Friday, 17 November 2017

Booking exams with NEC

Students taking written exams in an exam room

At NEC we can guarantee our students an exam place at one of our partnership exam centres. In our experience finding an exam centre can take students a lot of time and be quite a difficult process. Entering privately/independently also means NEC aren’t always able to help you with any issues that may arise. With NEC, you just need to fill out a form and we’ll do the rest, leaving you to get on with the important business of learning and preparing for your exams.

We’ve spent years building up strong relationships with our partnership exam centres which means we can react quickly when any problems arise and we know that you’ll receive a professional service from them on exam day. You’ve got enough to think about so we’ll worry about that part for you!

If you’re planning to sit your exams in the summer next year (2018) you’ll need to make your exam booking by January. Remember, if you have any non-exam assessment to do, you’ll have deadlines for this too. We’ll keep you up-to-date and make sure you get reminders when final dates are approaching. We always recommend making your booking sooner rather than later.

As an exam centre ourselves, we understand how the process of exam booking works. You can be confident that you’ll get the right papers and all the information you’ll need to make exam day run smoothly. 

In fact, the only thing we can’t do for you, is sit the exam!

If you have special access requirements, such as extra time or use of a laptop, we’ll work with you and the exam centre to see what is possible. You’ll need documents that support evidence of need. Documents in support of the candidate’s claim must be in the form of a full assessment report and written evidence from an educational establishment, listing the special access arrangements required and your normal way of working.

We’ve got a number of partnership exam centres across the UK. You can view them on our exams page, which also includes a handy map.

If you’re outside of the UK and need to come here to the UK, choosing an NEC partnership centre is a sensible choice. Not only will we take the administration off your hands, we know the areas that our centres are located and can advise you on getting there and finding somewhere to stay.

If you want to take advantage of NEC’s seamless exam booking service, you can find full details and an application for in the ‘About Assessment’ section of your course on learn@nec. You can also get in touch if you have any questions and we’ll be happy to help.

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Wednesday, 01 November 2017

Five barriers to achieving GCSEs and A level qualifications that need to be removed to open the doors for distance learners

 #speakupforAdultEd #adulteducation

Education policy makers and the organisations that make up England’s exam infrastructure rarely give a second thought to independent learners taking GCSEs and A levels under their own steam. As an organisation working with distance learners every day, NEC knows that a small number of changes could make a big difference to thousands of people and help the government make progress in achieving its higher education and skills objectives.

On the final day of the 2017 Festival of Learning, organised by the Learning and Work Institute, NEC is speaking up for adult learners. The practical solutions we are advocating will benefit all learners who are studying at a distance, including young people being educated at home. As the annual celebration of the achievements of thousands of adult learners across the country comes to an end, here’s our five-point plan for addressing the barriers distance learners face to taking GCSE and A level exams as private candidates.

Barrier 1 - Finding an exam centre willing to accept private candidates

Private candidates studying GCSEs and A levels often struggle to find an exam centre in a school or college that will allow them to sit their exams alongside other students.
The solution: exam boards should be required to work together to sponsor and operate fairly-priced open exam centres for all students not studying at a school or college who want to sit GCSEs and A levels.

Barrier 2 - The cost of entering for A level science practical endorsements

As well as paying out of their own pocket for their course and exam fees, private candidates studying science A levels also have to pay several hundred pounds per subject to take the practical endorsement. For students taking two or three science A levels, the costs are eye watering.

The solution: the proposed open exam centres offer science practical endorsements for biology, chemistry and physics, with government bursaries available to help students fund the cost.

Barrier 3 - Exam centre requirements for candidates who need access arrangements

Supporting document requirements for exam centres that make entries for private candidates in need of access arrangements are obtuse, hard for candidates to understand and, in some cases, difficult to acquire. The accommodations learners need are not always available at exam centres. As a result, the centres cannot accept their entry.

The solution: candidates needing access arrangements would be better accommodated in the proposed open exam centres.

Barrier 4 - Publication of exam results

The exam results of people who sit GCSEs and A levels each year as private candidates are not published separately from the results of young people studying at school or college. This makes it hard for both providers and exam boards to plan for them.

The solution: exam boards should be required to report separately on the results of people who enter the exams as private candidates alongside the results of candidates from schools and colleges.

Barrier 5 – The status of AS levels

AS level results no longer contribute to a student’s final A level grade which means the decision to take an A level is significant both in terms of financial investment and time commitment for students fitting in study with a career or caring responsibilities.

The solution: a return to the modular system of AS and A levels so a student’s AS level result can contribute to their A level result and they can enrol first for AS level and subsequently for A level. This would also encourage students to be more adventurous in their choice of subjects.

Louise Tolhurst, NEC’s exam expert says: ‘Despite the barriers, we know from NEC’s experience that our students perform well as their exam results often exceed the national outcome. This is a tribute to their hard work and determination. NEC prides itself on providing a seamless exam service for students through a network of dedicated exam partnership centres. We are committed to campaigning to remove the barriers for all students, wherever they are.’

Why does it matter?

The government’s success in widening participation in higher education by people over the age of 21, and halting the 40 per cent decline since 2010 in the number of students studying part-time in higher education, relies on adults who have left compulsory education being able to access the qualifications they need to progress further in education and at work without having to confront barriers that for many act as a deterrent to enrolling.

Removing barriers to accessing GCSEs and A levels would also help increase the numbers of people studying STEM subjects and contribute to the government’s targets for recruiting teachers and nurses.

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Thursday, 12 October 2017

Being an NEC intern

NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury

Today's blog is the second posted by NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury, pictured above. Rea worked with NEC during the summer and has now returned to the University of Cambridge, where she is studying in her final year for a degree in human, social and political sciences. You can read her previous blog post here: 'How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?'

Being an NEC intern

Before applying to be a marketing intern with the National Extension College I had not heard of the organisation and was not aware of what it did. However, after working here for three months I believe that I have gained a good understanding of NEC, the richness of its history and the climate around distance learning.

This is due to the fact that I have been given genuine responsibilities and tasks to do which has not only made me feel like a ‘proper’ employee but has enabled me to quickly get to grips with the terminology used in the office and the priorities of the charity during its busiest months.

Fortunately, just like the flexibility of NEC courses, I have been given the flexibility to explore what I am interested in. For example, being a Politics and Sociology student I am interested in a career in policy. Therefore it has been fantastic to be able to put together a short policy paper for Cambridge Labour MP Daniel Zeichner on lifelong learning and NEC’s role as a pioneer within the sector for over 50 years.

I have also enjoyed looking at ways to improve NEC’s social media presence, mostly because I get to read so many inspiring case studies from students! As well as the short policy paper and social media, I have designed eshots, analysed data from introductory assignments to gain a better understanding of STEM students and put together mailing lists for the new guide to courses.

I have become a lot more confident in my abilities and the skills that I can bring to the working world when I graduate next year. For example, I have never liked maths and didn’t think I was particularly good at spreadsheets, but after analysing data on the introductory assignments I feel much better about these two areas. Creating comparative graphs and calculating response percentages would have definitely phased me before I was given this project.

It is this hands-on experience which will not only make me more confident when applying for jobs next year but will enable employers to see that I have made an effort to gain experience during the summer months. As NEC founder Michael Young said back in 1988: ‘the old education fed by the acquisition of book knowledge will not be appropriate for many of them. These new students will need practical skills’.

As someone who is particularly interested in educational inequality, it is only through working at NEC that my eyes have been opened to the importance of adult education and how much more support needs to be given to mature, part-time and second-chance learners. However, it has also made me feel more optimistic about the future. With people living longer and great technological advances, individuals don’t have to go straight from A levels to a degree or from a degree to postgraduate qualifications but can keep returning to learning throughout their lives, making organisations such as NEC more and more important.

In the world of unpaid internships I would like to highlight that despite the fact that NEC is a small charity, it does pay its interns - an example many other organisations should follow. On its advertisement of the internship, its description as a ‘small, friendly office’ has rung true and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.

Going back to university in the next couple of weeks I would like to thank both NEC and Murray Edwards Gateway Programme for the opportunity it has given me. I look forward to seeing NEC grow over the next couple of years. With new courses, partnerships, website development and an Instagram account on the way there is lots to be excited about!

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Thursday, 05 October 2017

Teachers, technology and the future of learning

Woman wearing an augmented reality headset

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 first of two about the impact of technology in the classroom and looks at what technology means for teachers. The next post, which will look at the impact of technology on students, will be published in the new year.

Whether we teachers like it or not, technology has firmly established itself in the classroom and education is evolving fast as a result. Rapid technological change puts pressure on teachers to redefine their role as they must continue to be students themselves throughout their teaching career if they are to be fully effective practitioners.

Many, perhaps most, teachers are in an unfamiliar place, with little idea where technology is going to take us next in education and what systemic impact it will have. What’s more, we are pretty much in the dark when it comes to understanding the world we are preparing our students for once they leave compulsory education.

We take it as read that technology dominates the lives of students when they are outside the classroom. Virtually every student in secondary school, college and university carries one or more personal devices with them. The numbers of pupils in primary school with a smart phone is growing. From the age of two or three, children are proficient users of i-pads, with their intuitive learning platform.

One thing we can be sure of is that the degree to which teachers embrace technology varies across the education sector. Why is that? A 2008 study by Baek, Youngkyun Jung, Jaeyeob, Kim and Bokyeong in Korea demonstrated that external factors influence the extent to which teacher integrate technology into their classroom practice. The researchers found that many educators are reluctant to experiment with technology, a reluctance that is more pronounced the older they are. The study also shows that the strength of teachers’ desire to appear competent, cooperative and conforming to technology standards is a strong determiner of the extent to which they integrate technology into their classroom practice.

Many teachers continue to see technology as a teaching tool that helps students communicate in a learning environment and gives them a means to demonstrate their learning. However, educational institutions that aim to give teachers training in technologies for learning with the aim of them being always on top of relevant technological developments are fighting a losing battle (an expensive one), such is the speed at which technology is evolving.

So on what principles should schools, colleges and universities base their approach to technology for learning? These are the two I would propose above all others.

First, the creation of a flexible learning environment that enables teachers and students to be partners in learning.

Second, a shift in thinking about the dynamics of the teacher-student relationship to one that encourages innovation rather than conformity, and recognises the importance of emotional intelligence in collaborating to achieve a shared goal.

This is tough in a sector in which team work is liable to be viewed as cheating. It demands recognition by educators that learning be seen as a series of challenges rather than a cycle of lessons. Such an approach enables gaming technology to assess the progress of individual students, making possible differentiation of teaching, for example. Games-based learning can already record and report on students’ engagement and progress in real time on digital tablets, including the monitoring of students’ eye movements.

Gone is the option students once had of being passive receivers of instruction. Increasingly, technologies such as augmented reality are placing teachers in the role of facilitator rather than educator. As a result, continuing professional development for teachers must begin to include as standard coaching and mentoring skills to support students in thinking creatively, with the emphasis placed on how to think rather than what to think, a theme I discuss in 21st century teaching: what and how to think, a previous blog post I wrote for NEC.

Under this pedagogic model, students cannot be other than active agents in their own learning. Children starting school in 2017 will reach retirement age somewhere around 2084. No futurologist can tell us in detail what the future looks like for that generation, or for their teachers. One thing we can say for certain is that adaptability to change will be vital for teachers and students alike.

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Thursday, 28 September 2017

How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?

NEC CEO Dr Ros Morpeth, NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner
Today's blog was written by NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury, pictured here (centre) with NEC Chief Executive Ros Morpeth (left) and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner (right)

How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?

There was a 24% drop in applications from mature students, defined as those over the age of 21, to study at undergraduate level in the 2017 UCAS cycle, according to a House of Commons’ briefing paper published in June on higher education student numbers. This is coupled with a 56% fall in part-time participation in higher education since 2010, a trend which disproportionately affects mature students (Higher Education Statistics Agency).

At NEC, we know there is no lack of ambition to study at higher level among adults beyond the standard undergraduate age of 18 to 21. Of the thousands of students from across the UK and beyond who enrol with us, 56% state that their motivation for studying is to go on to further and higher education. So what’s going wrong?

Reversing the decline

NEC’s is one of the voices campaigning to reverse the decline in the number of students studying part-time. For example, we are collaborating with the Open University to remove barriers for adults who want to continue studying, formalising our joint work with a recently renewed memorandum of understanding.

Figures published in September in the Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 show that at some universities, including the OU, Birkbeck, Wrexham Glyndŵr, London Metropolitan and Suffolk, mature students make up over half of the undergraduate intake. When compared with other higher education institutions, these universities also admit a high proportion of pupils from state schools.

Conversely, Loughborough, St Andrews, the London School of Economics, Imperial and Bath are amongst the universities taking in the lowest number of mature students. Bath, at the bottom of the list, takes in only 2.2%. As Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education states: “The downward trend in mature student numbers is now one of the most pressing issues in fair access to higher education...universities and colleges should look to do what they can to reverse the decline in mature student applications, as a matter of urgency.”

Why universities are missing out

As an organisation with over 50 years expertise in distance learning, NEC has countless student stories to tell that show just how much some universities are missing out on by failing to recruit mature applicants. Here are just two of them, both about students who took A levels with NEC this summer and who are now starting undergraduate courses in STEM subjects.

Robert studied A level Physics with the NEC and is studying for an engineering degree at the Open University. He is in the process of changing careers, from RAF aircraft technician to engineer in the aerospace industry.

Ellena studied A level biology, achieving a grade A. In her mid-twenties, she has exchanged working as a receptionist at a London law firm for life as a full-time pharmacy student at Nottingham University.

The case for life-long learning

Last week, NEC presented the case for lifelong learning to Daniel Zeichner MP, who represents the university city of Cambridge. We talked to him about the barriers that currently face adults learners. One is finance. Changes to student finance in the higher education reforms of 2011 that mean students have to borrow to fund their fees and maintenance rather than receiving a grant, and loans for maintenance support for part-time study have only become available through the Student Loans Company from academic year 2017/18. A second is ELQ [Equivalent and Lower Qualification] rules prevent graduates from receiving a student loan for a second degree if they have studied earlier in life at undergraduate level. A third is disability and long-term illness. A fourth is confidence and motivation.

What we also highlighted are the many opportunities to bring about positive change. For examples, the 2016 Adult Learner Survey, a Research Report commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education (APPG), found that 51% of respondents thought that hearing from others who had already completed a course at whatever level would attract others to enrol themselves.

An achievable goal

Along with other organisations encouraging adults to study beyond the age of compulsory education, at NEC we give learners a voice by publishing their stories in the media and on our social media channels. We reach out to adults through partnerships with organisations like the Prisoners’ Education Trust and the Workers Education Association.

We believe that universities have a responsibility to devise imaginative approaches to attracting mature students, and to devise them quickly. It is encouraging that the new Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has given his support to the creation of a national system of Learning Accounts, an approach to funding lifelong learning which we have always supported. What’s needed next is cross-party support in the form of a commitment to fund lifelong learning and to stand up for private candidates studying under their own team and without the support of a college or school.

The United Nations’ fourth sustainable development goal reads: ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’ The UK hasn’t achieved that goal yet but we are convinced that with continued campaigning by organisations giving adult learners a voice, commitment from across the political spectrum, and creative thinking by the higher education sector, it is achievable.

Rea Duxbury

Rea worked with NEC as a marketing intern this summer and has now returned to the University of Cambridge, where she is studying in her final year for a degree in human, social and political sciences. Look out for Rea’s next blog on her experience as an intern.

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Friday, 22 September 2017

Making the most of your tutor

Student communication with tutor online

Making the most of your tutor

Your tutor will be the person most closely involved with your work on your course, guiding your studies and giving you feedback. Your tutor will be an experienced teacher who knows your course and subject extremely well and who has helped many other students succeed. We’ll look at how you can make the most of the support your tutor can offer you.

What support can your tutor give you?

It is important to be clear about the kind of support your tutor can give you. Read the next case study for some ideas before you do the activity which follows.

Case study:
Kevin is 19. He talks about the support he received from his tutor when he was working on his A levels in Geography and Economics. ‘Working on my own has meant that I’ve really relied on my tutor for support and motivation. When I first enrolled for my A levels she contacted me by email to introduce herself and she sent me a few background details about herself, just so I could picture her better. She has actually written an economics textbook and I was a bit daunted at first about sending her anything. But she is really good at giving me helpful comments without talking down to me. She’s not afraid to point out something that I have got wrong but she does it in a constructive way, showing me how I can get it right next time. When I do something well, she always says so and also explains to me why she thought it was good so that I can try that again. It’s no good getting a good mark if you don’t understand why.’

Think about the kinds of support you might want from your tutor in the next activity.

What support do you think you might need from your tutor?

Tick the boxes in the list below to help you decide on the types of support you need.

1 ☐ Encourage you to get going
2 ☐ Help motivate you to keep going
3 ☐ Comment on your assignments and other coursework
4 ☐ Help you organise your time
5 ☐ Help you make the most of your strengths
6 ☐ Recommend useful books and guide your choice of reading
7 ☐ Recommend useful websites
8 ☐ Suggest ways in which you can improve your work
9 ☐ Advise you on how to tackle your next assignment
10 ☐ Provide references for university or college applications

Tutors can provide all these different kinds of support. Identifying the kinds of support you will need from your tutor will help you develop a more useful relationship with him or her, because you will know what you want and your tutor will be able to focus on your needs.

Don’t be afraid to ask your tutor for help. Tutors want to help you make the most of your studies, so feel free to:

  • keep notes while you are working so that you have a list of queries for them next time you contact them – you can ask them questions about any aspect of your study 
  • contact them if you don’t understand their feedback or comments on your work
  • contact them if you have a query, even if you haven’t completed an assignment or piece of coursework. However, you need to be realistic about how much support you can expect. Tutors are paid to support you but not 24 hours a day! If you are contacting them too much they will let you know politely. When you enrol for your course you will be told how much support you can expect from your tutor.

When you receive feedback or comments from your tutor, you can make the most of it by: 

  • reading back over your work alongside the comments 
  • reading the comments again before you start your next assignment or piece of coursework making notes of common mistakes in a separate notebook so that you can avoid repeating the same mistakes.

This is an excerpt from ‘How to Succeed as an independent learner’ a resource available free to all NEC students. As well as making the most of your tutor, it covers topics such as developing your memory, concentration, managing stress and using action plans.

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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Do you have to be at school to study a GCSE?

 "Study a GCSE wherever you want, whenever you want."

You don’t have to be at school to study a GCSE

With Autumn just around the corner, it’s time to consider your study options. The good news is, you don’t have to be at school to study a GCSE. NEC courses are studied online, giving you the flexibility to study exactly where and when you like. There’s a wide number of subjects to choose from too, including all of the essential subjects such as maths, English and science, as well as some of the less common ones such as psychology and sociology.

Over the last couple of weeks, of course, GCSE students across the country have received their GCSE results, including those studying with NEC. This year is the first time that new specifications with numerical grading were examined for maths and English. We’re delighted to announce that 100% of NEC students who sat the new exams passed!

Who wants to study for a GCSE once they’ve left school?

NEC students choose to study for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the reasons they gave us in a recent survey. 40% said that they planned to go onto higher education, a further 15% were planning further education of some kind and 35% were looking to change career or to get a job.

Two of the careers mentioned most often were nursing and teaching. you need maths and English GCSE at grade C or grade 4 or above to be allocated a place. The flexibility of studying with NEC and the tutor support from a subject specialist were the main reasons students chose to study with NEC. If you’re thinking about a career in nursing or teaching, take a look at our free career tracks guides. They’re packed full of practical information for people thinking about becoming a teacher of a nurse.

One such student is Andrew Greenwood. Working in a primary school in Hampshire as a learning support assistant convinced 28-year old Andrew that teaching was the right career for him. Although he has a first degree in psychology, he needed a GCSE in a science subject at grade C or grade 4 to study for a teaching degree. Studying for an IGCSE in Combined Science prompted him to rethink his career plans. With a grade B under his belt, Andrew is off to do a doctorate in psychology. He plans to spend almost half his time as a postgraduate student treating children and adolescents. Once he has completed his doctorate, he intends to return to working with children, as an educational psychologist, for example, or working with CAMHS, the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

You may be planning to home educate and looking for an alternative way to gain GCSE qualifications, like Mairéad who received her results yesterday.

16-year old Mairéad Sherry, who lives in County Down, Northern Ireland, has been home educated since the age of four. She has good reason to be proud of what she’s achieved so far through distance learning with NEC. On top of the three A* for the IGCSE exams she took this summer, for Combined Science, English Language and French, she was awarded two A*s last year, for IGCSE Maths Higher and Geography, and a B for IGCSE Business Studies. Mairéad’s experience of distance learning has been so positive that she’s already enrolled for Maths, French and Biology A levels with NEC and will start studying again in September, She has her sights set on university.

Whatever your reasons for study, rest assured that you don’t have to be at school to study a GCSE. If you’re inspired by Andrew or Mairéad to enrol on a GCSE this Autumn, get in touch with NEC’s expert course advice team. We’ll be happy to help.

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Thursday, 17 August 2017

2017 A level results day: The impact of A level reforms

Today's blog is from NEC’s exams and assessment expert, Louise where she reflects on the first exams for the new linear A levels.

Up and down the country A level students are receiving their exam results today. They’ll find out whether or not their hard work has paid off and for more than half a million students, whether they have secured their place at university (Source: BBC News).

Among these will be students who have studied through NEC, perhaps entering for exams at one of our 13 partnership exams centres. NEC students are as diverse as the range of courses they choose, from young people being home educated, to adults looking for a mid-life career change. One’s thing is for certain though, we’re inspired by each and every one of them and want to see them succeed.

This year is a results day with a difference. It’s the first time that the new linear A levels for 13 subjects  have been examined. What this means is that students will be relying entirely on the results they get today to determine their future, where previously the AS would have contributed to the final grade.

It’s also the first time the science subjects have had the practical elements of the course decoupled and reported separately.

These changes were brought about in order to make A levels more ‘fit for purpose’ (or as this has been interpreted by many, more difficult). It has been widely reported that this change has been stressful for students and educators alike. As NEC’s exams and assessment expert I have seen a lot of concern from our exam centres, from students and from teachers. Today we’ll start to see what the results of these changes have been.

The Guardian have reported this morning that overall, for the first time in six years, there has been an increase in top grades. The same cannot be said for the new-style A levels however, where they are reporting a drop in top grades.

It’s still too early to tell what the impact of the A level reforms has been, but we’ll all be watching this space closely.

To any NEC student getting their results today, do get in touch and share your #examsuccess with us on Twitter at @nec_home_study or send us an email. If you have any questions about your results, either call us or send an email and we’ll be happy to help you.

Louise Tolhurst
NEC Exams and Assessment

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Friday, 28 July 2017

Home education: education’s disruptive brand

Home educator Linda Baldwin

Today's NEC Blog is a guest post by Linda Baldwin. Linda has been working for the specialist part-time and flexible recruiter Capability Jane since 2008 and has also been a home educator since 2010 when she and her husband Mark legally de-registered their son Sam from primary school. Neither of them are qualified teachers, but at least one of them has been able to work from home since making this decision, facilitating a child-led home schooling education plan. Now they have reached the milestone of GCSE examinations, Linda reflects upon the decision they made almost seven years ago.

‘Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition and rejecting the way things are supposed to be.’ That’s the view of business entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson.

Home education is considered by education traditionalists to be a somewhat subversive movement. In the world of business and technology, however, disruption and rebellion are encouraged and celebrated - think Uber and Airbnb, which in less than a decade have shaken up the two everyday consumer service industries of taxis and short-term lets. Disruptive brands are intrepid, dynamic and bold, challenging norms and offering alternative lifestyle choices. From my perspective as a home educator, ‘disruptive’ is the perfect description of home education.

An education ‘third way’

When our son was nine years old we removed him from school and began a home-based education. Our decision was driven by seeing our formerly bright and sociable child becoming anxious and withdrawn, and with a debilitating stammer which necessitated weekly speech therapy. Combined with yet another parents’ evening of platitudes and very little to show for his last term of work, we could no longer ignore the alarm bells.

In January 2017, the BBC reported: ‘According to the latest school census, in 2016 there were 17,780 state secondary school children in 2016 being taught in classes with 36 or more pupils. This is the highest number for a decade.’ In 2016 The Guardian reported that ‘More than half a million (primary) children are being taught in “super-size” classes of more than 30 pupils as overstretched primary schools struggle to cope with the surge in demand for places.’ Home education is becoming a ‘third way’, an alternative to an education in the state system’s overcrowded classrooms or the privileged halls of the independent sector. The state system has been a disappointment to many while independent schools are affordable only to a minority of families.

From ‘unschooling’ to GCSEs and A levels

Our home-schooling journey began with a period of ‘unschooling’. Our son quickly developed new interests and began to flourish; his stammer retreated and his confidence returned. After a few months we decided to explore the national curriculum using key stage books purchased online. We gave him free choice, and in the Montessori style of learning, he explored just one subject at a time until he felt ready to move on to something new. He struggled with writing manually, so used a laptop instead.

When he was 15 he felt ready to start working towards GCSEs. As parents we applied no pressure on him to sit formal exams. The decision has been his alone, and so empowered, he has been highly motivated and fully committed to studying.

Today our son is 17. I am proud of the well-balanced, sociable and mature young adult he has become. He has just completed GCSE exams in English, psychology, sociology and law as a private external candidate at a friendly and accommodating independent school near where we live. He used a laptop for every exam and can type accurately at over 200 characters per minute.

Next year he plans to sit his GCSE in mathematics with the help of NEC, alongside A levels in psychology, sociology and law. He hopes to go on to study forensic psychology at university.

I believe that the future for home education is one of enormous growth. With distance learning providers such as NEC, it is an affordable solution for families for whom the alternatives are no longer a viable option. So many additional learning resources are easily accessible, and many are free, online and interactive.

Find out more about home education
NEC Brief Guides: Home educating your child
NEC Home Educator's Guide to Choosing GCSEs and A Levels
Education Otherwise
Ed Yourself
Home Education Advisory Service
Home Education in the UK
Home Education UK

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Thursday, 13 July 2017

NEC learner stories: Julia Wix

NEC learner Julia Wix

NEC learner Julia is keen to challenge the widely held view that young people educated at home lack the resilience built up by those who have been part of a school community. In today's NEC Blog, we are sharing her story. We are also currently working on a new guide to support home educating families to be published later in the year — keep an eye on our website for updates!

In 2016, at the age of 30, Julia Wix returned to Cambridge after travelling the world as an employee of travel and accommodation site The online company works with over one million hotels around the world. Her first job with the Dutch company was in a call centre in the UK, helping customers dissatisfied with their online experience.

Later, based in the company’s Amsterdam headquarters, she got to grips with analysing training needs, designing wikis (a website or database developed collaboratively by a community of users), managing training workshops and hosting webinars. She ending up as a global training specialist designing development programmes for the company’s employees across Europe, the USA and the Far East.

A desire to return to the UK led to her current role, at Cambridge Network, a not-for-profit membership organisation established 20 years ago. One of her key projects there is the School for Scale-Ups, a skills programme for leaders of rapidly growing businesses such as computer programming innovator Raspberry Pi. Although she was recruited for her training expertise, the organisation offers employees the variety that is one of the hallmarks of working in a small, locally focussed team. Julia might be helping a growing business designing a skills training programme one day and hosting a networking event for local high-tech businesses the next.

Globe-trotting hasn’t just been a feature of Julia’s working life. It had a starring role in her teenage years too. Her father was offered a six-month contract in Belgium and the family went to live there. The six months became several years and a flexible solution was needed for Julia’s schooling. When Julia left formal education at the age of 15, her parents turned to home education for their academically able and ambitious daughter. They found NEC through home education connections and an internet search.

The freedom to learn as she chose, liberated from the constraints of a classroom and the demands of peer pressure, suited Julia down to the ground. She describes herself as self-taught in GCSE maths, and A level classical civilisation, government and politics, French, and English language and literature. She studied and took exams in all five subjects through NEC. Her grades won her a place to study for a BA in Classical & Archaeological Studies with French at the University of Kent. As well as pursuing her passion for ancient Persia in the university library, she spent at year working in a high school in Quebec teaching

English as a foreign language for the British Council, improving her French, learning how she learnt best and learning how to teach others.

Despite having been diagnosed with dyslexia shortly before going to university, Julia was awarded a first class honours degree and in 2010 went on to study for a Masters in Ancient History at King's College London, achieving a merit.

When she looks back on her childhood, Julia sees her impassioned watching of historical documentaries, and her enthusiasm for visits to museums, stately homes and heritage sites as early signs of the direction her academic interests would eventually take.

Julia is keen to challenge the widely held view that young people educated at home lack the resilience built up by those who have been part of a school community. She believes that people who have been home schooled enter adult life with the confidence that comes from knowing they have succeeded in doing something differently. What’s more, home education gives young people a wide range of skills, including managing their time and managing their money, that prepare them for adult life. She cites the home educated American actress and internet star Felicia Day, who describes her experience of home education in her book ‘You’re never weird on the internet (almost)’.

‘Classical civilisation A level wasn’t offered by the last school I went to,’ says Julia. It’s down to NEC that I was able to go to university, and that I studied the subject I have loved since being a child. Flexibility of subject choice is one of the big benefits of studying for exams through distance learning. I’m sure my life would have taken a very different course without NEC.’

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