 or above, the Enhanced Learning Credits Administration Service (ELCAS) may be able to help you. In both cases, we recommend speaking to your Education and Resettlement co-ordinator in the first instance. NEC is approved by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) under the ELCAS scheme. Provider number 1160.

Don’t forget though, all grants and awards are subject to your individual circumstances. You can often find details of any eligibility criteria on the organisations website or by giving them a call.

Look for special arrangements

On some occasions, NEC works with organisations to provide a discount on course fees. One example of this is our partnership with Unionlearn. All union members are able to get a 10% discount on course fees. There are also special rates available when you are looking to enrol on more than one A level or GCSE course. Families that are home educating their children can also take a further 10% off of their course fees. You can read more about all NEC special offers and arrangements.

We hope this has given you an idea of where to start, if you’re looking to pay for your course.

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Tuesday, 05 December 2017

How does written non-examination assessment (NEA) work?

Laptop and hand

If you’re taking A levels in English language, English literature or history you’ll need to think about the written piece of non-examination assessment (NEA). It counts as 20% of your overall A level grade.

NEA needs to be marked to the standards of the awarding organisation and to be recognised as the work of the student. Exam centres making entries for subjects that include NEA are responsible for the marking and authentication (confirming that it is the work of the student) of your work.

In a conventional school setting this isn’t usually an issue, because the teacher will be familiar with each student and their work. For distance learners, however, it can present a challenge as it can be difficult and often costly to have someone supervise and mark your coursework independently.

A benefit of enrolling through NEC is that your tutor will get to know you and your work through the assignments you submit and they are able to both authenticate and mark your NEA. We’ve worked closely with awarding organisations to build rigorous processes to allow this to happen. As a registered exam centre we will then make your examination entry and you can then choose one of our fifteen partnership exam centres to sit your written exams at. We have excellent relationships with all of our centres which allows us to offer a seamless process from start to finish.

When do I need to do the NEA?

The NEA will need to feature in your learning plan and there are some dates you’ll need to stick to for each stage. The deadline for your final submission is 15th March and you’ll have some other dates to meet to prepare you. Don’t worry, you’ll get reminders along the way!

Will I get support?

Yes. Not only with planning and entering your coursework, but the ‘About Assessment’ section of your course is full of helpful information to get you underway. You’ll also have your personal tutor and the NEC support team, a combination that will give you the best possible chance of success.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

How does practical non-examination assessment work?

NEC tutor Jane conducting a practical science experiment

For some courses, there is a practical element such as science practical sessions. In our blog this week exams expert Louise talks about how this works for NEC students.

For A level science courses, you’ll need to think about practical work. This is easy to achieve in a conventional school setting, where students spend time with their teachers and the school will usually have its own science laboratories but can be difficult for distance learners, as they are studying remotely.

NEC has been working with awarding organisations to come up with solutions and I want to share with you how we can help you to achieve this.

Although you can opt not to complete the practical endorsement, NEC would always advise you against this. It won’t count towards your final A level result, but it will help you with the examinations and non completion could affect your entry to university. It is essential that you speak with your chosen university in good time to find out what they require as you can’t add on the endorsement at a later date without re-sitting the whole qualification.

Your entering exam centre must give you the opportunity to complete the practical endorsement, whether you decide to complete it or not. The endorsement is made up of 12 practicals which are assessed holistically. Rather than grades, you receive a Pass or Not Classified grade. If you choose to take your exams at a private centre, be sure to ask them to confirm that this includes the practical endorsement and provide you with full fees. If you decide not to complete the endorsement but choose to sit your exams at one of our partnership centres we will need you to sign a declaration to say that you have decided not to take the opportunity to complete.

All NEC students are given the opportunity to take the practical endorsement at four of our partnership centres. You can choose to sit the written exams at the same centre, or another NEC partnership centre of your choosing. All you need to do is fill out the exam application form and we’ll do the rest, making sure you are entered for the correct exams and endorsements and ensuring that we are then able to support you fully.

Even if you decide not to take the practical endorsement the written exams will require you understand the theory of practical work. Your NEC course will help you to get this through specially designed practical work that you can do at home and video and example results. By learning the theory of the practical work throughout your course you’ll be on the right path to gaining the practical endorsement.

Whatever decision you make, entering for your exams through NEC with one of our partnership centres ensures a seamless and stress-free service for you.

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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Why learning is a big issue for the homeless

Cambridge wildlife photographer and Big Issue seller Mark Siequien is bursting with ideas for the small business he wants to set up. Stored on a computer hard drive he has 10,000 images of wild animals in South Africa, taken when he worked as a volunteer at a primate sanctuary two years ago. Mark envisages his images enlivening children’s clothing sold from a stall in Cambridge market, greetings cards in gallery and museum shops, and a website to promote his work. With the help of NEC and Big Issue Invest, Mark is starting to make his ambition become a reality. The future hasn’t always looked as positive for Mark as it does now. After periods of homelessness and struggles with drugs and mental health, he has a place to live. Earlier this year, he married Anita, whom he met in South Africa. Last week, Mark and former Big Issue vendor Harry Bowyer were each presented with bursary to fund courses with NEC. Mark will be studying Business Start-up and Harry is enrolling on Art Techniques.

Social investment in learning

Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue Group, helped finance the work of the NEC via Impact Loans England, a £5 million lending scheme aimed at enabling social enterprises to access loan funding of between £20,000 and £150,000, launched in 2016. The programme is funded through the Growth Fund, which is managed by Access – The Foundation for Social Investment, with funding from Big Lottery Fund and Big Society Capital. Big Issue founder Lord Bird spent several spells in prison as a young man and received his basic education while behind bars. As he explained to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire recently, the status quo isn’t working for people in terms of housing, health, education, and mental well-being. 
NEC argues that when it comes to education, an individual learning entitlement is what would make a difference to homeless people who want to get back on track with their education.

A lifelong learning entitlement

The idea of an individual learning entitlement has been part of education policy thinking since the 1960s, when it was championed by NEC founder Michael Young. The entitlement would be put into a learning account and accessed when the learner was ready to use it. Such an approach would open up lifelong learning and break down the age-related framework which front-loads funding for 19-24 years olds. 

NEC is looking forward to watching Mark and Harry see their confidence grow through learning and new possibilities open up for them. The support hundreds people throughout the UK are receiving from organisations in the not-for-profit sector, including NEC’s work with Big Issue Invest, is challenging the status quo that so troubles Lord Bird. There are thousands more people in the UK like Mark and Harry, just as keen as they are to study for qualifications and take charge of their own futures. A greater emphasis on broadening access to education would be an important step forward for them all.

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