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-

These ideas have been written with teenagers in mind (see my earlier blog post ‘Four ways Creative Writing can help your teenager’), but in truth these activities can be used by anyone who can pick up a pencil and write!

I often find it helps to set a timer for these activities (Ten minutes should be about right, although I find students often feel that nine or eleven minutes is more rebellious!). If you still want to write after the timer goes off, that’s fine. The time limit just works to spur you so you don’t see a blank page and panic.

(1) ‘What’s in a name?’ poem
Write your name down the left side of a piece of paper. Then try to think of a word (it can be a noun, verb, adjective, whatever you like!) for every letter of your name. Do not spend too long on this; just write down whatever you think of!

So Emily might write:

Then write a poem (it doesn’t have to rhyme) using all the words in the correct order.

(2) “Happy Birthday to you!”
It’s your birthday today and you have just opened the worst present ever. What is it?

(3) “But Daisy, blue bananas don’t exist.”
You are walking through a busy supermarket when you hear this sentence. Create a script (For Eastenders? Or The Archers? Or TOWIE?) which features this conversation.

(4) Story prompts
Write a story for eight minutes. You must use all the words in this list (If someone else can read the list out to you over the course of your eight minutes then that is even better, but otherwise just write out your story whilst adding in the words every sentence or so).

For example:

Happy Theatre Bounce
Jacket Lemon Strictly
Sister Jewel Catastrophe

(5) The Argument
Bob hates Jim. Why? Well, write a letter from Bob telling Jim why he can’t forgive him. Then write Jim’s response.

(6) “We were eating cheese sandwiches…” : A story starter

  • “We were sitting on the bench eating cheese sandwiches when she told me…”

Copy that sentence down into your book. Now complete the story!

You can use each or all of these triggers, it’s up to you. But whether you’ve “hit a block” or are putting pen to paper for the first time, any of these tips should prove useful.


How are you going to study through this new academic year? Well, If you want to achieve at the highest level possible, it could help to adopt the same strategies of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet? People like Richard Branson, Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg (above, giving US secretary of state John Kerry a tour of facebook…) and Karren Brady are all very different in terms of personality, but they all share a set of key characteristics that have helped to propel them towards achieving and exceeding all their goals. Here, we discuss how you can use those characteristics in your studies, so that you can achieve your potential.

1. A desire to learn

Regardless of the subject you are studying, a willingness to acquire new knowledge is essential. Entrepreneurs take advantage of every possible opportunity to learn, and rather than seeing it as a chore, they genuinely enjoy the experience.

2. Determination

When Richard Branson was starting out, he didn’t have much in terms of money or support. A big part of his global success has been his dogged determination to continue working despite difficulties and challenges. You can apply this to your studies by using affirmations. Tell yourself that you are going to succeed in your course, and do it regularly – especially at times when you start to doubt yourself.

3. Self-belief

Karren Brady had to employ every possible ounce of self-belief when she took over Birmingham City Football Club. The odds were against her success, but Brady’s belief in her own abilities helped her to completely change the fortunes of the club. If you believe that you are capable of succeeding in your studies, you are much more likely to do so.

4. Believe in what you’re doing

Entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do, and that is a big factor in their success. Don’t complete a course of study just because you think you should – do something you’re interested in and that you care about. If you choose something that matters to you, you won’t find it hard to be motivated.

5. Make flexible plans
Everyone who is successful in business has to make plans, and they are very important in terms of deciding how things are going to work and how progress will be measured. However, a great entrepreneur will be able to adapt their plans at the last minute to suit changing circumstances. In your studies, you should be prepared to change your plans when the situation demands it, and still get your work done.

6. Networking
Entrepreneurs are skilled networkers. What this means is that they make connections with people who have expertise or experience, and call on them when they need help. You can make connections with your tutors, other students, and friends or family members who have a knowledge of your subject. This can help you to feel supported as well as providing you with help to succeed.

Are you feeling a little nervous about your exams? The key to success is remaining calm and in control. The best way to take control is by following a dedicated and varied revision schedule. Simply staring at your text books is not the answer – here’s what to do…

1. Break up your time. It’s especially important to break your revision time into small chunks when exams are just around the corner. You want to make sure that every subject is covered in as much detail as possible.

For example, if you have decided that you are going to revise on a Saturday morning, break it down into study periods of 45 minutes each. Write down what you are going to cover in each study period, thinking carefully about how long each task will take.

2. Use a pen and paper. You’ve probably done most of your coursework and revision on your laptop or tablet. However, using a pen and paper has significant advantages when it comes to committing information to memory.

Read through the material you need to know. Then, use your pen to write down the most important points, facts, dates or quotations. The act of writing will help you to absorb the information, and also aids your evaluative skills – which are important in almost all subjects.

3. Create personal audio notes. Having created your paper notes, it’s now time to really consolidate your knowledge and ensure that you don’t forget any important details.

Using your phone or tablet, choose the voice recording feature and read your notes aloud. For the absolutely vital information, add a sound effect or change your voice – both will help it to stand out and instantly become more memorable.

4. Listen up. Listen to your personal audio notes as much as possible, and vary the recordings you choose so that every subject is covered.

Making a cup of coffee in the morning? That’s 5 minutes that could be spent listening to your notes. On the bus? Put in your earphones and listen to your notes as you watch the world go by.

5. Pop quiz. Adding a little fun to your learning can dramatically increase your chances of exam success. Get a friend or family member to help you create a quiz about the course(s) you have been studying. For wrong answers, you pay a penalty. For example, if you have forgotten a quotation, you have to go out into the street and shout it aloud!

It’s not too late to complete this revision plan: all you need is a little determination and the desire to succeed! If everything is getting too much for you, don’t be afraid to take time out to rest, relax and listen to your favourite music. You could even try doing a 5 minute breathing meditation to help give you focus and a sense of calm. Everyone will wonder what your secret is!

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?

Would you choose to watch a film or read the story it was based on? Many stories have been depicted on the big screen, particularly in recent years. If it’s a best-selling novel, the chances are that it has made the transition to the big screen. Gone Girl, The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the Harry Potter series and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly have all been depicted on screen, to the delight of many.

For some people, reading a novel is either too time consuming or they simply don’t have the patience to spend time getting into a story. If reading is something you aren’t able to do, watching a film can be a great way to enjoy a nail biting, magical, poignant or hilarious tale. The depiction of novels on screen means that people who would not have read the books can still enjoy the story and appreciate the message the writer is trying to convey, in a way that is easier to understand.

However, the film of a novel is never going to be appreciated on the same level as it is by the reader. Your imagination is one of the most powerful tools you have. When you read a story, your brain constructs an alternate reality that is entirely unique. All those seemingly insignificant details combine to create a series of pictures that only you can see, and there is something really special about that.

When you read a novel, you gain an understanding of the characters. Good, bad or in between, they become multi-dimensional beings whose thoughts, words and actions are the consequences of their experiences. When they do something terrible, for example, you will have an understanding of why they have done this, and may even empathise with their plight. A novel that has been made into a film portrays the actions of characters, but you might not understand why they are behaving as they do. If you can see what they are doing, but not the thought processes, feelings and experiences behind those actions, the story will not have the same level of resonance.

Watching a cinematic adaptation of a novel, then, is not comparable with reading it. It can be very enjoyable, and can give people who don’t read the opportunity to hear a good story. However, reading a novel means engaging with it. You develop your own interpretation of what the world looks like in the context of the story, and your own appreciation of the characters. The big screen is no match for the human imagination.

So, what is my favourite book? Well, to be honest, I can’t choose, there are so many to choose from, and all well stored in my memory. Not, however, because we had a large number of books at home when I was a child! No, I got my stories from somewhere else.

Coming from a background where there was only just enough money for the essentials of life, there were very few books at home, but, encouraged by my lovely mum, our local library was my lifeline. It was my favourite place in all the world, a comfort blanket and an Aladdin’s cave all rolled into one. The librarians were the people I envied most in all the world – What bliss to be surrounded by books all day!

My local library was originally financed by a wonderful Victorian philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Andrew was a poor boy who became a self-made millionaire, and he felt it was his duty to help others improve their lives. I learned later that in 1889 he wrote an article calling on the rich to use their wealth to improve society, and it stimulated a wave of philanthropy which I think many of us have reason to be thankful for today.

I was able to retreat to my local library and find other worlds and new possibilities, not just through reading fiction and discovering the wonders of poetry but by finding encyclopedias that told me about a world far away from my inner city home. Without that library I would have suffered, not just educationally but psychologically; it gave me ideas and dreams that I otherwise might never have had.

When I read now of libraries closing due to spending cuts, I am desperately worried about those other bright inner city children, just like me, who will now not have a chance to explore other worlds and dream other dreams. With World Book Day on 3rd March almost upon us, it would be nice to think that those in power might spare a thought as to how this trend could be reversed. Or is that just another dream? I sincerely hope not.

A Permission Form is an internal OHS form which is not required for booking exams but very useful in helping OHS to help you with the administration needed when taking exams.

It is useful because…

We can gather more data on the exam centres that have helped our students before.
It allows us to keep our viable exam centre map and information more up to date than that of the exam boards.
It gives permission to contact centres in the event of any problems with booking, results or coursework.
It allows us to gather vital information on how well our students are performing in exams, rather than relying on getting it from the exam boards.
It provides information on the centres we can send coursework to, if students have it.

For these reasons, if we receive your Permission Form back from you completed, we can make the process of getting you to your exam much smoother. We would also appreciate being able to do this as soon as possible, so be sure to return the form soon. Please be assured that all information received is confidential and for internal use only.


For most of us, sound is a good thing. Our personal entertainment systems, myriad music channels, as well as downloads, mean we pretty much listen to what we want to most of the time. But how did this come about? How did we get to have such a wide choice? And just what is the history of radio and recorded sound anyway?

The British Library has decided to preserve as many sound recordings as possible. This will be a national project covering public and private collections. Recordings could be 100 years old, as old as the work of Thomas Edison himself.

The technology used back then is getting increasingly hard to use now. It must all be digitised, and the thought is that the experts have got 15 years to do it before some of these oldest recordings become impossible to work with.

To give you some idea of the size of the project, the library surveyed nearly 4000 collections containing 2 million items. And they come in all different forms, from material in tubs as big as cake tins to six inch long ‘concert cylinders’. They might even be made either of wax or lacquer! Some of these already need rare equipment to play them, so modernisation is essential.

So what’s going to be in this sound archive that’s so important, so desirable? Well, the answer is quite a lot: Drama and literature recordings including poetry going back to 1955, and drama to the mid sixties; oral history, which can be ordinary people telling their stories; a survey of English dialects going back to the 1950’s ( Did you know, for instance, that the Isle of Wight has its own ‘old’ language, which you and I would never fully understand?).

There are all sorts of music on record too, of course. They call this range ‘jazz to grime, music hall to metal.’. There’s classical music going back to 1937, and something the library calls ‘forced entertainment,’ which they explain is experimental drama and ‘happenings’.

It’s quite a collection and far too much for anyone to listen to it all. But at least it’s going to be there, and we will know that this really old material is going to be preserved indefinitely.

Virtually anyone who can get on to the British Library website can enjoy these sounds. Imagine studying music or drama – or just being interested in local history or early pop music – and being able to listen to original recordings. Several partner radio organizations are involved in the project, and it’s going to cost £9.5 million of Heritage Lottery funding plus contributions.

So is it worth it – saving old treasures like this that we can all enjoy? What do you think? Sounds good to me.

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?!

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