NCS: The National Citizenship Scheme

Beginning in 2011, the National Citizenship Scheme is a weeklong challenge for 15 to 17 years-old, which provide a chance to take part to embark on exhilarating adventures, while building on social, work, and life skills. UCAS strongly backs the scheme, and recommends students include NCS in their personal statement.

Split into three main phrases, the 7 day course begins with a four day, three-night residential based activity period. The pursuits available are weather dependent, but involve such activities as canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling. Living in teams of 12 -15 people at an outdoor activity centre, those taking part get to know new people and enjoy their independence away from home.
Phase two of the week sees a further three days in a university-style environment where students get the chance to develop life skills like confidence, leadership and communication.
The final phase of the NCS is to deliver a community project over a period of 30 additional weeks. Working in teams, the participants put the skills they have learnt over the week into practice by delivering a community project of their choice.
Later, they’ll have the chance to attend a graduation party to celebrate completing the course, with family and friends.

So, why should you consider enrolling for a National Citizenship Scheme place?
– NCS gives you exclusive access to work placements, volunteering and events.
– UCAS recommends students include NCS in their personal statement
– You learn the skills employers value
– Learn to budget and live for yourself
– Meet incredible people
– Improves leadership, teamwork and communication skills.

So far, more than 275,000 young people have signed up for the National Citizenship Scheme. If you’d like more information, you can find it here-

The controversy over taking children out of school for holidays poses wider questions about education. Should parents who take their children out of school to go on holiday be fined? That was the question at the heart of a recent court case where Isle of Wight council took father Jon Platt to court when he failed to pay a fine for taking his daughter out of school. The High Court decided in his favour, saying that as he had ensured his daughter had attended school regularly, there was no case to answer.

During the case, a number of authorities, including the government, stepped in to voice support for the council’s case, saying that taking children out of school for even one day would damage their education and that of others around them. But what kind of education are they talking about? Interestingly, the National Union of Teachers argues that there are valuable social and cultural benefits to going on holiday – benefits which are all too often overlooked. And when holidays during the summer are so prohibitively expensive, these benefits are in danger of becoming the preserve of the well-off.

What can be gained by going on holiday, then? Well, travelling abroad is an important learning experience for any child. Experiencing a new culture can fuel their natural curiosity to learn about the world, and can fire them with enthusiasm for those French lessons at school… Even just a holiday to the seaside offers the chance for children to do and see things out of the ordinary – to learn about sea life by looking in rock pools or to try different foods, even if it’s simply a traditional Devon cream tea. Why should these experiences only be available to those of the middle classes? Many holidays become cherished family memories which last a lifetime – far more memorable than that Tuesday afternoon literacy lesson they missed.

Simply having time to reconnect with parents and siblings away from the non-stop routine of everyday life is valuable in itself. Children who have parents who are more involved do better at school, and holidays which help to foster and strengthen family relationships are likely to lead to children who are happier, and more well-balanced and, perhaps, likely to do better in school. Relationships with family or friends who live abroad are also something valuable, giving children the chance to hear other perspectives of life and widen their horizons beyond their own hometown.

Little has also been said about families who want to gather together to celebrate their festivals together. All children have time off to celebrate Christmas and Easter – but what of families who want the right to celebrate Diwali or Eid? Must these children miss out on the chance of coming together with their family and community to celebrate a festival which is part of their cultural heritage – and what will be achieved if they do?

No one thinks it’s a good idea if children are continually taken out of school. But learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom. We need to look at the broader picture – and realise that learning comes in all shapes and sizes.

50,000 children are educated at home or out of school. That’s the number of children in England who are not signed up to a school, who don’t go to school regularly, who don’t have to follow the national curriculum, and who don’t have to be tested regularly. This is all perfectly legal. Whilst an education for children aged 5-16 must be provided, that doesn’t have to be in a school. This is accepted, though it is not always checked or monitored.

So what happens to these children? Some are literally educated at home by the parents or carers, doing mainly what the adults think is best or what has been agreed between them and the children. This can include visits to local art galleries, museums and libraries, an outdoor education and general exploration of the world around them, as well as more standard study at home. For the more adventurous, however, education outside of school can involve travel, and if so, often for a year or more. There are families who set sail on boats or head off in camper vans, with the next lesson their next horizon. One such family travelled around the United Kingdom, before setting off to Europe. To provide an example of what they gained,  on one occasion they visited a wind-farm and used the knowledge gained to learn about physics, engineering and conservation. Another family travelled around the continent; as they went the children learned Mandarin and Spanish – the second and fourth most widely spoken languages in the world ( and incidentally, they also became proficient with the keyboard, the violin and the guitar ). In a world full of conflict and misunderstanding, they might argue, it’s important that young people grow up able to understand the languages huge numbers of people speak. And indeed, it is often a matter of debate in this country that the number of children who are growing up with the choice or will to do that is actively falling, lending this all the more credence.

Distance learning, whether it be more domestic or expansive, can see that young minds are liberated, that creativity and spontaneity are encouraged, and unorthodox skills and knowledge are valued. The degree to which the national curriculum is followed is allowed more flexibility. And when the time comes, children can ease their way back into the system for exams and maybe university entrance. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, others argue plenty. Home education is often seen as an indulgence by the parents / carers; there can be a suspicion that there is some kind of self-interest in their disapproval of their children’s schools, and that maybe they’re the ones who want the gap year. Still others argue that the single most important function of a school is to encourage socialisation with peers, and that the very independence from the family mainstream education develops is something these travellers may well not get.

We live in curious times – individual freedoms are said to be important. But many of our structures, schools among them, seem to stifle them. Whilst the debate over home education is unlikely to go away, statistics would suggest that taking its path can lead to achievements just as good as those attained via the mainstream. Do we not have the right to keep our options open, then?

School exclusion may seem like the end of the world, at least as far as education is concerned.It need not be, though.

If you have experienced being excluded from education, you might feel angry at a system that should be helping rather than dismissing you. You might believe that education is pointless, and that getting qualifications is for ‘other’ people. You might listen to proclamations that you’ve ‘missed’ your chance and that your opportunity to learn is over. And if you haven’t been able to attain GCSEs, A Levels or their equivalents, you might be employed in a job that you don’t enjoy. You are also more likely to be earning less, which can make you feel personally unfulfilled. However, whatever your age or circumstance, it is never too late to restart your education and start changing all of this.

It will always be useful to get qualifications. Neither should it be forgotten that, quite apart from its potential career advantages, learning is of course also hugely beneficial for its own sake, and an activity from which you can derive self-fulfilment and increased belief in your own capabilities.

If you have been excluded from education, learning can seem daunting or even impossible. Signing up to a course might seem like too big a first step, but if you start by identifying a subject that interests you, you should discover enough motivation to get going again. Read books and articles about your chosen subject, and take time to form your own opinions about what you’ve read. Once you’ve armed yourself with some knowledge of the area in which you’re interested, you can start to investigate potential courses at college, or through a distance learning provider.

Being excluded from education can be demoralising, and can make learning seem like an unattainable goal. However, it is no longer the case that your only chance to get qualifications is at school. In 2016 there are people of all ages who are taking advantage of a multitude of educational opportunities aimed at people who want the chance to start again. A bit of life experience can go a long way in facilitating educational success, too. So, what are you waiting for?!

2016 sees the release of The Jungle Book, a new film based on the 1967 Disney animation. Rudyard Kipling, author of the original stories which form the plot, has now been dead for 80 years and his reputation is up for renewal.

In the latter years of the Raj (the British rule of India), Kipling was the literary figure of choice. He was an important author and poet, beloved of the Empire. In 1919 he was chosen by the War Graves Commission to attend to the inscriptions on the tombstones of the First World War dead, a task which was personal to him as his own son had gone missing in action (My Son Jack, a poem in the anthology studied by Oxford Home Schooling students, is generally considered to have been inspired by this event, although it has a nautical theme.).

However, Kipling fell out of favour after India became an independent nation and colonialism became a dirty word, although his name endured in no small part because of the Disney film. Over the years since, his memory has been tainted by accusations of racism, but Kipling embraced the whole of the Indian experience; he spoke Hindi and thought in Hindi, saying that he ‘translated’ his thoughts into English. He was an acute observer of all aspects of life on the sub-continent and his stories and poems were often told from the point of view of the Indian. Indeed, Jawaharlal Nehru, Independent India’s first Prime Minister, named Kim as his favourite novel.

Kipling understood the nature of struggle. His unhappy childhood was recounted in his autobiography, Something of Myself. He learnt wisdom and imparted it. There is a reason why tennis players at Wimbledon pass beneath the words of one of his most famous poems, If, before they contest the title.

Now we are beginning to re-evaluate Kipling and to appreciate his work and legacy. Although he still inspires disagreement, any who doubt his relevance should consider why there is the new film based on The Jungle Books, why a few years ago they were reimagined in masterly form by Neil Gaiman as The Graveyard Book, and why so many lines from his poems (such as “the female of the species is more deadly than the male”) have become a familiar part of our vocabulary.

In days gone by, academic study was considered a full time occupation. As a result of this, it was often the preserve of the richest and most privileged of our society. The dawn of free university education in the 1970s, however, meant that further learning became much more accessible to a wider pool of potential students. Fast forward to 2015, though, and school and university fees are climbing ever higher. This means that once again, learning is becoming the preserve of those who have financial backing from their families. That doesn’t change the fact that good qualifications still remain sought after by the best employers, of course, so if you want to establish a career that can provide financial stability as well as fulfilment, part-time learning can be a great, more economic option.

If you have any dependants, part-time learning can provide you with the opportunity to study whilst being able to fulfil your responsibilities. Whilst parents or carers often have neither the time nor the money to commit to full-time study, distance learning or an evening class can be a great means of gaining a much needed qualification, and of spreading its cost and commitment over a more manageable period.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a wealthy family to support your academic efforts, you’ll still need to find a way to pay the bills while you study. Learning in a part-time capacity means that you can undertake paid work, and support yourself during your course of study. If you’re able to earn while you learn, you can also gain valuable work experience at the same time as getting your qualifications. Employers will be able to see that you are capable of juggling several projects at once, organizing your time and taking your responsibilities seriously. In today’s glutted job market, these are valuable attributes that can make you stand out amongst other applicants.

The recession of recent years means part-time learning is a much more viable option for those who want to study at the same time as keeping a roof over their heads and feeding their families. Once the preserve of the mature student, part-time study is becoming the only option for young and old who wish to broaden their horizons and gain new qualifications while surviving in a tough economic climate.

512px-Children_computing_by_David_ShankboneThe national curriculum states that children in primary school should learn how to write basic programs, to ‘debug’ (fix mistakes in programs to allow functionality); to use technology to store and organise content; and to understand how technology is used outside of the school setting. It is impossible to ignore the fact that computer literacy is now vital for many aspects of daily living, and children should be equipped with the skills they need as early in their lives as possible.

Information technology is based on logic: the idea is that you follow a set of steps in a particular order so that you can reach a desired outcome. Developing and enhancing the logic skills of children will not only benefit their capabilities with regards to computers and digital devices, it also helps to improve numeracy. Mathematics is also centred around logic, meaning children who have good IT skills will be better able to understand the subject’s problems and concepts.

The study of IT at primary school is also an important part of preparing for secondary school. When children enter secondary school, it is assumed that they will be proficient with and confident in using technology. Although most young people have frequent and regular access to IT at home, and use devices such as PCs, tablets and mobile phones, they might not necessarily understand how they work. Formal education in information technology allows children to start secondary school with the ability to use computers and other devices to organise their work, participate in activities, and engage fully with all aspects of the curriculum.

There is increasing hysteria over children accessing social media sites and apps. The temptation is for parents and teachers to ban all such activities in a bid to protect them. However, banning these sites and apps with no discussion or explanation only makes them more alluring for children. It also means that when they enter secondary school, they are ill prepared for the murky world that can accompany online interaction. Children who study IT at primary school can be better protected from online bullying or abuse by being informed and educated about what is acceptable behaviour, and how and when to get help if it is needed.

Studying IT at primary school can help to develop research skills from a young age. Children who learn how to access the material they need and what kinds of sources and content are most useful and relevant, will be better prepared for secondary and university study. Although books still have an important part to play in the study of many subjects, online research skills are vital to the education of young people in the 21st century.

End_of_the_world_prisonAccording to the Institute for the Study of Civil Society in 2010, most people in custody do not have any educational qualifications: 52% of men, and 71% of women.

It could be argued that a lack of education is a precursor to committing a criminal offence, which would suggest that education in prison should be enshrined as a right, as a vital part of rehabilitation. states that prisoners have a right to ‘healthcare – including support for a mental health condition’. If prisons are to support the mental health of offenders, it could similarly be suggested that education should be a key part of that support. It is not possible for people to study for more advanced qualifications like A-Levels or degrees within prisons. However, if certain conditions are met, offenders can study for these qualifications via distance learning. The main issue for people engaging in distance learning from prison is the lack of internet access, which many would consider a privilege.

Education provides people with choices and enables them to get jobs that they enjoy, and for which they can be well compensated. When young people are failed by education providers, their options can narrow, and this can result in destructive behaviour, which can include engaging in criminal activity. If that does happen, education in prison should be considered vital: inmates should be given the chance to create new opportunities for themselves. Ex-offenders who have been successful at creating opportunities for work or further study will be more successful at becoming fulfilled members of society with a positive future.

Prisons have a duty of care for all offenders, and this care includes mental health. According to the Mental Health Network on behalf of the NHS, nearly half of new prisoners are considered susceptible to anxiety or depression. Both of these conditions can be alleviated by studying for qualifications. Although other courses of action may be necessary, education in prison can distract people from their anxiety, and give them something to focus on other than negative thoughts and feelings. This distraction can give inmates hope and an ability to look forward to the future.

For people in prison who are studying via distance learning, the lack of internet access can be a disadvantage. Part of the distance learning experience for most people is the online communication and support, as well as the ability to research course specific content via the internet. It could be argued that prisoners should not expect to have the right to internet access, though, even if it would enhance their learning experiences. However, prisons in the UK are rolling out a portal solely for use by inmates who are studying for qualifications. This portal has features similar to the internet, and is designed to support distance learning without extending potentially contentious privileges.

The tabloid media often reports on how ‘easy’ life is for people in prison, and bemoans any privileges awarded to offenders. However, education should not be considered a privilege. If people who have been convicted of crimes want to engage in learning, it should be encouraged and facilitated. Education can be a vital part of rehabilitation, allowing prisoners to reform their lives and create new opportunities.

525px-TeacherBritishMuseumThe Telegraph recently reported that the British government is planning to conduct a drive to recruit teachers from abroad, due to a national shortage. Government targets for the recruitment of trainee teachers have not been met, which suggests that it is difficult to make teaching an attractive career prospect. A perceived lack of discipline and cases of violence against them in the news might go some way to explaining why people are reluctant to become teachers, but there are other, more fundamental reasons as well – a lack of support and overwhelming workload, for example. Perhaps most pointedly of all, The Guardian reported that four out of every ten newly qualified teachers leave the profession within a year.

New teachers need a lot of support from their colleagues. They need to be able to ask questions, get advice, to learn how to maintain discipline in the classroom. This kind of support can be difficult for other teaching staff to provide, especially if they are dealing with large workloads of their own.
A school’s behaviour policy can have a substantial impact on the experiences of the newly qualified teacher. The policy must offer a clear code of behaviour and varying levels of sanctions to be applied in the event that the code is not followed. It should be communicated to all pupils and staff in ways that are meaningful and easy to understand. A well-structured senior management team with clearly allocated roles and responsibilities should enforce the school behaviour policy and be available to teachers for support when needed.

The aforementioned overwhelming workloads could also account for the teacher shortage. It is a common misconception that teachers have short days and long holidays. Most professionals in education spend many hours of their ‘free’ time creating lesson plans, developing resources, researching, and marking and evaluating the work of their pupils. In other industries, professionals are compensated handsomely for time spent working long hours. Teachers are paid relatively low wages in conjunction with the number of hours that they are required to work. This suggests that the government should develop ways of either lessening the workload of education providers, or ensuring that they are paid a reasonable rate for their work.

This is an issue that is not going to go away, and it will most likely continue to rise to prominence in the education sector, in the media and in parliament.


Whether you’re a young person at school or college, or a mature student returning to education, the new academic year can appear daunting. There’s so much to organise, so many things to remember, and if you’re embarking on a new course, you might be concerned about your ability to keep up with the class. If you’re feeling anxious or negative about starting your course, you might think that it is inevitable that this will lead to you forgetting things and finding the work difficult. Most people believe that we are ruled by our feelings and these dictate our behaviour. However, William James, who was an eminent expert on the workings of the mind in the late 19th century, and whose work is read today by students of behavioural psychology, questioned this theory. James believed that we can choose to feel positive and in control by smiling and taking direct action ourselves.

If you’ve decided to smile and take action to start the academic year with a positive attitude, here is a step by step guide to taking control:

Get organised

As soon as you’ve received your timetable or schedule for the term, make several copies. Put one on the wall beside your study area at home, one in your purse or wallet, and keep some spares. You should also print out a calendar and write the deadlines for all coursework for the next few months. Make a list of all the books and other study materials you are going to need. Having read the course contents, you should then write the dates by which you will need particular books and materials onto the calendar.

Integrate with other students

If you are going to a school or college, join a group that is related to your course, or opt for something extracurricular. If you are a distance learning student, you can join other people on your course in an online group. If you can find a way to connect with people who are studying the same material, you will enjoy the course much more and find it easier to grasp difficult concepts.

Engage with your teachers or tutors

If you are starting a distance learning course, find out who your tutors will be. Contact the tutors via email, introducing yourself and asking questions about the course. Whether you are learning at home or at college, it is important to establish a good working relationship with your teachers. In addition to allowing you to feel comfortable enough to ask for help when you need it, a good rapport with your tutor will also help you to feel more positive about your studies.

You might be a few days into the new academic year already, but it’s never too late to develop a positive attitude that can foster great success. You don’t have to allow doubts and fears to hinder your progress, you can take action and take control.

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