Boycott the NCTJ? If only.

For many years the Association for Journalism Education (AJE) has debated whether its institutions should boycott the NCTJ. And for many years the NCTJ has all but ignored it. At this year’s AJE AGM the issue cropped up once again.

The complaints are copious, and I won’t list them all here, but revolve around some core issues:

  • an increasing lack of relevance of the NCTJ training to the modern news industry;
  • lack of academic rigour;
  • and a lack of representation on the NCTJ board of the higher education sector, the NCTJ’s biggest customer.

Earlier this year AJE Chairman Chris Frost listed these complaints in a lengthy letter to the NCTJ. The reply disconcertingly resembled the automatically generated missives you get when you complain to a pub chain, largely ignoring the issues Chris raised.

The problem for journalism departments in the AJE is that NCTJ accreditation is not about education, but marketing. And as the market for journalism courses expands, the NCTJ logo becomes an important way to quickly establish new courses and differentiate older courses from the increasing competition. Courses become afraid to break away for fear of the impact on applications, and the result is that the NCTJ exercises power without responsibility.

The NCTJ is a private and commercial organisation. Its latest move – to establish a ‘gold standard’ accreditation for courses with a 60% pass rate – raised hackles both for its stench of league tables, and for the possibility that it will become yet another way of raising money, like the ‘awards ceremonies’ which require you to shell out for your gold statuette.

Colleagues on recently NCTJ accredited courses tell me that their contacts with the NCTJ revolve entirely around gathering money. Many have had to run the NCTJ courses in parallel with a full degree course, as they are unable to justify how learning shorthand is equivalent to first year degree study. The journalism degree I teach on, at UCE, decided not to accredit many years ago in large part because of this problem. We arrange shorthand courses for journalism students separately rather than incorporating it formally, and not having to accredit means we were flexible enough to offer subjects (including the critical analysis integral to any degree level study) that the NCTJ, with its particularly local, print ideas of journalism training, balks at. But we’re lucky: we’ve been established long enough to build a reputation and healthy application numbers.

The need for an NCTJ ‘badge’ seems to be something of a self-perpetuating myth: regional press editors continue to say that they require it, despite evidence that half of the new journalists they take on don’t have NCTJ training. Students and parents turn up at open days asking about it, thinking the NCTJ is a pass into journalism. Who tells them this? Careers advisers?

Magazines, the national press, broadcasting and online news operations generally couldn’t give a stuff about NCTJ. In conversation, editors on local newspapers are increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of NCTJ-trained applicants, while at the same time becoming more interested in applicants with video and online skills.

Meanwhile, the lack of career structure in local papers means we need to be training our students for the second, fifth and tenth years of their careers, when (unless things change) they have left their local reporting days behind and where flexibility, creativity, entrepreneurial ability and intellectual rigour – not just shorthand or local government – will have proved central to career progression.

If the NCTJ continue to refuse to listen to – or represent – their customers, if they continue developing at a pace that makes glaciers look nimble, and if they continue to put income before education, they may find universities’ patience runs out very soon indeed.

UPDATE (Sep 21 07): The Press Gazette editor’s blog contains some interesting comments about the NCTJ:

“Having recently finished an NCTJ course in newspaper journalism, I wasn’t overly-impressed. Whilst the course was fast-track, it mostly consisted of going over past exams papers – something which I could have done in my own time and saved myself the £1000+ fee. Shorthand was the only real skill that was passed on. Thirteen people failed the news writing exam despite good portfolio grades (surely some kind of scandal?) Resits cost £30 a piece and the NCTJ refuse to let you see where you lost marks unless you furnish them with further cash for the privilege. There needs to be a thorough investigation into whether the NCTJ is offering value for money to journalism students.”


45 thoughts on “Boycott the NCTJ? If only.

  1. Steve Hill

    Hi Paul, I agree with many of your comments, but perhaps would say you’re a tad cynical on the marketing.

    I also question your opinion that the NCTJ is not “academically rigorous.” A pass in an NCTJ exam, in say PA or Law, remains an impressive achievement despite any other criticisms we may have about the way it operates. Most people know that these certificates are not given out like candy – our students work bloody hard for it and it is certainly valued in many sectors of the industry.

    But I also have real concerns about the way the the NCTJ operates. It’s brief (essentially to train students and existing journalists in the skills to be a reporter working in print media) is ridiculously limiting in this day of convergent journalism.

    It has introduced a new online journalism exam, but the NCTJ still based it lives in a world where people read on paper.

    And why do the NCTJ feel the need to continually attack the teaching of journalism in HE? The article by Andy Bull in the current issue of British Journalism Review (Vol 18, No.3 – get the plug in, I discuss it in detail on my blog) does little for its attempt to sign-up more universities. It also makes the NCTJ, dare I say it, look pretty foolish. It can’t continue to attack the very people that feed it.

  2. Louise

    Having just decided to quit an NCTJ course in newspaper journalism at a ‘well regarded’ training centre, I can say that I think the NTCJ course, although interesting,IS mostly about cramming for prelim exams, as oppossed to learning what is going to be relevant in a newsroom.
    To this end,I managed to get a refund on my course fees (over £1000) and have re-entered for the NCTJ prelim’s as an external candidate.This gives me the opportunity to work while I am completing the course and to go at my own rate, instead or rushing everything and simply failing all the exams first time round (which, as someone mentioned above, is what happens in quite a few of the modules-especially news writing).
    I’m not trying to put people off from doing this course,but what I am saying is that there are other ways to get the ‘gold standard’ qualification under your belt,without having to fork out a lot of money and risk receiving little real teaching to do it.

  3. Ben

    Criticisms of the newswriting exam are particularly valid. I have worked in the industry for several years (without training) before I resigned myself last year to rushing through a fast-track course which finishes next month: I was worried that all the job adverts seemed to demand it. Although it’s dreary, however, I can understand the need to be familiar with public affairs and law – but the newswriting section verges on the ridiculous.

    From my experience with mock exams, the marking scheme seems to have been produced by some kind of random fact generator, spurting out a list of points that have to be included in a prescribed order and ranking quotes by how “emotive” they are, regardless of a balanced story. It takes no notice of the angle being attempted by the candidate or even the quality of writing.

    I hope it’s not just my hurt journalistic pride after being handed a few average marks, but the exam is, to my mind, deeply flawed and contributes nothing to the course that is not already covered by the portfolio.

    The exam encourages cliched, write-by-numbers journalism at its very worst; the sort that gives local newspapers a bad name. I fear it will create a bland reporting orthodoxy and the industry will lose the vital difference between pubications that makes it so lively.

  4. Student

    I’m a student on an NCTJ course. Like the commenter above I wish that I was teaching myself in my own time. NCTJ certificates are exercises in memorising and regurgitating facts. All you need to pass PA and law are good memory and revision techniques. What they have to do with real journalism, I don’t know.

  5. BlondeAmbition

    Dear student. What law and PA have to do with real journalism is build a solid grounding of factual knowledge that you’ll need to a) legally protect yourself as a journalist and b) ensure you have the knowledge necessary to write with authority about the myriad of issues you’ll need to get your head around as a journalist. This business is not just about writing, it’s not fluffy. You’ve got to know what you’re writing about and it’s more than just good grammar. When you’re learning anything – be it for school or a professional qualification – that involves having a good memory and revision techniqyes, yes – that’s what makes it learning, not the passing of information from one ear, through the head and out the other side. It’s possible you have much to learn about journalism, I wish you luck.

  6. Faye Lewis

    As an MA Journalism student, the NCTJ proves more trouble than it is worth. Having worked for a number of newspapers all of which were content with a natural aptitude and ability to quickly adopt the stylistic features of the newspaper – the nctj news writing exam is unnecesarily pedantic in its method of enforcing a news style that must meet with their angle. There is no room for any sort of creativity or dare I say it any real chance to show off talent and flair. Like everyhing else it is just another box to tick in the monocultured world of modern newspaper journalism. No wonder editors are dissapointed with the standards of nctj rained reporters emerging!

  7. Mixtape

    I have been seriously considering taking an NCTJ accredited course in journalism, starting in January 2009. I’m rapidly going off the idea though, having met a number of people who operate as journalists with little accredited training behind them. I want to work as a journo in Asia and the Middle East, working for english language publications and newssites, freelance or otherwise. I’ve 5 years plus with international NGOs. I am struggling to find affordable, relevant training however. Any suggestions?!

  8. paulbradshaw Post author

    I’d speak to the employers you’re interested in – the NCTJ is largely supported by the regional UK press; magazine publishers and broadcasters rarely ask for it (the PPC and the BCTJ are equivalent bodies to the NCTJ in those areas). I’ve no idea what the policy would be in Asia and the Middle East but would love to know what you find out.

  9. James

    My NCTJ course lasts a year. So: a year of learning shorthand, Government, Media Law, Journalism…is all a waste of time? Hmmm….

    Just because they don’t teach how to write a blog or shoot an online video, I think it’s important to remember the vast amount of academic ground the course covers – all of which feels highly important to help report on a story with confidence.

  10. Nat

    I agree James. I’m on a 10-month course at the moment. I think its easy for people to criticise the NCTJ but the course actually takes over your life and people work damn hard to achieve good results. I know the grades aren’t relevant, editors just want to know if you have the qualification or not but many people in the same situation as me believe that if you are going to do it – your are going to do it well. The course is giving me confidence and the ability to rely on myself and not on others when i’m doing work placement at a local paper.
    I must agree that I struggle to see the benefits of the news writing – I seem to be loosing my own style of news writing but it’s nothing that wont repair itself after 10 months.

  11. James

    Hello Nat – yes I agree on the effort front. It is the hardest, most academically gruelling thing I have ever experienced.

  12. Tom

    I’m really glad that I read this article. The careers branch of my university ran a seminar on how to get into journalism, or so I thought. Basically it was a marketing talk from a NCTJ representative. I was pretty disheartened at first because I have always aspired to work in journalism, or a field where I can write for a living and according to NCTJ writing ability isn’t that important – ‘you just have to be able to string a sentence together’ is a direct quote from their representative. I remember reading an article online about different routes into the journalism profession and as I listened to her speak, a point that the article made about accredited courses came to mind. At the end, I asked her if the course was industry standard to which she replied emphatically that it was. Next, I asked her if the course is really necessary and that surely work experience was more valuable to employers. She told me that I most likely would not get any work experience without the NCTJ accreditation and then ended the lecture before I could ask any more questions.

  13. paulbradshaw

    Thanks Tom – it’s depressing that a careers dept would not be transparent about the vested interests of the speaker. I can assure you that you will get work experience without NCTJ accreditation – I know many students and applicants who have done so.
    I am aware that *some* newspapers restrict access to their work experience programs on the basis of NCTJ, but in those cases would recommend persistence (try someone else in the organisation for a start) and demonstrating why you’re a damn good journalist.

  14. James Parry

    Interesting article Paul, despite being penned a year and a half ago now, it still seems worryingly relevant.

    I am on the eve of taking NCTJ exams in News Writing, Law (paper 2 resit) and Public Administration (paper 2) in an attempt to achieve the NCTJ Prelims certificate for Magazine Journalism.

    Despite the course I’m on being accredited, I am very much in the minority in taking these exams, only 10 or 20 students out of 100 or so are going in for either Newspaper or Magazine NCTJ routes (though obviously the 100 includes broadcast students).

    I think one of the reasons for this is the price of the exams. To pay over £100 for end of year exams, in this year’s case, for me, it was £111, is extortionate. I am lucky enough to have parents willing to pay for these exams for me, even when I fell short of a pass on the Law paper last year, but most others are not.

    After having numerous people come to visit the university this year for our Ethics and Regulation module, including people from the NCTJ and PCC, it has become clear that journalism is becoming increasingly more complicated. For it to survive it must innovate or die, and it will need people coming in at the bottom who are willing to adapt to changes, as well as having a decent academic foundation of knowledge.

    From my experience with the NCTJ so far, which includes the Sub-editing exam, I am not convinced their standards are in line with the real world, and it is the real world skills which will increasingly prove to be more essential.

    Nonetheless, I still intend to spend the next month or so revising fairly solidly to ensure all the definitions, cases and style points are firmly in my head before the triple-whammy of exams in as many days at the end of May.

    Let’s hope the end result will pay off in the real world, because that is, after all, why I decided to come to university in the first place.

  15. Diane

    I am currently doing an MA in Journalism (NCTJ Accredited) which is due to end in September. I have to agree, the Law and PA exams are really tough, but I believe that they will be extremely beneficial for any journalism career, whether print or broadcast.

    I hope to enter broadcast journalism at the end of the year, and I must say it was never an option up until I was halfway through my course. I always believed that I would only ever be good for print having gained most of my journalism experience on a newsdesk.

    But as excited as I am about embarking on a career in broadcast, I am also very nervous about passing all of my exams. Shorthand for me is proving to be the most demanding task in my life, and I have only reached a speed of 50wpm with daily practice. Although I know that it will probably not even be of use to me because of the field I wish to enter, having sat through classes for a whole year has prompted me not to give up.

  16. J

    Im quite glad I’ve found this thread. Im finishing an MA Journalism (NCTJ accredited), had items published in local newspapers, worked at a major music magazine and now got a job as a magazine production assistant,
    And I have still failed the NCTJ newswriting exam twice.
    I understand the need for PA and Law (both of which I have passed without the need to resit), shorthand is a bonus (but no one in the industry cares if you have it – I only got to 60wpm) but I am sick of the NCTJ tarnishing my record saying Im a failure as a journalist for their own means. The word ‘pedantic’ came up earlier – thats exactly what it is. Luckily the NCTJ has no bearing on the MA so im almost content to leave it.

  17. Chan

    I left the Nctj course because I found unsatisfactory, pointless and far too expensive. I had already paid them £1800 and they kept demanding that I pay the remaining £2100 immediately.

    I am now being threatened with bankruptcy proceedings because I have refused to pay. The same thing has happened to my former class mate who left 3 weeks into the part time course.

    I need some serious advice.

  18. Lucy Gooding

    I am currently doing a distance learning course with the NCTJ and really wish I hadn’t started. They really do bleed you dry. I took the opportunity to attend a refresher seminar. It cost me (inc travel all the way up Essex) £150. It was next to useless.

    They also said they would send me to the nearest examination centre to my home (Exeter). I was sent to Cardiff. So, two train rides (one leaving at 1am) and a taxi fare later, I arrived at the University. The person overseeing my exams was a Uni student himself. Who sat there with his laptop making some hideous noise, no clock in the room for me to be able to see how I was doing for time, and he had no clue where to get one. We asked him to let us know when we were an hour into the exam time. He forgot. Needless to say, I didn’t get the grade I was hoping for.

  19. Nick

    I don’t mean to sound harsh, but what a bunch of moaners and softies. I passed the first National Cert in 1988, after having been indentured on a local newspaper for two years and passing my pre-entry on block release. Before that I did one of the first Communication Studies degrees (when there were only three courses in the country).

    I went on to be national news sub, award-winning magazine editor, Dir of Comms for various NGOs and now consult on public health campaigns at home and abroad.

    In short I’ve taken many of the career paths budding hacks might consider. MAs might look good on the CV but they don’t amount to a hill of beans if you can’t deliver. The NCTJ is a pain but at least it emphasises practice. Journalism and comms quality has slumped across the board principally because about 50 per cent of graduates now want to get in to the “media” and an academic industry has grown to reflect this. You want to know where Britain began dumbing down? Then look no further.

    The NCTJ at least helps separate the wheat from the chaff. If I have to choose between someone with the Cert or an MA, I know which one I will go for. For those who have not got the metal to take it, I suggest you consider another career.

  20. Paul Bradshaw

    Thanks Nick – they’re different things to me: NCTJ is training; MA is education. Ideally you want a bit of both, particularly in an environment where everything is changing and you need to be able to adapt.

  21. MB

    With due respect, Nick, what terribly old-fashioned comments. Please answer this: if the MA is or isn’t accredited by the NCTJ yet you’ve learned shorthand, media law, public affairs and have a portfolio to show for it but haven’t passed the preliminary exams, then what’s wrong?! In addition, let’s not forget NCTJs are level three qualifications – in other words, they’re disguised NVQs. On the other hand, an MA’s a level seven qualification. In anyone’s view, that shows bloody hard work and determination – a fantastic quality in a journalist. Journalism’s pathetically old-fashioned – just like the NCTJ. It needs to change – and quick. In the run-up to the preliminary exams, will the AJA consider boycotting the NCTJ?

    1. Nick

      MB, we all fall out of fashion at some point. Fashion however is transient, ability is not. It is invariably the misfortune of youth to have to rely on the judgement of the preceding generations to determine their future, and frankly I couldn’t tell a grade 3 from a grade 7. What I care about is a proof you can deliver, and won’t be too much of a pain in the backside doing it. Good luck!

  22. chza

    I have been looking extensively in to getting in to journalism and everything I read seemed to circle back to the need for NCTJ credentials.

    First, to back up something written before about work experience. I have secured work experience at my local weekly, a regional daily and a national Sunday paper foreign newsdesk, based purely on my intention to study for a Masters or PGDip. I don’t even have any prior experience or published work.

    So far I have only considered applying to NCTJ accredited courses because I thought it necessary. However, one thing that struck me when looking around at courses was the fact that some well regarded universities, for example City University London, do not run NCTJ accredited MA courses.

    I emailed them to enquire about this, in the hope of better understanding how important NCTJ credentials really are but received no response.

    So can someone tell me, if I went to do a Masters in Journalism at City University London would I be less employable than someone who has attended the University of Salford or done a fast-track NCTJ course?

  23. Paul Bradshaw

    It all depends what job you’re looking for, but in some ways I think the qualification can be a distraction. In my experience the main thing employers are looking for is a demonstration of your ability, not a piece of paper. So whichever route you study, it’s useless if you can’t show that you’re a good writer/producer/researcher, and that you understand and are adapting to some of the changes sweeping the industry (e.g. experience of community management, blogging, data journalism, etc.).
    So I guess when you choose a course the question is: will they give you the teaching and platform and contacts to be able to acquire and demonstrate those skills?

  24. Matt

    Good points, Paul. Most NCTJ fast-track courses don’t teach anything, apart from how to pass the exams. It’s a scandal really. It’s an issue that needs investigating thoroughly.

  25. Jon Reilly

    Whilst I agree that the NCTJ is far from perfect, it serves as vocational training for a trade, rather than the academic nature of the MA’s. It is perhaps a reflection on society today that many beleive a masters is the way to a successful career. Whilst I studied my NCTJ I found the teaching tedious and repetitive, indeed I was spoon fed to simply pass the exams. That said, I was taught by REAL WORKING JOURNALISTS and their knowledge and insight rubbed off on me, and was worth every penny of the course fee.

    I beleive that there is an attitude problem with graduates who think that their masters gives them the right to work at the nationals or similar level broadcaster. No matter what your qualification you need to start at the bottom to develop the trade. Shorthand, video editing and online style are techniques that can be developed on the job.

  26. JB

    If there’s one group in the whole wide world of journalism training and education that makes me uneasy it’s certainly not the NCTJ – it’s the AJE!

    To accuse the NCTJ of overbearing arrogance while exuding a smug HE confidence that the letters BA or MA or the phrase ‘level 7’ guarantees quality is the overriding trait that the AJE has becomed famed for, and seems unable to shake off.

    What do 99% of people who enter a journalism course want to do? Yes, that’s right, they want to work in the media, most probably in journalism. And yet the AJE throws the word ‘training’ about as if it’s a dirty word, convincing applicants that they are on track to get jobs in journalism while failing to teach them how to write a basic nib, believing that 3000 words on the socio-economic impact of journalism on the eastern seaboard of the USA will stand them in good stead for the day they’re being screamed at by an angry editor because their 200 word story is written like a 70-year-old professor and is six hours late.

    Of course the ACE also ignores commercial training providers and FE institutions, believing their brand of elitist ‘education’ tying journalism to anything from writing your first play to analysing Hobbes, is stronger than anything which actually trains people to do the job they entered the course for in the first place.

    Of course, part of this will conveniently involve ditching shorthand in favour of something far similar like analysing the role of the journalist in the Guy Fawkes affair, with claims that it’s not academically rigorous enough for those in the ivory towers. The real reason – it’s just to darned hard and affects pass rates and incomes.

    I do feel sorry for any student who has done genuine research and who still wants to go into journalism education, because they’re so often being sold a pup.

    The reality is that the NCTJ is evolving, far faster than many HE institutions are, and is modernising to bring convergent journalism to the forefront while still providing the basic training in news writing, law, PA and shorthand which will give you a simple, hands-on introduction to the job which will, as another poster said, sort the wheat from the chaff – which is one of the biggest battles of all when you’re trying to get that first elusive foot in the door.

    Naturally the NCTJ component of any course will be primarily an exam prep course. The simple fact is that it’s that exam pass which makes the difference, signalling a concerted effort to develop skills, knowledge and underline an ongoing development of skills.

    To say that the NCTJ exams aren’t rigorous is frnakly laughable. I’m educated to a higher level than most, there aren’t many qualifications left for me to progress to, yet I can confidently say I’ve never sat tougher, more testing and rigorous exams.

    I do agree there are problems – feedback after failure needs to be better but is improving, cost is prohibitive to many students, and sometimes news writing failures can be vague and frustrating to say the least, and marking of this exam would benefit from a more flexible, enlightened approach.

    But I’d much, much rather leave education with the NCTJ prelims under my belt and an ability to move on from there and be flexible, than have an ability to write long ‘academically rigorous’ but worthless essays which endlessly discuss journalism without learning how to actually do it.

    How many editors out there are being provided with people who could comfortably discuss the philosophical and sociological implications of a story but would stuggle to actually write the story itself?

    Personally, I’d recommend that the AJE practices what it preaches, opens its door and starts to consider new ways of journalism training (yes, I said it, training – students want to be trained to work in journalism).

    1. Paul Bradshaw

      Thanks JB (it would be good to know who you are) – you have a point about the AJE itself and an arrogance on the part of academic institutions. I’m not sure who is evolving more slowly – those or the NCTJ (bear in mind this post was written 3 years ago now). I don’t think either can claim to be anything like cutting edge.

      But I also think you misunderstand the value of “‘academically rigorous’ but worthless essays which endlessly discuss journalism without learning how to actually do it.”

      I’m sure some courses require students to write essays – ours don’t: students write reports that require them to speak to journalists, editors and readers. But whatever you call them, what they teach is the ability to think critically about the news industry and such key issues as business models, changing consumption, and work practices. Given the current situation, it’s fair to say that a lack of that critical thinking has led the news industry into its current hole.

      So while ‘doing’ journalism is very important, doing it unthinkingly while the world changes around you is a mistake. 8 years ago (while I was teaching journalism) I would advise students against doing a journalism degree – instead, I would recommend a training course and/or a specialist degree related to the area they’d report on, e.g. finance, politics, etc.

      But now, because of the flux we’re going through, I think those academic skills and room for exploration are more important. We need people to keep journalism alive; to learn from the mistakes of history, not repeat them.

  27. Ben

    For anyone who’s interested I have started a Facebook group devoted to the NCTJ exams. Got my April exam results today and failed News Writing with 45%. Pretty gutted — thought I’d nailed it, no major spelling/grammar errors, best angle on main story, OK ideas for multi-platform development of story in S.4.

    Would feel better if I knew where I’d gone wrong, but paying almost £30 for the report hardly seems worth it, given some of the negative comments on here about why people fail this. My tutor even said he’d known season hacks fluff it — doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence!

  28. JB

    Ben, your tutor should have a feedback sheet already, which gives a breakdown of your marks and the specific reasons for failing questions. Ask to see it asap, and if possible ask your tutor to go over your paper with you and the feedback sheet to pinpoint any errors.

    There’s nothing worse than not knowing exactly what you did wrong, as that has to be part of the learning process.

    I’ve never sat a tougher exam – particularly in terms of the fairly rigid marking guidelines, and just how quickly a story can drop below the 50% threshold. There is, though, a very tough balancing act in making the exam ‘fair’ and making it live up to the ‘gold standard’ benchmark.

    1. Ben

      Thanks JB for your kind comments — yes, it’s a toughie. TBH I only decided to take the exam at a late stage so am not completely surprised I failed.

      News is a strange one for me because I have a background as a magazine editor, and the NCTJ is not even known (let alone regarded badly or well) by many people in this strand of journalism. I am studying the course via distance learning as an intellectual challenge, and news writing is not really something I will need in my future career. Nonetheless I believe (with the NCTJ) that it is a necessary basic skill all journalists should hold.

      Just felt it went really well and doubly frustrated to be so near a pass. Appreciate it is hard for the markers as well, although the irony is that I wrote a complete dog’s dinner of a PA2 paper for them and got the top mark. This makes me worry a little about their marking standards, because there is no way that paper was worth an A, compared to my News Writing D.

      Oh well, guess I just need to keep on keeping on. That’s life.

  29. Ann

    The NCTJ is on the eve of dying out. With savage cuts set to hit higher education institutions, universities won’t be able to afford to splash out on this old-fashioned and struggling organisation for much longer.

  30. John

    Hi there. I passed everything including 100wpm, except this exam.

    I tried it for a second time and had 46. Very disappointed. I can’t help thinking for trainees the bar is too high if some 50% of the country are consistently failing.

    I didn’t feel it went brilliantly but possibly worthy of a C.

    Also, I worry now won’t be able to get a job or start losing some of the other skills, which would be completely counterproductive.

    Furthermore, if so many are failing – then I think it would be wise to include extra sittings for this exam rather than only having two national dates in November and April. It is unfair.

    Also, I don’t want to say bad things about the NCTJ, because overall they do a good job but the marking on this exam needs to be seriously looked at.

    If industy experts are failing, that’s the same as a top class racing driver failing their driving test, which quite frankly – is mad.

  31. Abbie


    I am seriously considering the NCTJ course, however there is no information out there on places/universities that allow part-time study in the evening so that I can work during the day.
    Does anyone have any information that could prove useful in my hunt?

    This blog is very interesting to read, and has helped a lot in my decision so thank you to all!

    1. Paul Bradshaw

      The NCTJ has a list of universities that offer courses but I don’t think it says whether they are part time, etc. Probably best to contact the NCTJ directly.

    2. Toby

      Hi Abbie
      I am doing the NCTJ short course in newspaper journalism, to answer your question this is the reply I got when I talked to my lecturer about holding down a job at the same time “Are you serious do that and you will fail”. Doing the course is a propper slog but worthwile I just passed Law part 1 and have all the rest of my exams in January; considering we started in Jan that’s pretty mental. Also Just to let you know unless you have a photographic memory you can kiss goodbye to your social life!
      Hope this helps cheers TJ Brown

  32. tyler durden

    the reason people fail news writing is because they are not good enough.

    unfortunately you’ve all been brought up in an education system that panders to your every whim and convinces you that you are better than you are in reality.

    stop blaming the nctj for your inability to pass a straightforward exam.

  33. Pingback: Greenslade, McNair, Butcher? The NCTJ debate

  34. Alex James

    I passed my News Writing exam first time. I also got an A-grade portfolio, because I plagiarised most of it. I also got a referral for disruptive behaviour; refused to do any short-hand; ruined my local government lessons for everyone by debating the lecturer constantly and did sweet FA in law – which I failed.

    Now I’m a sales manager for a FTSE 100 company and earn excellent money. I’m awesome.

  35. Pingback: Bankers Online Training Banking

  36. Philip Cowan

    The only issue I have with the NCTJ is the number of centres it accredits. Surely we don’t need the vast number of accredited courses and loads of would-be journalists parting with their money. The NCTJ should accredit a dozen or so courses, hold them to a very high standard and so those who complete the diploma would have a good chance of getting a job in the industry.

    However, even that hope is fading. Note Terry Mitchinson’s remarks regarding apprentice journalists in this video:


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