From the 1960s to today: A levels with NEC lead to dream teaching job Monday, 12 April 2021

Over the years, we have helped thousands of students gain English language and literature qualifications and achieve their full potential. Patricia first studied with NEC in the 1960s and went on to study at university, ultimately gaining her dream job of teaching. Here is her experience of studying with a newly-founded NEC and rediscovering our courses recently:

This is a story from a different world.  I didn’t know what a university was when I left school in 1962 after O-levels. For my family, simply getting an office job was moving up in the world.  I did a one-year secretarial course and began my working life bashing a manual typewriter in the typing pool of an insurance company. It wasn’t until my younger brother learnt from his school that he could apply for university, that it was free and that he could apply for a maintenance grant that I realised how limited my own future was likely to be. 

I decided to study A levels by correspondence and chose NEC because it was clearly very student-centred compared with the for-profit correspondence schools around at the time.  I took O-level Latin as I was under the impression that you had to have Latin to do an Arts degree (not true), and A level English Literature. I was working as a secretary in Geneva at the time so studied A level French on my own using textbooks.

I thoroughly enjoyed both NEC courses and really felt the commitment of the course writers to the success of their students (and still do).

The actual presentation couldn’t compare with the colour, variety and sophistication of NEC’s current online materials. I remember sheets of typed material held together with plastic slide binders.

Based on my work experience and qualifications, in 1971 I was offered a place at the University of East Anglia (UEA) to study Comparative Literature.  UEA was one of the eight new universities opened in 1963 when the government was creating new educational opportunities.  Comparative Literature was a new kind of course too, delivered in a new kind of way (seminars rather than lectures). We continued the study of a language as well as European and American literature, we also studied  a year abroad. I was eight years older than my fellow students but nevertheless I made many long-lasting friendships. 

Then there was the problem of what to do next.  I’d not considered teaching until I discovered you could train (free) to teach in Colleges of Further Education rather than schools.  I liked the idea of teaching older students (having been one myself) and qualified in 1976.

My first job in 1977 was teaching English Language in the Business Studies Department of an FE college in London but most of my career was spent teaching all kinds of English Language and English Literature classes – O-level, GCSE and A Level – in the East Midlands. My personal highlight was persuading my college in 1991 to start an Access class for mature students wanting to go to University.  We developed a Study Skills course which gave students experience of English Literature, Psychology, Geography and/or Archaeology. (One of our students later became well-known in the Archaeology world for an insight into the relationship between standing stones and the surrounding landscape.)

I have been a lifelong addict of distance learning since my first experience in the sixties, and have done all the Open University courses involving the classical world, just for pleasure. I am pleased that NEC is still thriving after all these years and was thrilled to discover GCSE Astronomy. It’s kept me fascinated and engrossed during lockdown, though the Maths and trying to think in three dimensions has been a challenge!

Looking back, I can say studying with the NEC changed my life. It enabled me to escape secretarial work and to use my creativity in the challenging world of teaching!

If, like Patricia, you would like to study at the Open University after A levels, current NEC students and those who have completed their studies within the last 3 years can get 10% off their first year of undergraduate degree. Speak to our Course Advice Team by calling 0800 389 2839 or email

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